Hail The Chippenham Circus of Curious Artists

Alongside fellow artist Rae Melody from Chippenham, and dressed as a clown, Warminster artist Sarah Christie greets the curious and art lovers at the door of the newly opened Forbidden Carnival, long-time aspiration of homegrown Wiltshire alternative artist Si Griffiths. Inspiration strikes and she excitedly elucidates a blossoming idea on the topic of circus….. I went in, they had cake…...

I also found great conversation with Bristol-based artist Jimmer Willmott, who was proudly loitering around his own canvas, capturing an exceptionally dilapidated caravan, graffitied and amusingly adorned with a “for sale” sign. The opening night of the show, Hail The Curious has my mind pondering, being we were taught art history in movements, what exactly is the movement of now, and if there is one, is this it, alive, well and driven to Chippenham by the enduring and prolific force which is Si Griffiths and his associates?

Wikipedia labels it “contemporary art,” and denotes it’s not to be confused with “modern art.” It describes it as a movement, in “a globally influenced, culturally diverse, and technologically advancing world,” with a “dynamic combination of materials, methods, concepts, and subjects that continue the challenging of boundaries already well underway in the 20th century.” In layman’s terms it’s a blank canvas void of rules, something the Dadaists conceptualised over a century ago so hardly ground-breaking. Yet also, as a concept shrouded in pastiche and often satire, it is indulging outside influences akin to what we see in all media, from music sampling to reworking of classic films.  

Though it is, akin to modern art, postmodernism, or pop art, a rather ineffective name, which will one day suffer from not being contemporary at all, as “pop” art is hardly as “popular” today as it was when conceived in the mid fifties. Agreeably though, it’s a basis of what I see here, as I browse diverse methods and subjects the only thing combining them is curiosity and alternative thought, the mood varies intensely from the fantastical forbidding worries of Montague Tott and the poignancy of Mike Long’s “One Million Poppies,” to the brain-curdling comix art of Guts and comical outlandishness of David Russel Talbot, carried off in Victorian book illustration style. It is an anthology of craziness, a feast for your eyes, sir.

So, what is great about the here and now, and firmly accounted for in Forbidden Carnival is the overwhelming notion that art defends itself from the onslaught of technology by being of a level of creativity and method artificial intelligence cannot contend with. Because AI needs the outside command prompt, whereas Sarah’s lightbulb moment, or Jimmer enthusiastically expressing his thoughts when he painstakingly painted each line of said caravan, are organically composed command prompts induced by abstract observation, a challenge pop art never had to contend with. With the exact prompts, AI could recreate anything Warhol’s Factory knocked out, on a Samsung phone in seconds and still plaster you with adverts while doing it. 

There’s two ways to overcome this battle between the infinite monkey theorem and so-called artificial intelligence; revert back to a period of realism and paint a pragmatic portrait or landscape, which duly seems to be a backpedalling trend around these backwaters and something commented on amidst this gallery of divine curiosity, or face the challenge head on, as is exactly what we see here.

Here, all the artists are independently devising a new wave of incorporating cultural influences, the bizarre and surreal, graffiti, circus and carny lifestyle, comic book art and anything else they deem appropriate to throw into the melting pot, in a manner so far unseen.

In this I partially take back my rather inept observation in my preview of this show, pigeonholing Sarah Christie’s work “feminine Litchensteinesque,” as I see now there’s far more layers to her work than preconceived, as while Litchenstien’s blagged comic panels could be reconstructed by AI, Sarah’s work though similarly inspired by comic-book art couldn’t, as they offer originality and sly humour; one lady viewer giggled at the term “mansplaining” on one of her works, and in earshot, with my penchant for ironic overstatement I suggested my daughter had to explain the meaning of the slang!

Now, see, you cannot induce conversation like this with a throwaway AI image, anymore than you can gaze outward and zoom your eye in to pick out hidden details of anything on display here; hold on, there’s a mysterious pair of eyes in the window of Jimmer’s caravan, I could’ve seen this picture on social media a thousand times at not picked it out! I give particular reference to the mind-blowing cubist graffiti work of Miller, his Clokhous piece had me induced for an indefinite time, just gazing into it, picking it out the chosen angles and discovering their subject from the delineating separate image glued onto it, thinking why Pablo Picasso never thought of doing that!

If you want to browse antique shops for a pretty local landscape, you go do that, this is not for you. But should you wish to divulge into a realm of bizarre, of unexplored territory which dips your little toe into familiar waters, than chucks you straight into the deep end with a swirling splash of artistic outpouring, colour and the wary amusement of a meld of ghost train and hall of mirrors, then this circus big top of art is for you, and you only need to get yourself to Chippenham’s market place to do so. Open Saturdays and Sundays, 10-3pm, and also by appointment.


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