Galleries - July 2014

her last work, aptly enough, as “jewelled illuminations”. As a well-organised and sympathetic curator she also had the good sense to set up a trust, the Nerys Johnson Contemporary Art Fund, to assist institutions in acquiring paintings by living artists for whom strong and imaginative use of colour in their work is a priority. So, when you buy a work from her latest show at Martin Tinney in Cardiff (from 10 July), as you may well wish to do when you see them, that’s where the money will go . . . No Limit on Delight Run by two ex-Royal College of Art students, Mike and Rosemary Holcroft, the Water Street Gallery in Todmorden, Lancs, is displaying a lively and original policy on curating, its latest show inviting some 40 or so artists on the gallery’s books to re-interpret and respond to the theme of ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’ from Hieronymous Bosch’s famous triptych. No limits on media – everything from painting, sculpture and prints to collage, installation, ceramics and fibre art – or approach, with some choosing a direct response to the painting’s wonders, others to re-appropriate in contemporary terms and others again enjoying the lyricism of the Garden in Nature. In short great fun and thoroughly absorbing too. Material Connections It is something of a truism to say that good contemporary art and design can often look at its best in a genuinely antique setting, but of course that depends – both on the work and the quality of the setting. In ‘Material Connections across the Ages’, at Mompesson House in Salisbury, you have the best of both, with one of the most sensitive of contemporary curators, Annette Ratuszniak, doing the selecting and placing in what is one of the most perfect and beautifully conserved Queen Anne town houses in the country. Ratuszniak’s approach was to find sculptures/objects in a variety of materials – glass, paper, wood, textile, ceramic, artist’s book, stone, bronze and willow fibre – that reflect and update those used in the structure and interior of the building itself. Siting the objects in and alongside fixtures and fittings of the house, the outcomes are intriguing, from Laura Ellen Bacon’s sinuous woven willow sculptures that welcome you into the house to Sally Fawkes’ tiny exquisite cast, mirrored engraved, glass object found nestling by a place-setting on the dining room table – a modern fingerbowl? I could go on, but you’ll just have to see for yourselves: it’s on until 2nd November. Meanwhile, for much more on the West Country, turn to page 18 . . . NU too: this might be a retrospective but the future looks full of new and exciting directions. Against the Odds Everything about Nerys Johnson’s life and art was remarkable and largely against the odds. With her sole ambition from childhood to be a painter, she was prevented from becoming one by a debilitating form of rheumatoid arthritis. She earned her living instead as an art gallery curator, an extremely good one, as I was lucky enough to observe briefly, running one of the best regional museums in the country at the DLI (Durham Light Infantry) Museum in Durham, using her position there in the late 70s to give many artists their first public shows. It was only really with early retirement in the 1980s that she found the time to paint, though towards the end of her life (she died in 2001 aged 59) she could hold a paintbrush only with difficulty. That largely explains why her output can only be numbered in the hundreds rather than thousands of watercolours and drawings. But what work! Originally a vigorous abstractionist (and friend of Bridget Riley), this morphed gradually into large-scale studies of flowers and foliage in gouache, watercolour, pen & ink and wash, of an astonishing, condensed beauty – her close friend and admirer, fellow curator Julian Spalding, has described JULY 2014 GALLERIES 9 from left: M ick Wilson ‘Garden Lovers’, acrylic on panel at Water Street Gallery Nerys Johnson ‘Petunias and Poppy Seed Head’ gouache, 1999 at Martin Tinney Gallery Steven Campbell ‘An Incident on the Other Side of Mont St Victoire’, acrylic on paper at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art B renda Hartill ‘Golden Meltdown I’ 2003 at Bankside Gallery Sally Fawkes ‘Notation VIII’ at Mompesson House