A voyage to the You Beaut Country with John Olsen


Seafood Paella (2007)

Where would you go if you only had one day in Melbourne?  That’s the question we had to ask ourselves before a whistle-stop tour of the city last month.  We were staying with friends about halfway between Melbourne’s central business district and the Yarra Valley region.  The reason for our fleeting visit? A wedding.  An eye-watering, breathtaking, totally worth the sleepless 36 hour flight, ultimate destination wedding!

When you’re travelling to the other side of the world and you’re limited by time (and budget) you have to focus on what really matters to you.  For me the answer was simple; to experience Australian art.  As soon as our feet touched the pavement of Federation Square we made a beeline for the National Gallery of Victoria’s Ian Potter Centre – “The home of Australian art.”

There’s an amazing collection of Indigenous and non-Indigenous art at the gallery, spanning from the colonial period right up to the present day.  A fascinating exhibition of Sally Gabori titled ‘Land Of All’  is also currently on loan to NGV.  It features over thirty of her works; including some small-scale canvases from her early paintings in 2005 as well as many large-scale collaborative works with the women of Kaiadilt for which she became renowned.  Well worth a visit before the exhibition continues on its tour from 29th January!  But there was one exhibition in particular I was just itching to see…

Bruce Armstrong Sculptures at NGV Australia

‘The You Beaut Country’  a collection of works by John Olsen, one of Australia’s greatest living artists.

We inched down the private corridor clutching our tickets before entering the first of seven sensational gallery spaces.  The exhibition begins with works from Olsen’s formative years as a student of abstraction and follows the development of his singular landscape vision before going onto his major works of the 60’s, 70’s and beyond.

Olsen describes his work as “an exploration of the totality of landscape.”  Capturing the spirit a place with his distinctive painting style Olsen’s dynamic yet sensual pictorial language invites us to experience his unique view of the world and his beloved Australia.

Bruce Armstrong Sculptures at NGV Australia

“I am in the landscape and the landscape is in me” – John Olsen.

Many of Olsen’s works have been executed and intended for exhibition as ceiling paintings.  As we progressed through to the second gallery space we were able to recline comfortably on purpose built benches and view Olsen’s ‘Summer in the you beaut country’ (1962) and ‘Sydney Sun’ (1965) as they were originally conceived.   

I was mesmerised by the vibrancy of Sydney Sun.’  Rays of lights pulse through the landscape, entwining with the plants and creatures that thrive under its mighty orb. Olsen believed the popularity of this painting was              “…because Australians are born under the sun and because of that light, we see the world differently. Life is so alive under the Australian sun…”

Bruce Armstrong Sculptures at NGV Australia

“He who speaks of art speaks of poetry.” – John Olsen.

It’s clear from this exhibition that throughout his life Olsen has been passionate about literature, poetry in particular, of which references can be found in many of the works and journals also on display.  W.B. Yeats, T.S. Eliot and Seamus Heaney have all made their mark on the artist.

‘Where the bee sucks, there suck I’  was originally exhibited as one of Olsen’s ceiling works in 1984 under the title ‘The force that through the green fuse drives the flower’  after the poem by Dylan Thomas.  However, following the exhibition Olson continued to work on the piece and decided to change the title to ‘Where the bee sucks, there suck I’  which is a line from William Shakespeare’s play ‘The Tempest’.  In stark contrast Olsen’s painting ‘Nightfall, when wattle stains the doubting heart’ (1980) is a nocturnal landscape based on the Wagga Wagga region and inspired by the poem ‘Terra Australis’  by Australian poet James McAuley.  With its dark watery depths and cool hues of the night, scattered with pinpricks of yellow, the piece is far more sombre in mood than his works of previous decades.


Spring Frogs II (2008)

In 1971 Olsen was invited to join a film production team on a series of documentaries focusing on Australia’s wildlife.  The experience intensified Olsen’s instinctive connection with the natural world and thereafter depictions of nature such as pelicans and frogs became a recurring feature in his work.

The exhibition continues onto Olsen’s more recent works including those inspired by the phenomena of Lake Eyre.  “When full, Lake Eyre is Australia’s largest freshwater lake and teems with bird, fish and animal life. As the waters evaporate and it begins to recede it becomes progressively saltier, eventually returning to a dry saltpan where most forms of life are unable to survive… There it is and there it isn’t.”

You can see that throughout his career Olsen has experimented with a variety of mediums including tapestry, printmaking, ceramics and sculpture.  Whilst famous for his landscapes, Olsen’s work reflects his many other passions inspired by the cultures he experienced whilst travelling in Europe for a number of years.  My favourite piece from the exhibition was Olsen’s ‘Seafood Paella’ (2007); an enormous five panel canvas that at first glance resembles a gargantuan sun ejecting masses of solar flares.  However, on closer inspection you can see peas, squids and chickens all tossed together in an explosive celebration of this delicious Spanish dish.

