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Art Review: Heallreaf 3 at Surface Gallery

17 September 19 words: Adrian Shaw

Heallreaf is an international tapestry exhibition which is really worth the visit – even if you can’t tell the difference between your ‘waft’ (vertical fixed threads)  and your ‘weft’ (horizontal ‘filling’ threads). 

Ignorance still exists about this ancient and wonderful craft, as well as a persistent prejudicial and ignorant belief that such craft is ‘low’ or ‘peasant art’, and made only by women. In many societies, weaving has been done by men, and the craft has many new adherents seeking a meditative and practical therapy.

At the Launch of the exhibition, an address was given by the Curator Margaret Jones – whose Exhibition work – a poem, plus diptych The Fallen –  evidenced an intricate and clever subtle gradation of shades of colour to achieve the changing effects of light. Margaret herself gave a very good introductory address, which was of benefit to those, who like me, had little or no prior knowledge of the practice of this ancient craft around the planet.

There really was a wide variety and size of weaves on show both downstairs, in the main gallery and in the upstairs space – where, as a cat-addict, I viewed CMYKat by Fanny Aboulker, with particular interest. Staring, the feline comes through with a very subtle effect.  While downstairs, I took in the wide variety of weaves on show, including, Heidi Flaxman, who is influenced by geology and topography – who is keen on mixing traditional with digital techniques, which can be seen in Winterbourne

One of my favourites in the show – Guldgubber by Anet Brusgard – was of Iron Age images and cultish; runes, votive offerings, and magical ‘emblems’ and icons in gold foil. A deep-black background was very effective in highlighting the imagery dramatically. It dominated one corner of the downstairs space, and was one of the most expensive in the most expensively-insured exhibition ever at Surface.

Other 21st century, technical and environmental-based work included Split by Christine Sawyer.  The inclusion of the general organic chemical formula CnH2n+2 at the left-hand side indicated a concern about the shattering of Arctic Ice through global warming, and also rock by fracking.  As a former environmental analytical organic chemist, I was particularly open to this. In fact, several other of the exhibition artworks are influenced by science ideas.

The amazing work included evidence of pre-Raphaelite art, such as Patricia Amour’s The Cove; Birgitta Hallberg’s Sunday Morning, with its child-like, energetic expressive and  figurative art; and Don Burns’ deeply–coloured and stark Moth of Hell, influenced by The Hours of Catherine of Cleves image Final Resolution.  Ancient tapestry is the basis of Burns’ technique, with the application of wool, linen and silk, enhancing the flow and inter-reaction of colour.  Colour is also used and celebrated in Angela Forte’s semi-abstract post-modernist  landscape Vermillion Sky, and Emma Straw’s spectral Dispersed.

Perhaps in keeping with the a town connected to yeomanry, and the legend of Robin Hood, Freo Ellenlic –  Anglo-Saxon for “a bold and valiant woman” – by Barbara Burns retold ancient militancy in Feminist terms. This was a fitting end, for me, to a remarkable exhibition of the ancient art of Weaving in post-modern terms.

Heallreaf 3 is at Surface Gallery until Saturday 21 September

Surface Gallery website

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