Huddersfield Art Gallery is currently home to the Priseman Seabrook Collection – a richly varied and inspirational range of work by artists painting nationwide, right now. This exhibition puts C21st British painting firmly on the map. It is a collection that is at once bold and bright, quiet and subtle. The show is curated beautifully – cleverly too. Consequently I left feeling that there is much to learn from these painters, and about painting more widely in Britain today.
Robert Priseman is the founder of Contemporary British Painting, a new platform for contemporary painting in the UK. An artist himself, Robert champions the work of painters working within spaces including garages, garden studios and spare bedrooms, contributing to a vibrant painting scene that exists underground in the UK today. These are painters who are predominantly fairly obscure but are producing compelling and unique bodies of work that need to be experienced, discussed and shared. The new platform provides space for this to happen.
I was initially drawn to this exhibition by Priseman’s website, where he presented the full range of works on display in Huddersfield on a single page. Ruth Philo’s Sink jumped out at me on-screen and continued to do so in the flesh. It comes across as a raw and considered celebration of the possibilities of pink, grey and black to convey motion, change and moments past and present. The painting is part of a series entitled With these walls … we are shaped, and depicts aspects of an art room that the artist worked in for many years.
Andrew Munoz’s Upside down is a stark and uncomfortable piece that forms part of a body of work that examines the notion of human as alien within set environments – markedly man-made or urban settings that may imitate nature, such as parks. This painting may juxtapose two representations of a single being. Both are strange and have the capacity to set one on edge – the former a pallid green gaping-mouthed figure and the latter a mirror-image in nude and pink, looming and overlapping the border between the two. The paint itself takes over – it sets a vacant scene, a boundary line and its textural distinctions create a definite sense of division, of fragmentation – of one and other.
Harvey Taylor’s The Sea at Mersea is a gripping, shifting work with great depth and a sense of frozen motion. The artist tends to take a photograph and break it down into a grid, using this as a starting point to explore the abstract nature of ‘real’ scenes. The work struck me as impeccable – how much time and care must have gone into each little wave? Each aspect of the ripples, of light and its direction, is considered with such care and understanding, while the aqua blue gives the painting a freer tone.
“This particular sea painting was inspired by many visits to the Mersea coast where I seemed to find myself staring calmly at the patterns and shifting shapes of the water. The lack of a horizon makes the image appear more abstract and up close you are aware that it is a meticulously built up painting.” – Harvey Taylor, 2014.
Another work that leapt out at me online was Simon Burton’s The Faithful. Surely influenced and spurred by historical religious icons and the nature of iconoclasm, this piece possesses a tense and mystical atmosphere. It reminds me of icons that have been covered, neglected, defaced, but survive. Icons that live on through periods of unrest and flux – that are hidden, preserved or altered, maintaining significance through their materiality and story. Imperial colours, warm glowing light and the hollow hallowed eyes of the figure further this painting’s beguiling appeal.
Sam Douglas works in a tradition of British visionary landscape painters of the past such as Samuel Palmer, Graham Sutherland, and Paul Nash. Rambler of the West is a startling, hushed golden green landscape painting with a gorgeous antiquated rippled finish. It caused me to look and look again, amazed by the depth of the work, its multiple aspects and layers. It appeared so old and wise to me.
A final highlight of this exhibition was Alison Pilkington’s The Visitor. This uncanny, hilarious and disturbing work caught my eye the moment I entered the exhibition space. It drew me in from afar and pushed me away with equal force – the gritty gloom of the backdrop adding depth and anxiety to this image of an afflicted and seemingly startled little fellow. A real treat.
“I’ve been quite overwhelmed by the depth, quality and integrity of what has been assembled and hope it will form the foundation for a growing collection which reflects in some way the energy, thinking and seriousness of the new spirit in painting we are seeing emerge in Britain today.” – Robert Priseman, 2014.
I walked away from this exhibition elated, with new-found inspiration for my own work and the desire to learn more about these artists and the Contemporary British Painting platform more widely. This is the beginning of a new chapter for the Journal, details of which will be unveiled in due course.
Contemporary British Painting runs until 14th March 2015 at Huddersfield Art Gallery. Further details can be found on the gallery’s website: http://www.kirklees.gov.uk/leisure/museumsGalleries/huddersfieldArtGallery/index.aspx
To find out more about Contemporary British Painting please see: http://www.contemporarybritishpainting.com/wordpress/
Katherine A. Caddy