Bruce Armstrong Sculptures at NGV Australia

“I’ve learned that life isn’t about travelling from peak to peak; life is the ability to travel in the valleys as well.” – John Olsen.

The collection celebrates an artist who at 88 years young is still as passionate about his art and the subjects which inspire him as the day he first put brush to canvas.  On leaving the exhibition we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the nearby botanical gardens, another oasis of calm in clamour of a growing city.  That is until we got caught in a torrential rainstorm and were forced to shelter under the branches of a large oak tree along with a number of other surprised passers-by.  After the showers died down we made a break for Hosier Lane, Melbourne’s famous graffiti street, and had just enough time to visit the charming Anna Schwartz Gallery which is currently home to an incredible instillation ‘Absent Bodies’  by Chiharu Shiota. Reflecting on the day’s events I feel humbled by the richness of Olsen’s experience and satisfied that I have fulfilled my own desire to see great Australian art in the country of its origin.

‘The You Beaut Country’  will be exhibiting at the NGV Ian Potter Centre until 12th February before moving to the Art Gallery of New South Wales from the 10th March until the 12th of June 2017.

Amy Wiles


Squid in its own ink (2015) 

(Photographs courtesy of NGV)


Vital : Not Vital at YSP


Moon (2015)

The Yorkshire Sculpture Park in Wakefield is currently hosting the first major UK exhibition by world renowned sculptor Not Vital, reinforcing its already glowing reputation as a centre of both national and international importance in the world of modern and contemporary sculpture. This exciting exhibition features works in the Underground Gallery, Garden Gallery and 500 acres of breathtaking open air at YSP.

Born in 1948 in the remote village of Sent, part of the Engadin region of the Swiss Alps, Vital grew up with a deep appreciation of nature and the animal world. His work, often anthropomorphic, employs a subtle palette of silver, black and white reminiscent of the mountains and valleys he grew up beside.


Pelvis (2008)

It is said that when Vital was 15 he asked his father, a timber merchant, to cut down a number of trees so as to isolate one tree in particular. He then stood behind this tree and moved within the shadow it cast throughout the rest of the day whilst his father took photographs every few minutes. This kind of land art marked the beginning of a long and successful career that has seen his work exhibited in some of the most eminent places around the world.

With studios in Switzerland and China as well as homes in Rio de Janeiro and Niger, Vital’s nomadic lifestyle is apparent and reflected in the diversity within his art. His choice of materials range from paintings and works on paper, indoor sculptures from plaster, silver, gold, marble, glass and coal, to outdoor sculptures in stainless steel and bronze.


House to watch a sunset (2005)

Vital is known for building incredible structures that blur the lines between sculpture and architecture, a practice which he terms SCARCH.

A perfect example of Vital’s SCARCH work can be seen on the roof of the Underground Gallery. House to Watch the Sunset (2005) is an aluminium model of the original work which Vital built from sun-dried bricks in an oasis in Aladab, Niger. The house is comprised of three floors each with a separate staircase leading to a viewing area built solely for the purpose of watching sunsets. Vital’s building is a striking addition to the stunning views of the surrounding Yorkshire countryside and draws a connection between mankind and the unseen forces of nature that shape our world.


Tongue (2008)

Vital’s Moon (2015) was formed from individual sections of hammered steel welded together to create a perfect spherical form. Each indentation is based on existing photographs of the moon’s many craters. The highly polished surface reflects light and absorbs images of the surrounding landscape, mesmerising viewers as it appears to both glow and blend into it’s surroundings.

Situated in the Bothy garden at YSP, Tongue (2008) was similarly formed from stainless steel and reaffirms Vital’s bond with the natural world. The sculptural image of a cow tongue has featured in his work for many years. The undulating curves of the base stretch higher and higher until the tip seems to disappears into the sky. Vital’s sculptures have a habit of forcing the viewer to take a step back and look up. As I shielded my eyes to better observe the monolithic Tongue I wondered if I was experiencing the same humbling sentation Vital felt as a child gazing with awe at the mountainous peaks of the Swiss Alps.


Let 100 Flowers Bloom (2008)

On the Formal Terrace at YSP lies Vital’s Let 100 Flowers Bloom (2008). They refer to Mao Zedong’s 1956 campaign in China of the same name which encouraged citizens to openly express their opinions of the communist regime, only to subsequently punish those who dared criticise his leadership. These bulbous steel lotus buds look ready to burst and yet are held in permanent stasis as if afraid to reveal their ripe secrets within.

In their debut exhibition on the Underground Gallery lawn the five ghostly figures of Heads (2014) appear phosphorescent against the deep green of the yew hedging. The ceramic sculptures were made in Jingdezhen, China, the ceramic capital of the country (you might even say the world). Inspired by the people and the history of this city, Vital spent two years working on this delicate project. The large stacks perched provocatively on top of the five heads are reminiscent of the countless chimneys that were once used to fire the kilns of Jingdezhen, now made redundant by modern production methods.


