Visuals: Reviews

Whatever floats your boat

Roger Osborne visited the Art Gallery’s new hands-on show

If you like a good dose of wit with your art, or with life in general, then Rock My Boat will certainly paddle your canoe. Who knew that the Owl and the Pussycat’s pea-green boat was actually made of peas? Or that a Salty Dog can be a canine boat skipper? The first room has big sculptures of these two – the rotating owl’s head and cat’s tail are a sign of things to come – plus a life size iron palm tree.

The next space is taken up with a dazzling mobile sculpture, impossible to describe, essential to see. The artists’ description says what it represents, but I found it better to experience it as both soothing and disturbing.

The final room has the boat you can pedal, complete with passengers with flapping flippers and rotating white stilettos. Then comes the scary eight foot metal minotaur and the mad cow (the best bit for Michael, our ten year old reviewer), with some rotating crying babies for those quiet moments.

While all this is great for kids, there is some seriously interesting art too, as well as a use of materials that goes beyond novelty for novelty’s sake. Art doesn’t have to wear a serious face in order to say something worthwhile.

Rock My Boat by Johnny White and Amanda Wray, at Scarborough Art Gallery until 20 September. Adults £2, under 18s free (or get passes) 

Review: East Coasting

Stephen Wood reviews the Bawden and Ravilious show at Scarborough Art Gallery

I thought I was new to the work of both Eric Ravilious and Edward Bawden until I realised I’d seen Knole Park 1929, a design for wallpaper, at the Design Museum many years ago. Work in this exhibition goes from the late 1920s right through to the 1990s and shows an extraordinary range of painting, print making – lithograph and linocut – and one very witty collage.

Near the beginning of the exhibition two beautiful watercolours, pencil on paper: Views from Great Bardfield 1932 by Eric Ravilious and The Pond, Great Bardfield 1933 by Edward Bawden. Two different artists here with their take on views of Great Bardfield, yet again you recognise it’s the same place. I notice both are from the Tom Laughton Collection - what a canny collector he was.

Edward Bawden’s Knole Park strikes me as a fine example of the versatility of this artist, given it’s from 1929 – some three years before the Great Bardfield watercolour. Spend a moment at Bawden’s lithograph of New Haven Harbour 1937, great art-deco type lines here, then look at Ravilious’s Paddle Steamers at Night. Beautifully constructed pieces.  Then suddenly we fast-forward to Bawden’s Tyger Tyger, a print from 1991 in a totally different style. Tucked away are a couple of stunning John Piper pieces and, dominating the larger of the two rooms, Bawden’s bizarre Two Bays – if you live in Scarborough find your street.

Finally, out on the walls overlooking the foyer, are a couple of late linocuts of Brighton – I particularly liked Brighton Pier.

See this exhibition before it ends; it’s a gem, showing yet again that Scarborough can give you good value more often than you think.

East Coasting runs until 4 May at Scarborough Art Gallery

Review: Scarborough Realists Now

When photography landed in the mid-nineteenth century it produced a crisis in painting, out of which came the extraordinary phenomenon that we know as modern art. Artists became liberated by their new task: to show us the world as they saw it, rather than trying to copy nature.

So what are we to think of a group of artists who call themselves realists? Are they a throwback to another age, or are they offering a new vision of the role of the artist?

Steve Whitehead’s View of Scarborough, which greets you as you emerge on to the art gallery’s top landing, is a dazzling foretaste of things to come. The strong light and bright colours give a sense of unreality to an apparently real scene. Seeing such a strikingly ‘real’ image is strangely disorientating. When you get near to the painting you see that the high lustre and exactness of the image is actually an illusion produced by distance. Close up the painting is textured and quite inexact – the opposite of reality.

Distance matters, and so does scale. In Clive Head’s Prague Early Morning and Nathan Walsh’s Sicilian Avenue, buildings loom above the viewer – is this a distortion or a novel view of the familiar? They bring to mind the early experiments with perspective of artists like Masaccio and Piero della Francesca. In all these paintings the exquisite technique gives the paintings a neatness that we’re not used to seeing; the sun shines, even the litter looks clean, and the people are incidental.

David Finnigan’s work is different. In Evolution the people are centre stage, the slabs of colour much broader, the emotional impact stronger – a different view of reality.

By creating convincing illusion, this show begs new questions about what is real. Not to be missed.

Scarborough Realists Now
Work by Steve Whitehead, Clive Head, Nathan Walsh, David Finnigan (all artists living and working in Scarborough)
4 Oct to 14 Dec Tues to Sun 10 to 5
Scarborough Art Gallery

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