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Exhibition Review: Garth Gratrix – Flamboyant Flamingos

Following coffee with friends at the weekly HIVEArts jive in the Church Street gallery, David Simper strolled over to the Grundy Art Gallery in Queen Street to catch the opening of the gallery’s summer exhibition from local star artist, Garth Gratrix.

Having caught Garth’s Shy Girl exhibition in 2019, I had some idea of what to expect of their work, but this show is on a much larger scale and occupies the whole main gallery, this being transformed into an immersive space of pastel but vibrant colour that I think, successfully, aims for a resort-like atmosphere. By the time I arrived, the gallery was full of people and there was an excited chatter.

Entering through the gallery’s internal portico, the main gallery space is largely filled with the title piece, Flamboyant Flamingos, which is nine bronze spinning plates mounted on a painted wooden plinth.

To the left as one enters is Shy Girl, nine beach towels of symbolic patterns, mounted on bronze coated steel bars. I was dying to pick up what appeared to be a fallen towel and replace it on its rail, but in time realised it was part of the show in that position.

To the right and looking up on entering, one can view Lone Splendour consisting of two powder coated steel balconies, complete with towels. Here one of the balconies is seen through Flamboyant Flamingos with the artist in conversation under their work.

These works really do work together and are integrated to provide the desired immersive experience. The perspective changes as one walks around the piece.

Gratrix’s work is ably supported by Felix Gonzales-Torres’ piece Untitled last light, consisting of twenty four light bulbs, and Derek Jarman’s film Blue, an audio-visual poem made in 1993, the year before his death.

Gratrix is a key figure in modern contemporary art’s response to queer expression and this exhibition, in our own dear gallery, is of national significance. This is the first time that a local artist has taken the gallery’s summer exhibition slot. This work is an expression of personal history and queer lived experience and I think this makes it a powerful statement – it’s further described as a cruising ground for contemplation and formal frolic.

At one point we were ushered into the foyer where the belvedere stairs were used as a platform for speeches from gallery curator, Paulette Brien, leader of Blackpool Council, Lynn Williams, an Arts Council representative and finally the artist themself. These speeches were quite fascinating in outlining the process that has led to this exhibition and its 18 month creative gestation period. The pride that was felt in this show was palpable.

Gratrix noted the role that their Mum had played in their career and this show is dedicated to her, the most overt expression of this being the piece Smumpy (their Mum’s nickname) in freeze dried flowers.

After the speeches, the gallery still full of people admiring their vision, Gratrix described their show as “full of colour, boldness, subtly, love, loss and lament,” adding “I hope you enjoy my formal frolic throughout the summer season.”

I think I shall be back for another look at this show, there’s a lot there to be teased out. The show is complemented by Gratrix’s selection from the Grundy’s permanent collection, which we all want to see I think. The paintings selected are subdivided using multi-coloured curtains, which give an added aspect to what might have been seen as a dry, traditional hanging.

Works include SOS (1929) by Fred Roe, picturing a morse code operator, which feeds into a sub-theme of codes within the wider exhibition and also picks up on some wartime family history. Perhaps inevitably, there is The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian by Francesco Furini, a large and visceral image of suffering. These older works are tied into the contemporary art in a manner that seems seamless.

My meagre words are not enough to capture this exhibition and only a viewing will suffice. I do thoroughly recommend a trip to the Grundy for this purpose. The exhibition is on show until 7th September 2024.

Read our interview with Garth Gratrix here.

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Reclaim Blackpool - Mapping Sexual Harrasment
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    I have worked in the housing and transport professions for several local authorities, specialising in policy, strategy preparation and bid writing. Having always had an interest in film, the visual arts in general, theatre, music and lterature, I thought it would be good to combine the writing experience with these interests to contribute to altBlackpool. In addition to writing, my hobbies include watercolour and pastel painting, photography, woodwork, cycling and vegetable gardening.

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