Best of the West – January 2023

The best art exhibitions coming up in Bristol and the Westcountry – selected by the Friends of the RWA…

Here’s our pick of the best art exhibitions and events happening in and around Bristol and the south west in the month ahead – including a look ahead to upcoming features….


AT THE RWA

7 Swans; A Bend in the River © Jem Southam.

169 Annual Open Exhibition – until 8 January 23

The RWA’s renowned Annual Open Exhibition returns for its 169th year with a stunning variety of work from emerging and established artists. More info here.

RWA Photo Open Exhibition

28 Jan – 1 May 2023, Main galleries
The RWA Photo Open Exhibition is a celebration of contemporary photographic practice and is open to all artists who use this medium to submit either single images or limited series. From camera obscuras dating back to ancient China, to the breakthrough in capturing images with early pinhole photography, few artistic mediums have undergone such dramatic transformation. Now in the digital age, photography has become one of the most popular and accessible forms of artistic and personal expression. More info here.

Jem Southam: A Bend In The River

28 Jan – 1 May 2023, Main galleries
The RWA presents a special exhibition by leading Bristol-born photographer Jem Southam.
Southam is known for his diligently observed landscape photography documenting subtle changes in an environment over time, often photographing his surroundings in the South West of England. More info here.

Between Work and Window: Photographs of RWA Academicians by Anne-Katrin Purkiss

28 January – 12 March 2023, Kenny Gallery.
This exhibition of photographs of Royal West of England Academicians forms part of a larger collection of portraits, documenting British artists in the context of their working environment. It is an ongoing project that began more than thirty years ago with photographs of artists commissioned for press and news agencies and that is now pursued largely out of personal interest and based on commissions from the art galleries and publishers. See more here.

Underexposed

28 Jan – 23 April 2023
An exhibition of photographs by Alice Hendy showcasing the creative and brilliant work of disabled individuals who attend Bristol Community Links day centres, participating in portrait photography workshops led by Olumide Osinoiki. More info here.


 

CURRENT EXHIBITIONS

Compiled by Sue Quirk and Laurel Smart

 

1) ANNE TALLENTIRE: MATERIAL DISTANCE

UNTIL 14 JANUARY, JOHN HANSARD GALLERY, SOUTHAMPTON

In this major solo exhibition Tallentire encourages us to think again about the spaces and environment that we inhabit. Questions of how we occupy both public and private space are brought to the fore in works that utilise everyday materials, systems and structures.

The significance of the spaces we all inhabit is intriguingly revealed. We are encouraged to think about how our daily lives are impacted by the conditions in which we live. One work, made specially for this exhibition, directly relates to Wyndham Court in Southampton. Plans, measurements, proportions and diagrams are animated and made relatable through Tallentire’s thoughtful depiction of this iconic building.

The specific qualities of the John Hansard Gallery spaces and location are brought beautifully into focus through both new and existing works. Using sightlines between buildings and referring to neighbouring architectural space, Tallentire adapts and roots her work to its locality. However, despite the modest means by which the works are made, Tallentire raises significant questions about the built environment, housing provision, the economics of labour, and the ongoing inadequacies of social housing and its societal impact.

Website

 

2) WHOSE WOODS THESE ARE … MIXED EXHIBITION

UNTIL 14 JANUARY, GBS FINE ART, WELLS

This is an exhibition of the work of four artists who each take radically different approaches to the depiction of landscape, its title derived from Robert Frost’s 1922 poem, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. Jeffrey Blondes, an American living in France, makes long meditative films honing in on the intersection of time and the landscape; the exquisite panels of Sue Bryan, Irish yet resident in NYC, are founded in drawing, working and reworking her memories of the Irish landscape; Devon-based Keiron Leach “paints” in India ink and wash, fashioning the pictorial equivalent of haiku poems on tiny paper sheets; and watercolourist, Magnus Petersson, brilliantly evokes the light and landscape that surround his home in the vast forests that swathe Sweden.

 Website.

 

3) ROSEMARY MAYER: WAYS OF ATTACHING

UNTIL 15 JANUARY, SPIKE ISLAND, BRISTOL

Ways of Attaching is the first institutional survey exhibition of artist Rosemary Mayer (1943–2014). It spans three decades of Mayer’s prolific and varied practice, from fabric sculptures, artist’s books and ephemeral installations of the 1970s through to ink drawings and pastels from the 1980s and 90s.

Some of her later work became more muted and darker in tone. Black and white ink drawings of classical vessels from the 1980s are overlaid with menacing phrases that invoke feelings of fragility and despair. Likewise, extremely modest sculptures made from cheesecloth and rabbit skin glue from the 1990s seem like decomposed remnants of the lush materiality of her early pieces.

Ways of Attaching is the first time Mayer’s work has ever been shown in the UK. The title is purposefully equivocal: attaching is not only a method for binding materials together, but also for establishing connections with friends and peers, both living and dead, which was central to Mayer’s understanding of art.

Website.

 

4) FRANCES WILLOUGHBY: DREAM HOUSE

20 – 25 JANUARY, CENTRESPACE, BRISTOL

Frances Willoughby explores the ritual of domesticity in her solo exhibition. Through photography, textiles, collage and sculpture, Willoughby sets the scene for an uncanny but curious Dream House.

