RBSA New Curators Exhibition Review

06 July 2016

By Andrew Coates RBSA

New Curators: Sculpture 2016
Wednesday 8th – Saturday 18th June
New Curators:Lauren Hall, B.A., Stephen Kirk, B.A., Beatrice Moirera-Watkins, Megan Prosser
Volunteer Mentors: Andrew Coates, RBSA, Hannah Northam, ARBSA.

This ground-breaking exhibition continued the Society’s innovative policy of providing young people with the opportunity, annually, to curate a selection of original artworks – in this instance a range of sculpture and three dimensional objects chosen as representing the best from RBSA members and invited local artists.
On entering each gallery, the viewer’s immediate and overriding reaction was to the constructive and imaginative use of space – intense whiteness punctuated by the judicious employment of blue/grey patches – allowing each work or group of works either to breathe or interact with their fellows – a luxury not afforded the curators of most society shows who must provide opportunities for large numbers of members and associates to exhibit.
The exhibition contained works in a comprehensive range of three dimensional media including clay, stone, wood, plaster and precious metals and cast iron, limestone, nickel silver, bronze and bronze polymer, but perhaps more intriguing was the range of themes and subjects which gave rise to and provided both the abstract and figurative works their significance.
Works by Hannah Northam, Robert Page and John Garbutt are informed by the close observation and analysis of aspects of the human body deriving from the 19th century neo-classical tradition as epitomised by the visual realism of Rodin in France.  Page, however, uses his anatomical knowledge to produce works of fantasy, transformed from the everyday by wonderful hair; and Garbutt makes expressive works which evoke narratives as in his ‘Adoration of the Mosh Pit’.  In a similar vein Joan Sharma’s stone carving ‘Granny’ owes much to the precise formalisation of the great English sculptor, Henry Moore, whilst ‘Family’ relates more directly to Moore’s early interest in the Mexican sculpture in the British Museum; and Jo Naden’s ‘Primapara’ would seem to have its origins in the superb formalisation of a prehistoric mother goddess.  Another strand of Northam’s creative output, her impressive ‘Angel’ owes its existence, at least partly, to an informed understanding of the profound abstractions of Barbara Hepworth.
Truth to materials and a concern for the intrinsic qualities of the natural world often seem to complement each other. Don Ratcliffe reveals the patterns and rhythms of indigenous woods by a process of removing and polishing.  Likewise Malcolm Franklin, but his profoundly subtle units are capable of endless permutations, much like Brancusi’s never ending column.  Michele White makes exquisite landscapes in precious metals and Viv Astling’s respect for the qualities of stone not only enable him to arrive at aesthetically pleasing individual conclusions, but in juxtaposition they also act as landscape units in a wider imagined world.  Similarly Tom Millard’s enthusiasm for the rich texture of rock surfaces finds its expression in ceramic monoliths which reflect, in miniature, the power of the landscape experience at first hand.
Ceramics was well represented and both functional and non-functional examples were included.  Andrew Matheson’s drinking vessels and Katie Timson’s planters and vases exemplify the tradition of making works in series, the production of multiples as a creative ploy which are often shown as installations in contemporary ceramic fairs and galleries.  On the other hand, June Ridgway’s pebbles and onions are delicate, perfectly formed, burnished to an eggshell smoothness and made entirely for aesthetic delight.
The final category relates to the use of the natural world both as a subject for concern and as a reason for optimism.  Wendy Higgins presented superbly crafted and visually satisfying raku fired pods in groups, each one individually made and based on small flasks found in Roman tombs made to contain the tears of mourners.  Her concern is man’s mis-use of the environment and each pod represents a species either extinct or in serious decline.  This view is mirrored by Andrew Coates.  His constructed relief ‘Time is Running Out’, contains a clock to signify the passing of time and is based on a response to a plaque in Whitby Art Gallery which urges man “…to appropriate to his service, the elements of which God has surrounded him”, celebrating the first making of iron in the Esk valley in 1860.  Elaine Hind’s sensitive ceramics, however, are based on decaying fruit and flowers in Autumn, thereby finding beauty in death; and Carl Swanson’s craftsmanship and thoughtful and informed observations of nature enable him to cause metal seedlings to grow from a beautiful piece of time-worn oak.

Overall the work reflected not only a profound commitment to the job of making art, but also an overwhelming concern for the achievement of quality and a profound understanding of the culture from which it is derived.  In the words of a visitor to the gallery: “It has integrity – good work well made.”