An Art Shambles!

I tip my beret to The Shambles in Devizes for a wonderfully presented Christmas Art Fair on Saturday evening. Though it promised a glass of mulled wine and minced pie, which I didn’t seem to receive, it offered a variety of local artists exhibiting, and besides, I’m impartial to mince pies anyway!

(Update: seems I was supposed to queue at SoupChick for the mince pie and wine, so in effect I’ve only got myself to blame!)

If many an art show restricts itself by pigeonholing a particular movement, introducing only a handful of local artists gave the show range, and a little bit of everything could be found there. From charming sculptured little clay houses to watercolour landscapes, and from Marc Shilling’s monochrome candlelight art to Caroline Le Bourgeois’ super-cute animal studies with a dash of humour, it was a diverse assortment, but everything was great in its own right.

Breathtakingly impact-art from our good friend, Clifton Powell really makes one stop and think, not that he’s adverse to also painting life studies of local scenes and wildlife too.

A total of thirteen artists submitted, many on hand to chat with, but I was surprised how busy it was, and a couple of loops around the Shambles still wasn’t enough to take it all in.

Emily Hodges gave us some stunning photography, Josey Lewis had some wonderful landscapes, and visually, Matt Gibson and Belinda Golledge wowed, but my particular favourite, aside the couple I was aware of, Clifton and Caroline, I stopped for the longest in perusal of the colourful acrylic canvasses of first-time exhibiting Elly Smith. I loved the swirling patterns and autumn leaves design, semi-psychedelic, part fantasy expressionism, Elly had an amazing dragon piece which really drew me into it.

As well as art for sale, the more affordable prints and greetings cards were also available. Neil Barnes’s regular stall “Pics n Bits,” also remained open, for a great assortment of more mainstream prints and gifts and collectables.

Organised by the independent businesses of The Shambles, Anya Toropov of SoupChick, which conveniently stayed open for refreshments, and Michelle Turner of Phoenix Health and Wellbeing, this was a great, general exhibit which appealed to all, and certainly drew the crowds. But remember, guys, art is not just for Christmas; more of this in the future, please!


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Breakout to Chippenham’s Alternative Art Show

The flags of Israel and Palestine halved with a swish and a white dove stencilled over the top, was the starting point for a painting by Chippenham artist, Mike Long. We discussed his method, almost making it up as he went along, the original idea extends outwards as he progresses with a painting, rather like his unique tendency to continue the painting over the actual frame. Underneath the flags, a scene of a football game, with goalposts painted on tanks, in Mike’s sketchy Chagall style; this element developed while painting it.

We’re at Chippenham’s Yelde Hall in the Market Place, Mike’s turn on the rota to hold the fort. The alternative art show, Breakout is running for another week, until Saturday 3rd July. Open everyday except Sunday from 10am to 4pm, I call it “an art show” to break the preconceptions of words like “gallery” or “exhibit,” because here’s a display which finds an even ground between an often seen as tedious fine art gallery of standard landscapes or portraits, and the outright “arty” kind of off-putting “weird.” For this concept, it’s the sort of exhibit to appease anyone with only a passing interest in art; a contemporary pop art show.

Unlike two years past, when, teamed with two other artists, Si Griffiths and Emma Sally, they put on Never Mind The Heritage, Here’s Our Art Show, in the same venue, the three are joined by five other locally-based artists, each taking a panel, making for variety and a fuller experience. It’s a dazzling show, well worth paying a visit.

To start at the beginning, an artist I know only too well, Devizes-based Clifton Powell, takes the first panel. Recently commissioned to paint Abbot Hadrian for an English Heritage exhibition, The African Diaspora in England, in Canterbury, closer to home Clifton shows a few works from his ongoing “Unrest” series. They’re striking images, poignantly painted with realism, and take the subject of modern civil turbulence.

Works from the other artists exhibiting here are new to me. Jimmer Willmott, a pop surrealist from Bristol takes the next panel, describes his work as a “chaotic love affair of the cute and weird, running naked hand-in-hand with a bright, fun blend of humour and juxtaposition.” Indeed, words found in some excellently crafted Alphabetti Spaghetti, or American cops with donuts for heads in a more colourful vein than René Magritte’s The Son of Man, fits the bill.

Meanwhile, photographer Daniel Carmichael takes inspiration from patterns in small objects and the effects of time and the elements upon them. With a keen eye for a snap, autumn leaves covering a discarded men at work road sign, for example, captures a mood of manufactured versus nature.

 

Next is Mike Long’s varied styles, of expressionism, often Lowry-like scenes or steampunk imaginings which extends into the frame, involving it and creating the notion the subject continues after the confines of the image you’re looking at, these are ingenious works in which you’ll spot something different in each time you look at them. Also, I was surprised to see some graphical pieces too.

With environmental, often sombre themes, the ever-expressive Emma Sally is up next, she states her artwork this year has arisen from “feelings of frustration,” aptly.  A new direction, she says, “in articulating visceral emotions,” and the solemnity of a graveyard with woman dressed in black gazing at headstone is poignantly effective. Others are more sardonically abstract, the Earth ripped apart, rolled into sausage-shapes and knotted back together again being particularly adroit and stirring.

Mixed-media artist Helen Osborne Swan, creates a series of striking papier-mâché 3D masks, “open to the beholder’s interpretation,” but started with the Colston statue being toppled and daubed with paint. “There is a lot more behind the face we present to the world,” is a notion which could take us back to Clifton’s Unrest series, there’s a murky conception in these inventive faces protruding from the canvas at you, some obvious, but others, like the “too cool for skool” one of a younger with baseball cap and shades, you’re left uncertain as to the reason for their underhandedness.

