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Painting Notts Proud

13 February 10 words: Frances Ashton
1021 works of art, by 313 artists, were submitted for this year's Nottingham Open Exhibition. Just 105 of these were selected

Simon Raven - A Soft Place To Fall
Simon Raven, A Soft Place to Fall

Walking up the old stone steps I am struck by an immediate presence of paint on canvas with two large oil paintings by Steffie Richards. These pixelated scenes on neutral linen depict the flowing movement of mysterious characters defined by delicately decreasing blue curves.

1021 works of art were submitted this year by 313 artists and the 105 works in this exhibition were selected by painter Gordon Cheung and textile artist Shelley Goldsmith.

 As expected there are artworks on display, which take their inspiration from Nottingham; Simon Raven’s found object sculptures A Soft Place to Fall and Bowling for Nottingham create a mesmorising motion as an ice skate rotates on a turntable with glinting mirrors. Immediately eye catching and arousing curiosity in the viewer, Raven’s work comments on Nottingham’s popular pastimes of bowling and ice skating.

Timothy I Smith’s video piece titled Time Based Photograph, Sneinton draws us into a slow hazy view across one of Nottingham’s most recognisable cityscapes. The film starts by focusing in on a CCTV camera, zooming out on a misty desolate morning to reveal view of tower blocks and familiar city scenes. As the view pans out we discover a figure watching this scene through his window, we watch the viewer for a while and then retreat as a door is closed on us and our view.

Jackie Berridge, Mid Summer Night

High quality painting dominated the Open exhibition this year with Sarah Key’s distinctive and consistently good large-scale paintings How to disappear completely Parts 1 & 2 appear in the last room. These dark canvases with streaky, tear-stained paint flook like a Beatrix Potter tale gone wrong; the human-like Fox and Rabbit creatures carry their game kill of fellow countryside animals.

 Another artist who explores the animal/ human hybrid through oil painting is Jackie Berridge, founder of Harrington Mills Studios in Long Eaton. Her painting Terrier of Yorkshire shows a sweet innocent looking little girl holding a balloon which her terrier’s head. Mid Summer Night depicts a countryside party scene attended by birds, mice badgers and other animals which look ghostly as they move in the moonlight of the brooding sky. Alongside the painters there is a strong presence of photography this year. Stuart Blackwood wins the People’s Panel Prize, in its first year selected by local people, with his lucid black and white views of Southwell Minster through the trees.

Nick Mobbs, Red leather Sofa

Nick Mobb’s large-scale photography Green Sofa Bed and Red leather Sofa present comical images of old furniture stuffed in doorways as if a panting removals man was stuck on the other side. Mobbs’ depicts the clarity of materials and textures such as soft leather, fabric patterning and the pine of the interior doors and banisters. The shapes he records are appealing to the viewer as if Alice is beckoning you down the rabbit hole.

There are also some beautiful and unusual objects in this exhibition of Nottingham’s best artists. Guy Brown shows two curiously useless objects Float 1 and Float 2. These which are two-tone boxes made from plastic and wood are well-made with chair-like wooden legs and straps and handles which invite you to open them.

Esther Patterson’s Curiosa & Curiosa, Birds on Barbed Wire is an printed upholstered chair where traditional patterns and motifs have been replaced with stylised objects and sinister patterning. Her traditional sofa chair is a little more frightening adorned with a baby/fly hybrid creature entangled in barbed wire.

Anna Collette Hunt, The Wilderness

Nottingham Castle’s Solo Exhibition winner, Anna Collette Hunt is a ceramic artist who produces huge discs which hang on the wall with thick gold chains. She references antiques and antiquity with repetitive animal imagery and kitsch patterns using pastel colour glazing. It would be a crime to serve anything on these roundel tea-tray like objects but I look forward to seeing how her unique and beautiful artworks will look in the exhibition on the Castle Stairs in 2011.

Thomas Wright, Innocence and Experience
However, with the pitting of art skills, artforms, materials and technique against each other, it is painting that wins through and Thomas Wright winner of the Grand Prize of £1500. This year for the very first time the judges shortlisted 5 artists for the grand prize, and the winner was chosen actually by all the artists in the exhibition in a secret ballot. Wright exhibits 4 small works on linen, which range from the historical to the romantic and from the surreal to the futuristic. Demonstrating a meticulous attention to detail Innocence & Experience obviously references to art history, giving me a sense that I’ve seen this somewhere before. Yet each tiny painting embodies a contemporary newness and strangeness which makes them intriguing and captivating.

Once again the Nottingham Open exhibition succeeds in demonstrating the talents and diversity of Nottingham’s artists and in particular a strength in painting. Notable this year was the sense of community and democracy through the selection of the Grand and People’s Panel Prizes. Nottingham has chosen its winning artists and therefore Nottingham supports the progression of these artists.

Nottingham Open exhibition will be at Nottingham Castle until Sunday 7 March 2010. Open Tuesday-Sunday 10am to 4pm (5pm in March). FREE entry Monday - Friday for Nottingham city residents or those who work within Nottingham city. Saturday & Sunday £3.50 for Adults, concessions £2 and Family Ticket £8.

More info on the Nottingham Open Exhibition

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