Ards Arts Centre, 5 – 14 August
‘Creative Peninsula’ doesn’t operate like a curated exhibition because it isn’t one. It bears mentioning yet seems obtuse to point out, given that exhibition making isn’t really what this collection of work is about. ‘Creative Peninsula’ is a yearly presentation by Ards and North Down local authority, the premise of which is simply to showcase artists and makers within the area. As a result, the work within it is hugely diverse in focus, media and rigour. However, as is often seen in similar wide reaching events – studio collective exhibitions, for example, or final-year student presentations – grouping practices solely on shared geography is not enough to make something more than the sum of its parts. Thus ‘Creative Peninsula’ is more a disjointed collection of solo voices than a cohesive exhibition.
The location-based survey can, however, be a useful way to take a place’s artistic temperature, and maybe observe how a particular area has affected those that work within it. With all participants working from the Ards and North Down area, the strong impact of the area’s natural, coastal landscape is obvious. Tertiary palettes, organic forms, beach scenes and local wildlife are prevalent in this spectrum of painting, sculpture, craft, poetry, jewellery and furniture pieces.
The show opens with a selection of work loosely based on the sea, represented in textile weaving, printmaking, relief sculpture and paint. Andrew Haire’s painting Gígjökull, while clearly not referencing the local coastline, fits into this subset. This work has a slightly less traditional approach to the theme, with thick layers of paint and yellow flecks giving the overcast shoreline a muggy, greasy feel. It has a similar atmosphere to Cecilia Stephens’s Intrepid Voyagers, a textile image of the landscape with a comparably murky quality, formed in the layers of the weaving. Rosy Ennis’s Phytoplankton monochrome screen print is also distinctive, recalling an illustration in an old biology textbook of a view of microscopic life.
In an exhibition heavily rooted in intricate craft and traditional art, the ceramic works of Patricia Miller’s Bogland Bowl, Victoria Bentham’s Locus Amoenis and Alan McCluney’s Trio of Vessels stand out though the strength of their organic, deeply-toned coloured combinations and delicate textural contrasts. Though the starting point is the vessel form, they are more sculptural than utilitarian.
In contrast, Sally Houston’s sculpture What We Hear takes a found-object approach to the medium, using shards of smashed crockery that pour into the ear of a simple whitewashed head shape. While the piece feels more like a physical sketch for a future, fully-resolved work, this approach to making – incorporating found and unexpected materials – allows for the work to relate to something otherwise absent in the somewhat forensic arts centre space. Owen Crawford’s Worm Got The Bird is another example of this: it is a simple, smoothly carved bird made with dark wood, set against a rust-stained cylinder of rough-hewn found concrete. Set apart from the interior and given something to grind against, this approach creates tension and separates the work from conventional ideas of craft and its domestic place.
In this mostly figurative collection, the works that demonstrate experimentation and abstracted materials grab attention. Nonetheless, there is plenty of impressive draughtsmanship on display. The frenetic energy in Watchful Hare, a bold charcoal drawing by Elaine Burke, has a feel of the animal’s nervous character, while on the opposite end of the spectrum, Lee Boyd’s Moonlight Becomes You is a detailed, skilfully rendered anthropomorphic pencil drawing. Dennis Healey’s Rising Model/Red on Blue, initially appearing a solely abstract work, slowly reveals human forms through six repeated red and blue digital prints. Craig Jefferson’s Camel and Mirror Still Life operates in a similar way; with the thickly applied oil paint, the artist uses the subject matter tangentially, focusing on composition and colour while the odd figurative element slowly reveals itself to the viewer.
‘Creative Peninsula’ is a mixed exhibition of professional artists and those perhaps only starting out in their creative practice. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, especially given the purpose of the show, yet as a whole the exhibition might benefit from a more specific selection process, an express theme to consider, or at the very least a larger exhibition space. There are 59 pieces in an area that would more comfortably house a third of this number. The result is a lack of breathing room for each work. It is also difficult to get a good sense of what’s there, with nothing to represent each artist but a list of names, titles and prices. Furthermore, featuring some artists working in film, installation, photography, performance or digital media within the area would have added to the exhibition. Perhaps criticising the show for not being curated is too easy and dismisses the purpose of this type of exhibition. Still, in order to work with what’s on display and not against it, it’s clear that those curatorial values are still needed.
Dorothy Hunter is an artist and writer based in Belfast.
Images: Owen Crawford, Worm Got the Bird; Lindsay Press,The Flock.