Whereas Montague Tott leaves nothing to the imagination, trained as an illustrator “having to follow other people’s artistic direction,” given the freedom to express himself through his own work was “too great a temptation to ignore,” so he embarked on a more esoteric path. Inspired by classic oil paintings, Montague adds elements of horror movies, comics and popular culture into what would otherwise be a classic portrait. One of whom I suspect as silent-film actress Mabel Normand, painted with a child Freddy Kruger is particularly disconcerting, yet equally are the family portraits of half-man-half goat characters, as if trapped in a mansion of a fantasy novel.

And last up is the amazing, highly-skilled underground comix style of Si Griffiths, with his penchant for putting clowns or Frankenstein’s monster into unusual and inexplicable settings. Comically disturbing at times, in psychedelic visions or thriller movie surroundings, they bring an awkward smile.

If lockdown for the solitude profession of an artist hasn’t been so impacting on ability to work, it’s certainly had an impression on their subjects, but more so, producing a painting is only half the job; getting them out there is crucial financially. Do check this exhibit out if you can, it has Covid regulations in place, and is an airy hall. Importantly though, I feel here’s an art show you don’t need to be well-versed in art or an “arty sort” to enjoy and be entertained by. Neither will take up your entire day to browse, but with its less-is-more policy, there’s a varied bunch of alternative art on show, of which the standard is outstanding.


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Local Artist Clifton Powell Commissioned for English Heritage Exhibition The African Diaspora in England

A proud moment for Devizes-based artist Clifton Powell as he poses for a photo next to his amazing portrait of Abbot Hadrian, in Canterbury.

Clifton joins Elena Onwochei-Garcia, Glory Samjolly, Mikéla Henry-Lowe, Hannah Uzor and Chloe Cox in a project by English Heritage. EH has commissioned a series of portraits depicting six historic figures from the African diaspora whose stories have contributed to England’s rich history. Each artist has been supported by their curators and historians to creatively portray their subject. Each painting will be hung at the English Heritage site connected to its subject this summer.

St Hadrian of Canterbury played a pivotal role in the early history of the English Church. He was born in North Africa and travelled to Italy, most likely as a refugee, before making the journey to Canterbury. He was abbot of the monastery of St Peter and St Paul (later St Augustine’s) in Canterbury, between 670 and 710.

During his time in Canterbury, he became an influential teacher and scholar, and helped shape the theology and rites of worship of the English Church.

Clifton Powell studied at the Jamaica School of Art in Kingston, Jamaica, and moved to the UK in the late 1980s. A versatile and skilled painter, Clifton is influenced by the places he has travelled to and the people he’s met. He has taken part in numerous exhibitions and art fairs in London, Bath, Stroud and the West Country including the International Black Art Fair, The House of Emperor Haile Selassie, Bluestone Gallery and Diaspora at Salisbury Arts Centre.

You may also remember me reporting on the day I attended the charity-run art group for the elderly, Arts Together, in Melksham way back in February 2019, where I met with Clifton, who is a mentor and volunteer.

Recent areas of exploration in his work include the Wiltshire countryside, wildlife, birds, still life and his remarkable series of paintings depicting unrest in the world. He is currently working on a painting project titled African Art. You can catch his work closer to home, from 21st June to 3rd July at The Yelde Hall in Chippenham when he exhibits as part of Breakout, the Alternative Art Show.

A follow-up to the 2019 exhibit Never Mind The Heritage, Here’s an Art Show, in which three local artists, Si Griffiths, Mike Long and Emma Sally exhibited their “alternative art,” Breakout extends the concept, with additional artists Clifton, Daniel Carmichael, Helen Osborne-Swan, Jimmer Willmott and Montague Tott, as well as Si, Mike and Sally. I’m looking forward to this one.

While I’m on the subject of art, don’t forget we have an online art gallery on Devizine, yes we do! Each artist gets a page to show off their work, Clifton’s is here, and if you’d like to be featured with links to your website, just drop us a line, there is no fee.


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Small Wonders Art Auction in aid of Arts Together

It was one of my most memorable days following a story for Devizine, when I attended an Arts Together workshop in a sheltered accommodation hall in Bowerhill, last February with the artist Clifton Powell. I found out these sessions meant so much more than “art therapy” to the folk there, and it was delightful to talk to them about what they were doing. You can read about it here, and the amazing work this charity does locally.

This Christmas, Arts Together are hoping to raise up to £5,000, to enable them to continue supporting isolated and lonely older people in the community. Several of the thirteen accomplished artists who help, and many others, have donated artwork for an online auction. The auction is currently running and will last until 13th December.

You can take a look all the beautiful paintings, prints, photographs, ceramics and crafts on show, and make your bid to own one, by clicking here and browsing the images. All the proceeds are going to Arts Together to help them continue our support for older people during this winter.

If you are an artist and would like to donate a piece of small artwork, Arts Together would be delighted to add it to the online auction. Plus, alongside your work they will add a link to your own website and social media.

Please give this some attention if you can, such a brilliant charity, plus you could bag yourself a piece of fine original art for Christmas. Here’s a look at some of the variety of offer:

Leaping Frog from Roy Evans
Small Salt-Glazed Jug by Lexa Laurence
Beetle by Clifton Powell
Christmas in Snowdonia II by Penny Leaver-Green
Storm Warning by Jeff Pigott

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