Visuals: Reviews

Review: Rachel Howfield

In one corner of the art gallery’s coffee lounge stands an old wardrobe, with a felt robe hanging loose and storage jars standing on the shelves. On top is an ancient brown suitcase. The jars, we are told, contain some of the detritus of the artist’s life; instead of old clothes, the wardrobe holds dust

Meanwhile, and more importantly, a short film is projected from the wardrobe onto the opposite corner of the room. In this piece I have the feeling that Rachel Howfield has produced something of real and unusual significance.

The film – in which the artist sits, drinks coffee, wears the felt robe and moves around a bit – was taken from the exact position from where it is projected, so that we are effectively seeing an event re-occurring in the exact place where it happened. So what?, you might think, but the effect on the viewer is disturbing and multi-layered.

Sit down at one of the other tables and you begin to feel like a voyeur, watching someone who is unable to watch back. Then you see that the subject’s movements are mundane but not quite natural, the way we all would be when we knew we were being filmed – or watched by an invisible viewer. And stronger still is the sensation, which is frankly disturbing, of seeing some kind of ghost of the past. Someone who is present but not there, alive and with, while you are completely alone.
All of this takes time to emerge; this is not a piece of art to be hurried. It questions and disturbs our perceptions of the world – like all really good art.
Roger Osborne

Colourful – but is there enough bite?

Roger Osborne reviews the East Coast Open at Scarborough Art Gallery

Walking into a room crammed with fifty paintings by forty artists gives you instant sensory overload, followed by a kind of visual indigestion. So many colours, so many styles, all shouting ‘look at me’. It might be unfair to the others but in this situation your eye tends to fall, with some relief, on the simple, the direct and the different.

The first room is landscapes, most of which, though well executed, are a bit too nice for their own good (thank heaven someone invented modern art). Len Hodgson’s work is an exception, with a peculiar sense of order and foreboding, of the last light creeping under an unseen storm. Peter Hough also has that feeling of trying to wrestle something new from a familiar subject (as seen in Joy Verda’s more varied work).

By now you’ll be desperate for the sight of a human being. The second room gives plenty with familiar names Sally Gatie, Wendy Tate and Shirley Sheppard offering fruits of longtime interest in the human form; Vivienne Morgan’s Egyptian Sekhmet is a joy too, lovely precision contrasting with the acres of swirling paint around the place.

You should find your eye drawn to Paula Zimmermann’s pop-abstract Winter Pieces and tucked round the corner is Andrew Pert. His are the only 3D works in the show, and what a breath of fresh air. Inventive, witty and thoughtful, they show what art can do if it cares to break its self-imposed shackles.

Room three gives us seascapes by the slack handful, like a jumbled history of painting from 1800 to now. Again, it’s the simple, direct works that appeal most. Ken Lavery’s limpid monochrome photographs make the ‘realist’ works look redundant, while Rob Shaw’s primary colour depictions of Staithes, all red houses and yellow sky, stand out from the blues and greys all around. Look out too for Lynne Roebuck’s delightfully simple linocuts and Dawn Brooks’ screenprints, both showing that colour isn’t everything.

With so much variety there is still a feeling of something missing. The show shows an appreciation of the beauty of this part of the world, of artists seeking and finding contentment. But the world is a dangerous and difficult place; there are urgent issues of war, violence and cultural intolerance, and the crushing banality of materialism, convenience and celebrity. Where, we might ask, are the angry young artists?

East Coast open
19 January – 2 March 2008
Scarborough Art Gallery

Diamond Days

This month sees the 60th birthday of Scarborough Art Gallery; leading historian Jack Binns traces the history of the building
 
Crescent Villa was built in 1844-5, the last of four grand stone mansions on the south side of Crescent Gardens, between Wood End and Warwick House, later re-named Londesborough Lodge. For centuries Crescent Gardens had been arable land on the outskirts of Scarborough town when they were known as White bread Close.

In 1806 the land was bought for 3,000 guineas at a shilling a square yard by the shipbuilding and banking Tindall family who, in 1828, sold it to partners John Barry, architect and builder and John Uppleby, a local solicitor. Together they commissioned the distinguished York designer, John Hey Sharp, to draw up a housing development plan. During the next 20 years a modified version of Sharp's vision gradually materialised: terraces called Belvoir and Cresent on the north side, four detached villas overlooking Ramsdale on the south and between then a carriage drive around a railed oval garden.

In 1845 John Uppleby moved into Crescent Villa and, five years later, had an extension built on the western side of he house, in the same Italianate style. A succession of uninteresting occupants were sandwiched between the eccentric Sitwells at Wood End and the disgustingly rich Denisons in Londesborough Lodge, until Scarborough Borough Council entered the story.

In 1925 in an era of corporation expansion, the Council bought Londesborough Lodge for £6,000 and turned it into municipal medical baths; in 1934 it bought Wood End from Osbert Sitwell but did not know what to do with it; and, finally, in 1942, for the bargain price of £3,000 it acquired Crescent House, as we now call it.

During the Second World War Crescent House was used as a welfare clinic and children's nursery, but astonishingly, in view of the hardships of the time, it was opened November 1947 as a public art gallery.

Today Crescent House is largely the same as the home of Mr and Mrs Uppleby 160 years ago. Architects describe the style of the house as classical Italianate of the fifteenth century, built entirely of finely worked golden ashlar sandstone. Arguably, it is the best house in the Crescent and makes a perfect location for its paintings.

Like its close neighbours, it is a Grade Two starred building - a structure of national importance. Unlike Wood End, however, it has not been changed beyond recognition and unlike Londesborough Lodge it is not in danger of sale and privatisation.

On the afternoon of Sat 17 November 2007, the friends of Scarborough Art Gallery will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Crescent gallery. After the birthday cake is cut, Jack Binns will give a brief talk on the history of the building.

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