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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Never Mind The Heritage, Here’s an Art Show

Images by Gail Foster

 Si Griffiths teams up with Mike Long and Emma Sally for an all-together different art show…..in Chippenham!

 

If, like me, you like your art with edge, and you don’t stand on convention, a trio of Chippenham artists have a DIY exhibition at the Yelde Hall you really need to see.

With a poster akin to the cover of Never Mind the Bollocks, Never Mind The Heritage, Here’s Our Art Show show does just that, it grabs the conventional art world where it hurts and hurls it away, but in a satirical manner rather than all-out anarchy.

We’ve had a few moments with Si Griffiths online in the past, it was a great opportunity to meet him in person, but more so, see his paintings for real. It’s an argument I try convey to many non-art-lovers; it’s one thing to see a 72dpi Google image, even a print in a book, but something all together different to view the original in a gallery.

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Part-psychedelic-part-punker painter with a penchant for clowns, there’s always narrative to Si’s work, hidden meanings, repeated symbolism and a counter-culture ethos. With a dark satirical edge, his paintings often reflect underground comix of yore. Think Rick Griffin rather than Vaughn Bode, and principally pre-Fredrick Wertham’s censorship assault on US comic books in the fifties, such as the daring EC line. A couple even have hand painted text in a similar font to EC comic books.

While it’s the comic influence which initially drew me in his work, others show a proficient hand at life drawing, but all are psychedelia, explosive with colour and hold disturbing undertones. Tattoo-like devils, skeletons, but particularly misplaced clowns, often in unusual or dangerous predicaments, say with hookers and guns, or sitting alongside a table depicting disciples in Da Vinci’s Last Supper, with Jesus as a jester. There’s a slight element to pop art and surrealism, with a plethora of cultural references, Freddy Kruger and that guy with the pins in his head! Yet Si’s work is highly unique and stylised, accurately rendered, with running symbolism such as yin and yan, and Edvard Munch’s the Scream seems to hang on the walls of many scenes.

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Emma Sally with Si’s work behind her

We talked over many influences, I mentioned Pieter Bruegel, but in turning a corner to the second artist, Mike Long, I noted he had an even greater influence to Bruegal, and L. S. Lowry too, with some pleasing busy scenes you could examine for an age and still discover something new. I feel this similar element brings both artists together, yet this is a varied show, and Mike’s take is different from Si’s angle.

I breezed past some still life, something faithfully enlightening in concept, and onto some scenes which defied the laws of perspective. This took me to mention Hogarth, for his play on perspective, but from a larger scenic painting Mike pointed to a group of fairground attendees in a pose akin to Goya’s classic The Third of May 1808; again, I see why these two artists complement each other perfectly, Goya had a cartoony style, of sorts, yet both Si and Mike retain their individualism. Mike expressed the scenes are real, with alternative angles to various parts, like the cubist approach.

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Mike Long’s Goya-styled fairground attraction

I loved a painting on the end of the board, of a steampunk airship, and Mike elucidated his inspiration came from the frame he used. This then was an entirely new approach to me, not fathoming the frame is anything more than the sum of its parts, a frame, a border to the end of the piece. With this notion I looked back at his still life paintings, and across the board there was a definite relationship to the frame in each painting. While in some the frame matched the style or theme, in others the painting extended out across the frame in an inimitable fashion.

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Mike explains the relationship with the border in this steampunk inspired peice

Between the two, Emma Sally’s work displayed some beautiful still life with expressive attention to reflection, but as I progressed to the other side of the wall, I witnessed a move to veiled meanings, of freedom, of love and passion. These are highly skilled paintings, breath-taking photographic renditions, and a series of oriental fashioned female poses, they were absolutely awesome, I demanded our lady of the lens, Gail, takes a snap of this one, as I think it alone will lure you in to this wonderful and friendly little exhibit.

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That’s the painting I’m on about from Emma, totally drew me in for ages!

It’s free folks, the works are extremely fair-priced, and I could think of three billion ways less productive and interesting to kill an hour in Chippenham! What is more, The Yelde Hall is a lovely space for it, central in Chippenham and I hope it inspires more artistic happenings in the town. It’s on until Thursday 26th September, open daily from 10am until 4pm, except Sunday.

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The legend, Kieran J Moore dropped in during his lunchbreak to show us some magic tricks!!

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Gail interviews Si Griffiths

So yeah, I’ve previewed pop surrealist and tattoo artist, Si Griffiths’ latest exhibit at the Black Swan Arts in Frome, (here) but our local poet/photographer Gail Foster popped down to chat with the man himself and here’s her video to prove it, complete with melancholic themes.

Thanks for letting me make a quick and easy post out of it Gail, saved me some typing, on a Sunday too! So yay, check it out, and note the exhibit runs until 26th May.

So go for a wander round the exhibition, see the artist at work, and hear him talking about his art.

 

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