Some exhibitions send you into contemplative frenzy. Some just make you want to Do and to Make. Work currently on show at the Oriel Mostyn Gallery in Llandudno falls into the latter category. I’m sure it also falls into the first as well, but my overwhelming response to this morning’s visit was a visceral need and desire to slap paint on photos and canvas and scrawl with a stylus into a hard ground.
Interestingly, I wasn’t alone in feeling this way. I had dragged my mother on this excursion into North Wales. Not that she needed dragging: she grew up down the road so the car journey as always was a recounting of stories and memories and pointing out that the A55 actually passes over Grandad’s vegetable patch near Llandulas. I like the fact I get to find out new nuggets of personal history of this sort.
We also had to recreate past history with a visit to a local cafe before we even crossed the threshold of the gallery. The cafe, my mother told me with a wistful look in her eye, was where she used to take the grandchildren on their regular outings to the town. Outings I missed out on, but it transpired I had missed nothing as far as this cafe was concerned. Despite the chandeliers and waitresses in little black dresses with white aprons, the place had an odour of Institutional decay which was quite off putting. My mother assured me that with the doors open in summer it was a different place altogether. That would be the only way I would return to it.
Anyway, I digress. This immersion in a personal mythology and history submerged in landscape seems appropriate and pertinent to an encounter with the painting of Anselm Kiefer and the printmaking of Jane Joseph. Clearly there is a contemplative response lurking in my psyche: it’s just overridden by this overwhelming urge to splash thin liquid paint over photographs and canvas. And to get back to the point I was making, my mother (NOT an artist of any sort in her own words) is overcome by a similar desire. I tell her she should go for it. It’s never too late.
The Kiefer exhibition has come about through the Artist Rooms On Tour initiative in partnership with the Art Fund. The Artist Rooms collection of international contemporary art is thus taken on tour to galleries throughout the UK. It was enough to entice me across the Pennines into North Wales, but then I had been looking for a good reason to visit the Mostyn Gallery for a while.
Kiefer’s photo montages/collages/paintings are stunning and overwhelming and beautiful. Carelessly and intuitively marked and scrawled upon and flooded with that insouciance which almost invariably serves up a compelling beauty outside the norms of conventional beauty.
Jane Joseph’s etchings inspired by the life and work of Primo Levi are intriguingly diverse and idiosyncratic on a topic which is profoundly challenging to any artist. So I liked the unpredictability and tangential
responses of her imagery grounded in a very human way. And as I said, I do want to run off and do some etching. The artist hits the nail on the head when she says that etching is a great medium to resolve ideas which otherwise never make it off the pages of a sketchbook.
Apart from the work I specifically came to see, there was other great stuff on show. Ha Ha Road explores the use of humour in contemporary art and did make us Laugh Out Loud. And set me thinking about the disruptive power of humour and seeing the world differently as a consequence.
And not least, some compelling paintings by Mali Morris. I almost didn’t look at them as I rushed through to the other galleries, but the luminescent colours stopped me in my tracks and I became completely absorbed by the obscured layers and jewel-like glimpses of pure colour.
The gallery is worth the journey. It’s an amazing space and my mother tells me it was originally built as a gallery for women’s art back in the early years of the twentieth century. I have yet to work my way through all the leaflets we collected to check this out. The paperwork is copious; everything is of course in Welsh and English, but that’s fine.
I feel as if I’ve been away on holiday.