Willoughby’s self-reflective works, bound by anxiety and discomfort, explore home as a place of both security and uncertainty. Obscure bodies and objects situated in unexpected domestic scenarios are brought to life through new photographic works. Repurposed family table linens and doilies, now a series of collaged banners, consider a complex feminine history whilst grappling with the current financial and emotional weight of independence.

Taking one context and exploring it through a variety of mediums, Willoughby presents an exploration of home and its personal meaning.

Frances Willoughby is a multidisciplinary artist based in Bristol. Working with sculpture, photography, collage and installation, Willoughby is concerned with the metamorphosis of the human form. Part autobiography, part invented narrative, Willoughby’s work confronts personal trauma, family history, fear and desire.

Website.

 

5) GROUP 7: CONNECTIONS, MIXED EXHIBITION

UNTIL 22 JANUARY, BLACK SWAN ARTS, FROME, SOMERSET

The members of “group 7” are all established artists who are producing powerfully mature and expressive works, where colour is a common denominator.

The title Connections for the exhibition gives meaning to their common ground, despite each of the group’s work having a distinct identity. The group exhibit together because of their mutual interests in the predominantly painterly language of abstraction. The group have a mutual confidence in the ability of marks, colour, gestures, and composition to communicate in their own right. Some of the group feature recognisable landscape references within their images, but here there is evidence of one of the primary engines of abstraction, the simplification and selection of shape. The elimination of details or elements of the topographical information to release the power of the evocative and more abstract concerns is a connection that can be identified.

These are not literal representations of the landscape, colours are changed, forms are simplified and often flattened in the picture space, the imagery is developed by the actions and decisions of the artist in their own creative process to move towards forms that have their own painterly visual energy and exist in a more abstract world. These actions and decisions in the making (and discovering) process constitute a clear connection between members of Group 7.

The exhibition will contain paintings, prints, sculpture, and drawings. The artists are: Brian Bishop, Martin Brewster, Bonnie Brown, Michelle Griffiths, Ursula Leach, Stephen Powell, and Peter Symons.

Website.

 

6) BARTI KHER: THE BODY IS A PLACE

UNTIL 29 JANUARY, ARNOLFINI

Experimentation and alchemy are key to Kher’s practice, which explores materiality, secularity, and spirituality, creating new meaning in objects and hybrid narratives that move fluidly between fact and fiction, and certainty and uncertainty. Deeply interested in our experience of an artwork and its relationship to the body, her work often challenges preconceived ideas of gender and femininity, ‘tapping into mythologies and the numerous diverse associations a thing or place can bring.’

Kher is recognised as a leading contemporary artist with a career spanning over three decades and has developed a well-earned reputation from a multitude of international exhibitions and installations.

Including new and previously unseen works created during residencies in Somerset in 2017 and 2019, The Body is a Place also features Kher’s monumental bindi drawings, the playful and political drawing-based installation Links in a Chain, sculptures made from found objects and plaster casts, and a new encounter with her site-specific bindi work Virus; part of a 30-year project began by the artist in 2010. A collector of materials and meaning, Kher’s work invites us into ‘a world of objects and a world of words,’ weaving between magical, mythical, spiritual, and scientific realms. Drawing upon bodily senses she creates her own ‘hand-brain-body-art-language’ – ‘I hear it, taste it, eat it, write it, draw it’ – explored here in both two and three-dimensional forms.

Website.

 

7) ANNE RYAN: FIGHTING ON THE DANCE FLOOR

UNTIL 29 JANUARY, EXETER PHOENIX

A solo exhibition of new work by Anne Ryan, who is renowned for her vibrant, three-dimensional paintings made from card, collage, canvas, ceramic and metal.

Intensely coloured, densely layered and full of movement, London-based, Irish artist Anne Ryan’s paintings extend from more conventional canvases, to works on card that are sliced and folded into freestanding ‘cutouts’, and into works made in ceramic, concrete or metal. They draw on her love of music and movies and combine observations from daily life with references to literature, mythology, classical painting and sculpture.

Fighting on the Dance Floor includes a new series of canvases that feature a montaged, multi-perspective layout, with deconstructed, collaged surfaces and fractured imagery. They depict figures in various poses and actions, overlapping and merging. There are glimpses of narrative, the suggestion of dancing, diving, fighting, or of musicians rocking out. Despite the absence of literal dance floors visible in the work on show, there is an element that reflects that moment when things are poised on a knife edge, the feel of danger and excitement – before all hell breaks loose.

As with her previous Maenads cut-outs, which used imagery of bacchanalian women celebrating like crazy, very sensually, often intoxicated or just high on partying, the figures in these new works also focus on women setting themselves free, letting go. The artist wants viewers to see a manifesto of feminine resistance to authority in the works, suggesting an alternative reading of the title where, perhaps, the fight on the dance floor is the dancing itself.

Website.


 

LAST CHANCE TO SEE

WATCH OUT FOR


 
The Friends of the RWA is an independent charity that supports the Royal West of England Academy, Bristol’s first art gallery. 
For just £35 a year Friends can make unlimited visits to RWA exhibitions and enjoy a host of other benefits, as well as making an important contribution to the arts in Bristol and the South West. Find out more and join up here.

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