BLOG Ellen Bell

NWR Issue 112

Imaginary Worlds, Oriel Davies Gallery

Imaginary Worlds is an exhibition of multiple artists taking place at Gallery 1, Oriel Davies, Newton, from 22 October 2016 to 25 February 2017.

Walking into Newtown’s Oriel Davies at 10.10am on a Saturday morning, I find my passage impeded by an elderly woman attempting to manoeuvre a brand-spanking-new mobility scooter. Ahead of her all is a-flutter. Bodies are scurrying back and forth through the galleries and the reception telephone is ringing repeatedly. Two new exhibitions, Imaginary Worlds and Binocular: Disturbance, are opening today, as is the ODG’s Drawing Room Project, playing host to its first artist-in-residence; the now nationwide The Big Draw and an afternoon tea-party.

I am frankly more than a little anxious about this visit; group shows of multiple artists tend to make me weary and Imaginary Worlds, a showcase of illustrators from Wales, UK, Europe and Australia, features fifty-two. Inching past the scooter that is now making a rather alarming clicking sound, and striding purposefully into Gallery 1, I sit down on a bench and scan the walls. The curation must have been a nightmare. There are framed images, some hung singly, others in clusters of twos or threes. There are several wall-hung monitors of varying sizes, showing stop-frame and digital animation. There are Perspex-lidded plinths containing artist’s books and two makeshift installations. Many of the artworks are unframed and pinned directly to the wall. There are Giclée prints, woodcuts, screen-prints, ink drawings, pencil drawings, mixed media and collages. The colours fight.

A man in a green Aran sweater bustles in, a clear plastic bag of tomatoes hanging from his left hand. I watch as he moves from one image to another, giving each an equal measure of his time. It is an admirable, if somewhat methodical approach. Buoyed-up, I start to do the same.

But what is illustration? This was the question perpetually bleated out by student and tutor alike during my time at art school. No answers were ever found. Drawing is the key, surely? But what is drawing? And moreover, what is good drawing?

More people wander in – two parents with their grown-up daughter, a father and his young son. ‘I like that,’ one of them says. ‘Hmm?’ is the reply. And the mother, head on one side, pointing and saying, ‘There’s a lot of drawing in that.’

Certainly if this exhibition is anything to go by, the age-old bemoaning by illustration-degree lecturers that students can’t (or won’t) draw, just isn’t true. As is evident in Richard Levesley’s People in My World (2016) and Brolly (2016), with their quirky, elegantly restrained line, or in Jane Farrington’s Strange Creatures Inhabit the Underworld (2015) and Orpheus in Despair (2015) – sumptuously reminiscent of Motley’s theatrical costume designs from the 1930s and ’40s. Or in Amy Higgins’s Beetle Sisters (2016), a tenderly tentative, tightly drawn image, evoking science-class renditions of insects; or in Helen Stratford’s Portmanteau Ely (2012) with its classy interpretation of a butcher-style, sectioned-off, labelled duck. Or in Layla Holzer’s The Monstrous Feminine series (2015), with their sumptuous brushwork and Eastern European-style patterning, or in Olivia Bargman’s Fictionary Wolf (2016) with its delightfully bold, child-like impression of a two-fanged monster. And in Bobbye Fermie’s An Organism (2016), with its sophisticated rendering of old homesteads, cast adrift on the white wall, and in Gareth Bunting’s masterful penmanship in the huge vista that is Veins of Shangri-La (2016).

In Imaginary Worlds skilful drawing shows beyond pencil on paper. Nicki McNaney’s Rabbit Chain (2015) and Run Rabbit Run (2015) are a tour-de-force in clever, less-is-more, printed found imagery, as are the gorgeously named co-op Eating Strawberries’s digital collages of women bedecked with flying galleons, clouds and horological wheel cogs. And Ian Irvine’s Hirsute (2015) and The Reflection (2015), with their more than a brief nod to Max Ernst and Hannah Höch, are simply divine. Then there is the animation. Where do I begin? Alex Davies’s stop-motion Little Red Cap (2016) is a joy, as is Seungjo Jeong’s sweetly diminutive Submarine (2015). There is just too much.

‘A great exhibition, don’t you think?’ says the man in the Aran jumper, swinging his bag of tomatoes. The elderly woman, still bent on mastering her scooter, doesn’t reply.

Ellen Bell is an artist and writer living in mid Wales.


previous blog: The Weir
next blog: The Cardiff Book Festival


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