Galleries - February 2016

Printmaking has had a curiously up and down history in this country over the last few decades, one that has, in some sense, always echoed its current status among both artists and curators. In the 60s and 70s the remarkable Bradford Print Biennale held an international reputation, one that reflected a resurgence of superb innovation at all levels of printmaking practice. In more recent times all of this has been harder to sustain, attempts to find a suitable high profile exhibiting vehicle never quite taking off as one might have expected, given the ongoing high levels of artist participation. All of which makes the Impress ‘16 Printmaking Festival , the most recent initiative of the Gloucestershire Printmaking Co- operative, based in Thrupp near Stroud, so remarkably bold, and welcome. Some six weeks long – all of March plus a bit – it can, with some 20 exhibitions based at venues around the county, lay claim to be the largest of its kind in the country, possibly Europe. The current festival runs from 22 February to 11 April with the official opening on 1 March. It all began in 2009, and this – the fourth in the series – shows welcome signs of not intending to be the last, with a whole series of special exhibitions – among them Peter Blake and distinguished friends – Rego, Hodgkin, Gilbert and George et al in Stroud, Jason Hickling in Cheltenham, an opening exhibition in Gloucester Cathedral Cloisters by GPC members interpreting ideas of ‘Pilgrimage’, and two major open shows of work in Cheltenham and Stroud, selected by submission from print workshops around the country. Well worth catching, with full details of all exhibitions to be found on the GPC website. NU In his celebrated essay of 1860 on the artist Constantin Guys, ‘The Painter of Modern Life’, the poet Charles Baudelaire defined his revolutionary thesis of artistic modernity as meaning an absorption in “the ephemeral, the fugitive, the contingent . . . the passing moment and all the suggestions of eternity it contains.” It is a definition which serves very well in helping to unravel the very particular character and atmosphere that has infused Ray Richardson’s distinctive work, depicting aspects of East London, the city traders, grifters, warehousemen, dockers, taxi drivers and, above all, their Staffordshire bull terriers, that have populated his paintings ever since he burst on the scene in the early 90s. Born and brought up in Woolwich, he very much paints the world he knows but, as Baudelaire suggests may be possible, they mysteriously begin to move beyond their small and constricted environment to become archetypal figures, a “vocabulary of archetypes that makes the specific into the universal”, as Paul Greenhalgh’s thoughtful essay in the catalogue for Richardson’s latest show at Beaux Arts London observes. What also perhaps needs to be said more specifically is how, after a quietish patch in his career, Richardson has really begun to find himself again, his painterly touch now softer and more forgiving than before somehow – a touch of Bonnard in the East End almost – ambiguous and curiously poetic. NU A real pioneer in contemporary kiln-fired glass, Karen Lawrence’s death at just 53 in 2013, was a blow to the craft. To remind us of just what an original figure she was, Peter Layton of London Glassblowing ( where she worked before going solo in the 1990s) is mounting a splendid retrospective show in their gallery space this month (12 to 27 February). Looked at by a non-maker, her work has a beautiful complexity that seems to defy practical explanation. Put as simply as I can, Lawrence would take filaments, threads and fragments of coloured glass from the kiln, and effectively weave them into the body of glass – the effects are quite stunning, reminiscent of ice crystals or snowflakes. NU S HOWS+ It’s impressive 8 GALLERIES FEBRUARY 2016 Looking glass Dog day