Heads (2014)

Not Vital’s work will be exhibiting at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park until 2 January 2017, but I’d highly recommend visiting sooner rather than later! In this blog I’ve briefly touched on a handful of my favourite Vital works, but there is so much more to see both inside the galleries and in the open air.

As the seasons change and the surrounding landscape turns from lush greens to vibrant reds and golds, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park promises to be an inspirational, ever changing backdrop for nature lovers and art enthusiasts alike. Just remember to take your wellies!



(Many of these images are courtesy of Jonty Wilde)

Editions and Objects : St Jude’s at YSP


Autumn Table – Emily Sutton

It’s impossible to be disappointed by a trip to the jewel that is the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in West Bretton, Wakefield. There’s always something to enjoy and inspire whether it be in one of the many indoor galleries or in the 500 acre outdoor sculpture exhibition. In addition to the many sculptors that YSP has exhibited over the years the park continues to celebrate contemporary artists producing work in a variety of mediums; from painting and illustration to film and instillation art.


September Dresser – Emily Sutton

On my last visit to the park I was delighted to discover that YSP had partnered with St Jude’s to present a charming exhibition showing some of the best contemporary art and design in the UK. Editions and Objects has flourished from the existing relationship between YSP and St Jude’s, two unique organisations committed to showcasing inspirational contemporary works. Founded in 2005, St Jude’s collaborates with an eclectic range of artists and designers to create and print incredible fabrics, furnishings and wallpapers.


Scarcroft Allotments – Emily Sutt0n

Located in the main visitor centre at YSP Editions and Objects features the work of 13 artists and designers including Jonathan Ashworth, Christopher Brown, Chloë Cheese, Melvyn Evans, Jonathan Gibbs, Peter Green OBE, Katy Hackney, Mark Hearld, Karen Mabon, Charles Shearer and Terry Shone. It exhibits a selection of limited edition prints and objects including lithographs and screen prints, ceramics and woodcuts, as well as jewellery, scarves and even some new works created especially for the exhibition. My personal favourites were the enchanting watercolours and screen prints created by Emily Sutton and Angie Lewin who co-founded St Jude’s along with her husband Simon Lewin.


Blue Shed – Emily Sutton

Emily Sutton’s work is heavily influenced by illustrators such as Edward Bawden and Eric Ravilious, as well as folk art and 20th century American children’s books. She is inspired by the vistas and creatures of the English countryside as well as intriguing objects she finds in museums and antique shops. Many of the items that she re-homes at her house on a hill in Yorkshire are then depicted within the intricate details of her vibrant illustrations. Being a child of the Yorkshire countryside myself and the proud guardian of my own little greenhouse and vegetable plot I was naturally drawn to her watercolours of the Scarcroft allotments. In particular I loved the lush detail in Emily’s watercolour Blue Shed. From the tangled brambles in the foreground to the historic Victorian building of Scarcroft Primary School winking between the tree branches, I feel as though the piece is positively spilling over with life.


Island Summer – Angie Lewin

After working in London as an illustrator Angie Lewin went on to study horticulture in Norfolk which prompted her return to printmaking. Her work is inspired by the cliff tops and salt marshes of the North Norfolk coast as well as the Scottish Highlands where she now lives and works for much of the year. These contrasting landscapes are represented in Angie’s prints often glimpsed through delicately detailed flowers and plants native to the area.


Nature Study – Angie Lewin

Angie’s still life screen prints incorporate a veritable bounty of seedpods, flints, shells and dried seaweed which she collects whilst on walking and sketching trips. Other still lives illustrate Wedgwood cups and tall glass vases containing feathers, grasses, dried seed-heads and flowers in a sumptuous array of pastel shades. My absolute favourite in this collection has to be Honesty Blue which depicts a rather droopy arrangement of purple Scotch thistles, translucent honesty flower seed pods and pieces of broken Wedgewood pottery. I even love the detail of what looks to me like radiator indents softly emerging from the background.


Syke Sun – Angie Lewin 

Editions and Objects will be showing until 30 October and all the works in the exhibition including many originals are available to buy from the YSP shop as well as a range of prints and exclusive merchandise designed by the Editions and Objects artists. For more information please follow the links below.






Honesty Blue – Angie Lewin




The memory of glass with Gemma Leamy



There’s a quality to glass, pure and tantalisingly precious. Perhaps it’s the element of danger. If you’ve ever watched a glass artisan at the furnace, you’ll know it’s tense, blisteringly-hot work. One false move and the piece could be ruined, but succeed and you’ve created something both beautiful and fragile.

