When: Now – 20th January 2017
Where: Newport Museum & Art Gallery
About: This summer the public were invited to choose their favourite pieces from the gallery’s stored collection, which is comprised of over 200 pieces of artwork. The choices were put together to create the ‘Your Gallery’ exhibition, including a ‘young choice’ section.
What became blatantly obvious to me was that this was such an eclectic mix of styles! From the more traditional, idyllic scenes by the likes of Stanhope Forbes, to more contemporary and risque pieces such as ‘The Foolish Virgin’ by Gerda Roper, and Mary Fedden’s ‘Maltese Town’ which displays shapes and colours so bold and in contrast with the more reserved offerings. This can only be a good thing, as the collection is not tailored to one specific taste, but offers a plethora of variety, making it appeal to a wider audience.
For those who appreciate technical skill, there are a number of works that demonstrate precision and explore perspective. ‘Newport from George Street Bridge’ by John Meredith is the perfect example of painstaking still life work, with the shapes of the buildings and bridge almost being an homage to architecture, rather than the cityscape. However, one painting which I found myself unsure of was ‘Balloon Barrage’ by George Phillis. This piece in particular fixed my attention. Whilst the shapes boast of accuracy and obvious care, with structures being easily recognisable for what they are, there was something peculiar about the perspective that I couldn’t quite put my finger on; there seemed to be almost a flatness to the lower half of the painting, adding to the slightly surreal angle put on what would ordinarily pass as an ‘ordinary’ scene. The fact that Phillis uses an interesting colour gradient in the sky (orange to yellow, ascending eventually to vibrant blue) combined with a sight we’re not used to in our modern world (Barrage Balloons were commonly seen during the war over cities) makes the painting more than just an observational painting, but conjures some extra depth.
Phillis’s work isn’t the only to make use of colour though, with a particularly striking piece called ‘ Rhondda Sunday’ by Nan Youngman being a prime example of how tone and colour can be used to create an atmosphere. Youngman uses muted tones to convey with perfection the depressing atmosphere of the street. You can almost feel yourself stepping into the soaked street.
In addition to appealing to varied tastes, I also liked the inclusion of explanations on why each piece was chosen. I found it particularly pleasing that one was chosen by someone who had studied at Newport’s old art school, which has now been converted to apartments. I also feel the inclusion of a ‘young people’s’ area was a lovely touch, particularly as I feel art and creativity should feature more in education.
Elsewhere in the gallery (which is limited in space, yet makes the very best of it) there’s the unmissable video/audio space which shows the work of artist David Garner. His exhibition, titled ‘Respond’, was inspired by coins in the museum’s Chartism area. His piece titled ‘Pennies for the People’, which is a chandelier made using two pence coins stamped with words relating to austerity, is shown hanging in the Chartist Cave, Llangyndir, accompanied by admittedly the most unique and offbeat harp music I have heard to date. Rhodri Davies uses music to convey feeling, and I was not surprised to learn that the piece was improvised. Truly from his feelings.
David Garner’s coin chandelier can be viewed downstairs in the museum in the Chartist area, a choice which I feel to be beneficial (as opposed to being on display in the gallery area) as it encourages the viewer to enter into the history of Newport and fully appreciate where Garner is coming from.
Although the exhibition is one of the best I’ve seen in Newport over the years, there were small details that I felt were missing. It would have been valuable to have included the mediums used in each piece (although it’s always fun to look at the textures and make a guess!) and information leaflets like those used to describe David Garner’s work would have been appreciated. However, the desk staff are always more than happy to talk you through the exhibitions and a brief description is displayed on a wall.
Unfortunately if you’d like to purchase a souvenir of the exhibition you won’t find it. As a self-confessed art postcard hoarder, I would love to have been able to bring home a reminder of the wonderful work as I do when visiting any gallery. The exhibition is small and you will only need to put aside an hour to have a real good delve into the art and museum. However, if you’re passing, or visiting the city, it’s worth a look.