Friday, 5 March 2010


G drove me to Birmingham last night to see the West Midlands Open which is being held at Gas Hall. Unfortunately (incredibly) it took me an hour and 40 minutes to travel the 8 miles to Birmingham via bus then car and we arrived just as the prize giving and speeches had finished. There was a good atmosphere at the open night though and we spent an hour looking at the art and soaking up the buzz which was quite literal as Gas Hall is one of those big, hollow buildings with fuzzy acoustics. The combination of chatter, clinking glasses and shuffling feet made a drone like an engine ticking over.

I was surprised at the amount of photography on show, one of which picked up first prize, I think possibly because it lends itself to a particular wry, sardonic, post-modern approach which is popular here. Generally though the West Midlands Open has a generously broad interpretation of the word 'contemporary', hung on the walls and boards, and displayed on podiums throughout the gallery are delicate etchings, pencil drawings, vast oil paintings, humorous 3D works, stylish and intelligent photography, witty assemblages, amusing video and film pieces. The overall impression is of a vibrant, varied, occasionally quirky creative scene.

My own personal favourites included the huge and breathtaking pastel portrait by Oliver Jones, I'd seen his work last year at the RBSA. To use pastel on this scale is a tremendous achievement. I also loved the 2 oil paintings on paper by Lois Wallace, beautiful sombre compositions with gorgious textural values and extremely subtle psychological overtones suggestive of something just about to happen, or the significance of a moment when something hasn't yet happened.

I recognised a few artists from the RBSA including Brian Fletcher who exhibited a very nice pencil self-portrait and a beautiful colourful and textural oil painting of a derelict building frontage.

Gas Hall is a splendid venue for art, and I'm really proud to have a piece included in this exhibition. I'm hoping to pay it a second visit and hopefully take in Bridget Riley at the nearby Waterhall at the same time. There was so much impressive, large scale, slick artwork, really grand pieces, I couldn't help feeling self-conscious about my own pieces which seemed a bit pale by comparison. It's always the same for me, every time I have an artwork on display or a poem or story published I get that feeling, like catching sight of yourself in a shop window and cringing at your total ordinariness.

I'm very lucky to have work in this exhibition. But I need to shake off that shop window feeling now, or I might never be able to make another drawing again.

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