Crooke O Lune

Crook O Lune

Perhaps it comes from our memories. I’m sure almost all of you will have come across a bureau or display case in the past, with glass and crystal treasures locked away for safekeeping. In my own family home there’s a cabinet in this very fashion filled with champagne flutes and whiskey tumblers, assorted trinkets and a collection of colourful glass paperweights. The value of these paperweights is largely sentimental. Some were collected by my mother during her travels to Scotland and Ireland; others were passed down to her through family. In particular I remember three sea-green orbs, oblong in shape and varying in size, with a simple floral design blooming on the inside. They were made by her great uncle Jack who was killed during the battle of the Somme. It’s remarkable how something so delicate can weigh so heavy in your hands.



In this same vain, artist and designer Gemma Leamy explores how we connect to place and memory through her recent Deconstruct  series. Gemma grew up in Lancashire, north west England, just a stones throw from Cumbria and the Lake District. This part of the world is well known for its craggy fells and ribbons of rivers that wind into pools of tranquil lakes. Such beauty has captured the imaginations of artists and poets for generations and it’s clear to see that Gemma too holds a deep appreciation of the natural world.

“Growing up close to the Lake District it is impossible not to become immersed in the changing beauty of the land.”



Through Deconstruct  Gemma has preserved personal memories of these places in her past by transforming their landscapes into sculptural glass forms and photographic prints.

For each individual piece a unique colour pallet was developed through the careful collection of drawings, photographs and film. These were then translated into hand blown shards of coloured glass. The delicate shards were meticulously layered together in Gemma’s vision and in doing so she has created unique portrayals of each landscape.

Tarn Hows

Tarn Hows

These sculptural forms capture scenes of Windermere, Ullswater and Crook O Lune, Hawkshead, Tarn Hows and Morecambe Bay to name but a few. Their radiant colours create depth and structure with each overlapping layer, and the translucent nature of the material gives her work an ethereal quality as if looking into a dream.

Gemma has then used photography to capture her vision, as you might take a snapshot of a special place or moment you want to remember on holiday, and in doing so has created a window in time.

Morecambe Bay

Morcambe Bay

Gemma’s work challenges her craft in that from the moment the glass is blown and manipulated into its desired form it is then irrevocably broken, deconstructed, and the remaining shards reassembled into her spectral sculptures.

She aims to evoke personal memories in the viewers of her work and allows them to interpret each piece in their own individual way. When I look at Gemma’s work I see the undulating landscape of the Peak District and remember with fond nostalgia the crashing of waves against coastal cliffs whilst on childhood holidays in Cornwall.



Gemma graduated in 2015 with a first class BA Honours in Glass from Edinburgh Collage of Art. Since then her work has been exhibited in London, Stockholm, Milan, and most recently at the 2016 Berlin DMY New Talents competition.

A number of Gemma’s pieces have been selected by the Edinburgh Collage of Art for a retrospective showcase from 16-18th September this year. The showcase will exhibit a collection of talent which has emerged over the years from ECA Glass programme. For more information on Gemma and the ECA showcase follow the links below.



Beacon Fell

Beacon Fell


Doddington Hall’s Sculpture Exhibition


I’ve discovered a slice of heaven. If, like me, you enjoy contemporary sculpture and could happily wander around a sunny garden hour after hour, then you need to visit the sculpture exhibition in the gardens at Doddington Hall, Lincolnshire. It’s the third time this biennial sculpture exhibition has taken place, curated by David Waghorne the director of Sculpture Events Ltd. The exhibition features work by over 75 leading sculptors from around the world; showcasing a dazzling 450 original pieces displayed both in the gardens as well as in the new indoor Granary Barn. From the small to the monolithic, a vast array of styles and mediums are displayed, and I just had to see them all!

blue lotus     white

This year’s main featured artist is Rebecca Newham a sculptor and designer from Southbourne in Bournemouth. She works in a wide array of materials, but the pieces which caught my eye in particular were her glass and fibreglass lotus flowers. Poised, pride of place, in the walled West Garden were Rebecca’s Blue Lotus sculptures forming the centre of two tranquil water features. The small glass tiles of these sculptures shimmer like jewels in the sunlight. I was delighted to chance upon White Lotus as I strolled into a hidden corner of the Wild Garden. Engulfed in dense foliage, White Lotus appeared to glow amongst the leaves in shades of green and brown.


