Last Friday, I was invited to a private viewing of a new exhibition at theBLOC art gallery in Swansea.
Located on the High Street, theBLOC is part of the Elysium Gallery and is dedicated to displaying the work of Elysium’s artists.
The exhibition is an extremely diverse and eclectic mix of mediums and the artists come from a range of different backgrounds. The one thing they have in common is that they all have a strong connection with Swansea and most have completed degrees in the city.
A lot of the artists have experimented with new ideas or mediums for the artwork that is on display and the results are both intriguing and thought provoking.
There are darker paintings from Rob Anstey who works primarily in oils. His portrait, She Once Was A Whore, depicts an aged woman surrounded by darkness that ensures the focus is not taken from the subject. The atmospheric image is a meditation on the life of the old woman and the serious, brooding nature of the piece is echoed in the lines of her face. A dark background is also a predominant feature in Amir Nejad‘s Portrait of Rhys Ifans. Exquisitely detailed, Amir’s portrait is highly realistic. Whereas Anstey takes his inspiration from the art of baroque, Nejad’s influence is European figurative art. Yet both artists achieve a depth in their work that manages to project the personality of the subject as well as their appearance.
Carys Evans is, in her own words, ‘a painter of women, the domestic and the everyday’ but do not let this lead you to think her work is mundane; the woman she depicts in her painting wears a halo and carries an air of serenity about her, almost transcending the audience that looks upon her. The stillness in Evans’ portrait is at polar opposites with Eifion Sven-Myer‘s blurred portrait, Self-Portrait Study which suggests the movement of the subject. His painting is incredibly captivating; we at once see the physical depiction of a human being who has almost blurred into his surroundings, making him seem at one with the rest of the world and yet the inner anguish and emotional turmoil which makes him entirely alone.
Hazel Cardew is exhibiting her photography of the Tokyo Landscape with Ikebukuro I and II. Using double exposure, Cardew has captured the busy nature of the city within a static photograph as the layers achieve an effective sense of movement and flow. Her clever technique engages the audience’s sense of perspective and the photographs have a real physical depth. A little closer to home, Dan Staveley has used different skyscapes in his monochrome landscapes of Llanelli and Southport to achieve powerful results. The two pictures are juxtaposed, showing the negative beside the positive; one is of a dreary estate with a darkened, cloudy sky whilst the other shows the sun breaking through above an old gate, highlighting the idea of possibilities and positive change. Jenny Chisholm has also captured the local landscape in her painting, Port Talbot I. Chisholm says the current focus for her abstract artwork is the ‘visual impact of heavy industry on the landscape’ and this is present in the dark, almost tar black representation of the steelworks that overpowers the canvas. The lighter sky above it serves to remind us that this was once nature’s home.
Ann Jordan dives into the heart of Swansea with her focus on the urban landscape. Rather than paint or photograph the city, Jordan has had the novel idea of depicting the Swansea skyline on a number of fans. Her ‘vertical mapping’ has been embroidered on to the fabric using a range of colours which are both aesthetically pleasing and highly effective. While Jordan focuses on the city, Graham Parker turns towards the sea. His seascapes are extremely vivid and the ocean becomes a character within his work. It is brought to life by his ‘multiple layers of paint’ and draws you in with its enticing vivacity as well as the fierce energy that it evokes.
Tim Kelly however, differs in his approach. His work, Monkeys, is a collage and could almost be a piece of stage scenery. Looking closely at the artwork, subliminal messages seem to be everywhere with monkeys’ faces and text appearing all over the canvas. Kelly’s interest in contemporary life as well as history and archaeology makes for some extremely interesting and thought provoking work.
Dalit Leon has added an extra dimension to her work with her use of wool on canvas. Colours of black, grey and cream play against one another and give the piece a planetary feel; shots of colour from petals that have been intertwined into the material act as indicators to life amongst the gaping expanse of the universe. Ann Lucas has also utilised wool in her work, Inside…Outside…. At first glance, there only appears to be one face within the piece and it is only when the viewer comes closer that they realise there is actually a multitude of faces within it. The artist has an interest in Welsh mythology and paganism and her use of organic materials evokes the raw, natural life of ancient Wales whilst the tactile nature of the piece attracts the audience to it.
Organic matter is also a key feature of Dave Long‘s Bouquet although this striking artwork’s effect lies in the many different layers that the artist has constructed. With a background in graffiti art, Long has created an electrifying composition that is both provoking and commanding. As the human being within the piece is consumed by the organic, Long reminds us that mankind is essentially weak against the power of nature. Another artist who works in bright, eye catching colour is Jonathan Powell who is exhibiting his piece, Allegory of the Cave. His oil painting combines vivid tones with monochrome and evokes the transition that Plato describes in stepping out of the cave and experiencing a higher plane of comprehension within the universe.
Another abstract artist is Fran Williams who works passionately and swiftly, allowing the ‘movement and energy of the paint to mould and suggest the form.’ For her pieces, So Many Tomorrows and The Next Exit, Williams uses brilliant colour against darker tones to suggest the uncertainty of the future and the hopes and fears within it. Her artwork is fiery and ablaze with emotion whereas Jax Robinson takes a more tranquil approach. Robinson uses neutral, organic colours for her piece Shore which have a calming and soothing effect on the viewer; she also cleverly utilises chalk and emulsion in an atypical fashion to achieve the foam of the tide.
Moving into illustration and graphic design, James Milligan and Philip Cheater have both produced outstanding work that draws attention to the impact of patterns. Milligan states that his art ‘focuses on repeating patterns as a way to cope with the everyday’ and this is seen in his miniature picture that depicts nature growing through a man-made cover. It is one in a series of pictures that follow the same theme. Cheater has also used repetition in his artwork to convey society’s ‘reliance on signage’ with his pieces, HighlyFlammable and BreakGlassPressHere. The artist’s use of warning signs appears almost as an optical illusion, mind-boggling the audience and throwing the signs’ authority into question.
Cerys Thomas-Ford also uses typography within her work, Screaming the Name of a Foreigner’s God. Through her use of ink, Thomas-Ford has created a monochrome image that bleeds into the paper and, in one section, resembles a wave of sound as measured on a graph. With a background in spoken word poetry, the artist likes to ‘create ambiguous spaces between fiction and reality’ and this piece is a clear example of this.
Finally, Paul Munn‘s object based work, Paperscape 1, uses steel rods, wire and paper to achieve an interesting exploration of space and construction. Munn takes his inspiration from the Constructivists and ‘the application of engineering techniques to the construction of sculpture’. His artwork is intriguing to study and, as many of his materials are reclaimed from the street, has a strong connection with Swansea and the surrounding areas.
theBLOC’s current exhibition is an exciting addition to the Swansea High Street area. There are many different concepts and ideas at play but the artists are united in their connections to Swansea and their desire to enhance the community with their work. As the city evolves, so too does the art and I’m excited to see what the future holds for theBLOC.
Special thanks to Graham Parker for inviting me to theBLOC.
theBLOC is situated at 217 Swansea High Street and is open from Tuesday-Saturday, 10am-5pm.
Information is taken from the brochure and artist’s websites & is correct to the best of my knowledge.
Read my review of Dalit Leon’s Time Signatures exhibition here.