Award winning sculptor Paul Vanstone has shown his work at many of the major museums and galleries of the UK, including The British Museum and The V&A. The Indian rainforest marble carved to create Paul’s Indian Torso is just exquisite. The rich colours of the polished rock combined with the veins of minerals running through the marble really bring the form to life. Approaching the Avenue Walk you are presented with the arresting sight of Paul’s immense piece Portuguese Heads, carved from a creamy grey Portuguese marble, perfectly positioned to gaze across this idyllic Lincolnshire countryside.

red v     sealife

In the work of Carole Andrews plant and sea life is enlarged and augmented, dominating the viewer, as if the human were the one under the microscope. Carole uses techniques from origami and embroidery and applies them to unconventional materials such as roofing felt in order to create her organic forms. Inspired by the papery bells of Chinese lantern plants, Blue Franchettii 2 appears as though it’s alien-like seed pod is about to burst at the seams. And the hypnotic form of Red Villosa, conceived by a carnivorous tropical plant, looks as though it might swallow an unsuspecting bystander whole!

kinetic 2     kinetic 1

David Watkinson is driven in his work by the unseen forces that shape our world. His sculptures endeavour to point towards the relationship between the laws of physics and all life on Earth. In David’s kinetic sculptures featured in Doddington’s Wild Garden he pays homage to the evolution of the seed, how they have adapted to be carried by the wind, and in turn create new life and new beginnings. Cast in steel, the seeds are delicately balanced on precision bearings, allowing small air currents to gently twirl the sculptures around. This motion, combined with the sound of the breeze and the light glinting off the seeds is quite mesmerising!


A catalogue is available to buy upon arrival should you wish to know the names of all the exhibiting sculptors, their chosen material and the price if available for purchasing. The exhibition is open daily until Sunday 11 September, do check their website below for opening times and admission charges.





In constant flux with Greg Harris


Self Portrait (2015)

For many years Greg Harris refused to define himself as a painter, choosing instead to modestly describe himself as “an average-skilled draughtsman who dabbles in any medium.” It wasn’t until 2012 when he joined an artist’s studio in Leicester that he began to experiment with oil paints and fell in love with the medium. When asked how painting makes him feel four years on Greg’s response is “completely alive and in the moment” although he is still a little reluctant to pigeonhole himself as a painter.

Greg described to me the moment when he felt compelled to completely re-evaluate his philosophy as an artist. It was during his final year studying at De Montfort University when he found himself questioning his beliefs in the purism of abstract art and the sensuous particularity of paint. “I fell so deep into the metaphysics of this idealism that everything lost meaning.” Looking back he describes these beliefs as “pretension” and his paintings “weak” but something tells me that Greg is being overly self-critical again.


Juice There (2014)

Instead, he devoted his art to “the certainty of the life room” attracted by the simplicity of a visual response to what was before him. Greg’s tutors were surprised by this sudden u-turn in his final year, but he knew it was what he needed to do as an artist. So, by the end of his degree Greg was left with “a poorly bound book of life model studies, and not a great deal more!” Physically that is. Physiologically Greg had discovered the motivation for his art and learnt to trust his inclinations.

“I believe inspiration can come from anyone, anywhere and anything.  It filters into the person you are and that in turn can define what you put onto the canvas.”

arushi with head scarf

Arushi with head scarf (2016)

When Greg graduated in 2009 he spent a number of months travelling in the Far East with his now wife, Arushi. They visited Thailand, China and Japan; diverse countries with their own unique challenges and delights, a smorgasbord of inspiration. “I love the richness of experiences that travel offers. From the societal differences to the landscapes, the food, I love it all. Even going to a different part of my hometown I’ve never been to before can provide the same satisfaction.”

Over the past 4 years Greg has been exhibiting work across the midlands and south of the UK. The current highlight of his career being when he first showed with The Other Art Fair last year in Bristol. “My career took a big step forward after that and the fair has a really great team behind them that work hard for the artists they show.” Greg has exhibited with The Other Art Fair four times now, most recently last month where his piece Lubomyr Melnyk was the first to sell.


Lubomyr Melnyk (2016)

Greg’s work stands poised between both a literal and non-literal representation of his subjects which he achieves through a clean and freshly finished painting style. Greg sees the world around him as “in constant flux”, “dynamic” and “always shifting” which he conveys through his work using vibrant tones, contrasts and surface textures.

Greg revealed to me how before even putting paint to canvas he methodically decides what colours will need to go where, sometimes accompanied with a quick sketch and bullet points. “If the hair is ochre, cadmium orange and burnt sienna, perhaps the eyes will be cobalt blue, emerald green and lemon yellow. In this way, I try to ensure that there’s an exciting contrast but also a balance.” Eventually this plan dissolves into a weak guideline as Greg is pulled by the painting to adapt with what is before him.


Clifton Bridge Bristol (2015)

His process starts with a simple drawing before the race begins to paint the whole piece before it dries, making sure not to over blend the edges or go over the same area again and again.  In this way, almost every single mark is visible by the end of the painting. So careful colour mixing is essential, paired with the knowledge Greg has attained in how to create different marks. Yet there is nothing at all rushed or frantic about Greg’s work. The kinetic energy of his paintings feel more like a dance in celebration of his subject or wistful memories of a place captured in time.

“I remember a friend viewing Bris Straum, a painting of a ginger bearded chap I did, and he didn’t realise I’d snuck green everywhere into the piece. It was in his beard, his hair and on his skin. When I told him, he was shocked and looked at the painting anew. For a moment, I was proud of my deceitful accomplishment.”

bris straum

Bris Straum (2015)

Greg’s work to date reads like an autobiography of his life filled with the people and the places that have inspired him along the way. Later this year Greg plans to add more narrative into his work by composing pieces around concepts that he’s been contemplating for a while. I look forward to witnessing this next chapter in his career!

Greg’s next exhibition will be at The Other Art Fair in London from 6th October to the 9th October. Follow the links below for details.

out of the cave

Out of the cave (2015)




The elephant in the room: Cause and Effect at the NCCD

annie 1

Meandering through the streets of Sleaford lined with quaint old shops and eateries I came across the National Centre for Craft & Design perched on the banks of the River Slea. There aren’t many museums or galleries I know of that you can opt to reach via a tiny bridge. Even fewer with a rooftop gallery and two outdoor observation decks, from which you can enjoy almost 360˚ views of the town. We were visiting to see the current Cause and Effect exhibition my mother had raved about the week before and how kind the staff were for taking leaflets for our touring theatre company.

Cause and Effect  explores eleven artists’ responses to adversity. The selected artists in this exhibition (including Neil Brownsword, Luke Jerram, James Maskrey, Claire Morgan, Paul Scott, Julian Stair and Emma Woffenden) take inspiration from personal tragedies, international disasters and unfortunate events, sometimes of a more light hearted nature.

leak 2     leak 3

The first piece which caught my eye was Emotional Leak  by Jeffrey Sarmiento and Erin Dickson. Like the elephant in the room, this tall, black monolith of a sculpture refuses to be ignored. 291 pieces of waterjet cut float glass appear to emanate from the ceiling, undulating and pooling on the gallery floor. Jeffrey and Erin share a fascination with cultural and emotional connections in architecture which they explore through their personal perceptions of space and the philosophy of home. In this sculpture they have visualised what might happen if an ‘emotional leak’ were to burst in the architecture, releasing a bubbling surge of glass; a physical manifestation of the ominous atmosphere within the room.

  leak 1     annie 3

Standing silently nearby were the two ethereal forms of Memory I & II  by Annie Cattrell. Annie is drawn to the poetry of where art and science meet. She works closely in dialogue with specialists in neuroscience, meteorology, engineering, psychiatry and the history of science. Memory I & II  were made using brain scan data which relates to the anatomy, shape and location of the hippocampus and amygdala, the structures that support the functions of emotion and memory. The sculptures were cast in a creamy-white aggregate that resembles onyx; peering inside the forms we find the hippocampus and amygdala surfaced with silver. This silvered quality reflects the light and it appears as though memory and emotion are glowing with life. 


With so many striking installations and sculptural pieces around you it’s forgivable that you may not immediately notice the sweet melting ice creams of Anna Barlow winking at you from the corners of the room. Anna Barlow uses moulds, slab building techniques and glazes to create what she calls “visual edibility”. She is fascinated by the rituals we have developed around food, particularly celebratory or indulgent treats and the way they are assembled, displayed, then eaten. And there is no more momentary dessert than ice cream. Yet here, these melting dreams have been frozen in time, allowing us to recall our own fond memories of a cooling ice cream on a hot summer day, incite our desires for a naughty treat and perhaps even remember the misfortune of when the sweet temptation is lost, never to be enjoyed.

barlow 2

Cause and Effect  will be exhibiting at the National Centre for Craft & Design in Sleaford until the 18th September. The centre also hosts a whole array of courses and workshops for both children and adults so do check out their website!


barlow 1



Building dreamscapes with David Umemoto

Landscape (23)

David Umemoto admits he was forced to burn many bridges with his past in order to build himself a career as a sculptor today. David worked as an architect for a firm in Montreal, Canada, before going freelance for the best part of 10 years working mostly on 3D computer graphics and architectural design for institutional projects such as schools and hospitals. The work was extensive, pedantic and would often take years before a project was completed.

 “I can’t really say exactly what drew me into architecture as you are quite young when you have to make that decision. At the time I was also considering arts and mechanical engineering, so I guess it was some kind of compromise… Art gives you much more freedom for creation because of course you have less constraints and rules, but also because you can be independent. You can fully realize what you have in mind without spending hours and hours dealing with budgets, contractors, committees…”

In 2010 David gave up the freelance work and spent a year travelling in Indonesia, southeast Asia. Whilst there he worked with foundries casting in aluminium, bronze and glass. It was the catalyst that inspired David’s transformation from architect to artist.

Fondation1 (49)

David describes the essence of his sculptures as a kind of primitivism” taking inspiration from the ancient arts and architecture of the Americas, Polynesia and Africa.

“I like the way they used arts as a language, a scripture, a code, a way to communicate with the nature, the outer world, or whatever unknown. Their sculptures were tools, their buildings machines. Their composition uses very basic geometry and symmetry and repetitive patterns. I would like to think that anyone, anywhere, with simple tools and local basic materials could build my structures.”

When David returned to Canada he no longer had access to foundries “at a reasonable price” and so he began experimenting with other materials. The benefits of working with concrete soon presented themselves; not only as a universal medium, but also as a very precise material as concrete doesn’t warp or shrink like metals during the casting process. Aesthetically concrete has a tangible texture that both captures light and intensifies shade. The beautiful simplicity of this humble material allows the sculptures to speak for themselves without the need for shock and awe devices.

Vase_01 (40)

David approaches his sculptures in a very similar process to how he would begin his architectural projects.

“I always start with a constructive grid, then I sketch plans, elevations and sections. I work a lot with elevations, trying to keep a good balance with the proportions of shapes and openings. My work being very monochromatic, light and shadows are really important.”

The choice of concrete similarly resonates with the architectural profession, most famously during the Brutalism movement of the 1950’s to 1970’s. But there is so much more to the movement than the hard, soulless structures of governmental and institutional buildings. Brutalism was inspired by leaders of the modernist movement such as Le Corbusier; a Swiss born French architect and artist who aimed to create better living conditions and enhance society through pioneering new housing concepts.


“For me, he was the most influential architect of our time. He had a unique way of creating works that were equally rigorous and poetic.”

In David’s ongoing series of sculptures he creates an Artificial Landscape using geometric cubes and modular infrastructures which can be reorganized and reused to create new works. Photographic prints of some of these combinations create the illusion of an abandoned city on a real-life scale, like ancient Babylon or London’s banking district on a weekend. These structures invoke a multitude of emotions in the viewer; from an ignited curiosity to a sense of isolation, observing in an almost hypnagogic dream state.

“In my work, I try to create spaces and objects that can be view halfway between natural and manmade, in construction or in decay, futuristic or ancient…”


In David’s forthcoming series, he aims to delve further into the creation of artworks suspended between nature and man by approaching landscape design in the spirit of Japanese rock gardens.

“Their idea is not to imitate nature, but to get the essence of a natural environment and create contemplative landscapes that can serve as an aid to meditation.”

A selection of David’s work can be found at the TRNK showroom in NYC. He is also developing a new collection in collaboration with Hub in Australia that is scheduled to be exhibited in their showrooms of Melbourne and Sydney in 2017.

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Spaces in the chapel : Rachel Whiteread at YSP

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I love Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Every time I visit there is something new to explore, more treasures to discover. It’s impossible to see the Longside, Chapel and Underground galleries, park centre and 500 acre outdoor gallery nestled in the south of Wakefield in a single day. Even more impossible to write about it all in a single sitting!

During my most recent visit on a temperamental summer afternoon we sought shelter in the park’s Chapel gallery where we discovered the new ‘Transparency’ exhibition, supported by the Arts Council Collection’s National Partners Programme.


The subject of transparency was inspired by the 18th century chapel itself. Built in 1744 and dedicated to St Bartholomew, the chapel served the families and workers of the Bretton Estate before it was de-consecrated in the 1990s. The exhibition is designed to consider the multiple meanings of transparency, from the transition of light and clarity, to truth and freedom from deceit. It comes at a time when the need for clarity from politicians, corporations and the like is in high demand, not only in Britain but around the globe.

The collection includes work by Garth Evans, Hiraki Sawa, and Yelena Popova; but the exhibit which grabbed my attention the most was by Rachel Whiteread. I’ve been aware of Rachel’s work for some years now; her sculptures were held up as an extraordinary example of contemporary art during my school days.


Rachel Whiteread studied painting in Brighton and sculpture in London from 1982 to 1987. She has described how the pivotal moment of her career as an artist began with a spoon. It was cast in sand which she then poured molten lead over. The spoon lost it’s “spoon-ness” and by casting in this way the object was completely changed forever. Rachel “fell in love with that process”.

She employs casting methods and materials that are more commonly used in the preparation of sculptures rather than for the finished object. Concrete, plaster, rubber and resin, have all been used in the past. Rachel makes sculptures of the negative space surrounding everyday objects, and is famously known for her more monumental public sculptures such as ‘Ghost’ (1990) and ‘House’ (1993-94) for which she was awarded the Turner Prize in 1993.


In the past Rachel has said “I’m always looking for ways of representing the body but not actually physically putting it there.” Sometimes this can appear anthropomorphically as the sculpture takes on human form or characteristics. At other times her sculptures “stand for the absence of a body”.

In ‘Untitled (6 Spaces)’ (1994) now showing in the Chapel gallery at YSP Rachel has created six resin casts of the voids found underneath six different chairs. Each cast is unique both in form and colour; like a neat display of precious jewels, or a delicious row of sweets waiting to be devoured. They instantly captured my attention, before I was even aware of their author.

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In their context here the sculptures are not only visually semi-transparent but emote a feeling of absence or loss with their invisible chairs and sitters. In the setting of a chapel it transforms into an absent congregation; perhaps a reflection on state of faith today, both in religion and faith in humanity. But that’s the wonderful thing about Rachel’s work; she doesn’t aggressively explain or label it. The audience is allowed to make their own interpretations based on their personal feelings and experiences.

‘Transparency’ will be showing in the Chapel at YSP until 4th September 2016 from 10am to 5pm daily. I thoroughly recommend visiting, both this exhibition and the many other delights the park has to offer. Stay tuned for more YSP features on the Pocket Gallery blog in the coming weeks!



Images courtesy of Yorkshire Sculpture Park & Jonty Wilde




My date with Vincent

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“Self portrait with grey felt hat” (1887)

 In the spring of last year my friend, Sarah, and I embarked upon an impromptu trip to Amsterdam in search of culture, coffee and crêpes. We took the ferry from Hull to Rotterdam overnight; battled seasickness and an hour long coach commute before reaching civilization. We found the nearest crêperie and revelled in both sweet and savoury delights before grabbing a coffee to go and exploring the city. Amsterdam is a beautiful place, full of quaint boutiques, iconic Dutch architecture and a labyrinth of streets and tranquil canals. We could have wandered those streets for hours, had it not been for the impending coach trip back to the ship, and I had a date with an artist…

Before long we were entering the gleaming glass entrance of The Van Gogh Museum. My excitement grew with every millisecond as we inched closer and closer on the escalator until, finally, I came face to face with the man himself, Vincent Van Gogh. We were standing in the first level of the museum, the collection of Van Gogh’s self portraits. The bold strokes of colour in “Self portrait with grey felt hat” (1887) stimulated my mind with its pointillist-like halo radiating from the artist. The bright, unblended colours of  the artist’s face in “Self portrait as a painter” (1888) appeared to intensify the prominent wrinkles on his forehead and under his eyes; intimating towards the mental and physical exhaustion Paris had caused Van Gogh during the two years he was living in the city.

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“Self portrait as a painter” (1888)

We were then taken on a journey through the life of Vincent Van Gogh as we explored each room of the museum. From his dark days in Nuenen painting scenes of peasant life; and the two years spent in Paris where he found inspiration in Monet and Japanese prints; to Arles and ‘the yellow house’ painting workers in the wheat fields; before his hospitalization in Saint-Rémy following the ‘ear incident’ and Van Gogh’s eventual suicide. With child-like zeal I dashed from canvas to canvas, pausing momentarily to drink each piece in.

During his time at the yellow house Van Gogh produced some of his most iconic works; 5 large canvases depicting sunflowers in a vase. Using just three shades of yellow in “Sunflowers” (1889), Van Gogh was able to create an elegant, expressive image full of verve and variation. Time was slipping by, so I couldn’t afford to politely stand back and allow others space to ponder. I greedily investigated each painting, my nose hovering just centimetres away, aching to touch every line and ripple. The work Van Gogh produced during this time of great mental instability is, in my opinion, his greatest work. It was after he admitted himself to the asylum in Saint-Rémy that Van Gogh discovered how colour could be used to express intense feelings.


“Sunflowers” (1889)

When he learnt that his brother’s new born son was to be named Vincent after himself the artist painted “Almond Blossom” (1890) as a gift for the child. A branch of white blossoms, symbolising new life, boldly outlined against a bright blue sky. In the accompanying letter to his brother Van Gogh wrote “I’m making the wish that he may be as determined and courageous as you.” Standing before this painting it is impossible not to feel the love and promise of joy emanating from the canvas.

almond blossom

“Almond Blossom” (1890)

It is through Van Gogh’s letters that we are able to understand more about the artist himself and his inspiration for these great works. Visitors are able to hear translations of a number of these letters in the museum’s dedicated section ‘A life in letters’. There is also a section in the museum for other artists Vincent Van Gogh subsequently inspired, as well as a separate wing to the opposite side of the glass entrance building which hosts temporary exhibitions throughout the year.

The most exciting new experience the museum now offers is ‘Feeling Van Gogh’. It’s an interactive tour and workshop created for the blind and visually impaired but can also be enjoyed by friends and carers in groups of up to 10 people. The workshops aim to focus on the other senses of touch as well as sound and even smell. Specially trained guides talk about the collection and participants are able to physically feel his brushstrokes using high quality 3D reproductions or relievos. Amazing!


Sarah enjoying the sights of Amsterdam (2015)

The next time I visit the wonderful city of Amsterdam I will be sure to plan for a longer trip, and take a bigger suitcase for all the books I am bound to buy in the gift shop.  The Van Gogh Museum is also open from 7pm to 10pm every Friday evening for cocktails, music and free guided tours. Sounds like a winning combination, you can count me in!