Friday 30 – Saturday 31 March
Messums Wiltshire hosted its second annual Clay Festival on the Bank Holiday Easter weekend (30-31 March). The festival commenced with a lecture from the Keeper of Sculpture at the V&A, Professor Antonia Boström.
On the Saturday maker and lecturer Duncan Hooson started proceedings with his presentation ‘What on Earth is Clay?’ He spoke in depth about clay as a medium alongside the science and history behind the material. He elaborated on its many uses: in paint, paper, medicine, tanning, rubber, pet litter, make-up, fibres; Kevlar, fireproofing and even mud masks. He described ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ clays. Primary clay remains where it has been formed, whereas secondary clay moves and pick up minerals and oxides, colouring it in the process. There are three basic artistic uses of clay: 1. Porcelain, 2. Stoneware and 3. Earthenware. Clay even has interstellar ramifications, with Curiosity, the Mars Rover currently transmitting data to earth for analysis comparing Martian clay samples to earth’s. Clay has the potential to generate life, (perhaps even life on Mars) as bacteria is always present and can quickly germinate mould. On a different note, Duncan has been involved in a project which brings together aspiring surgeons with craftspeople; ceramicists, sculptures and even hairdressers. For surgeons to be successful, they need academic training as well as proficient dexterity, the latter skill of which has recently been declining due to the overreliance on digital technologies.
The lunchtime talk consisted of artists Sam Bakewell, Claire Curneen and Malene Hartmann Rasmussen in conversation with Creative Director of the Craft Council, Annie Warburton. Each of the three artists is exhibiting work in Messums Wiltshire’s Myth, Material and Metamorphosis.
Sam Bakewell was first to speak on his inspiration and work. dead, dying and i, a piece in our medieval barn was inspired by a LA crime scene photograph of a man, head-down in oil. Sam spent an age transforming his parion corpse into an abstracted landscape, with a young boy perched on man’s ‘funny bone’ and watching a deer die below, caught in the fence. His first encounter with death. Sam admits that his father’s profession as a lay preacher is very influential on his already darkened mind and ‘morbid fantasies’. Interestingly, Sam sees objects as sentient beings, that they are ‘quietly dreaming on their own’. He is obsessed with hair, spirals and water, visual motifs which feature heavily throughout his oeuvre.
Claire Curneen was in fact Sam’s tutor when he was studying Ceramics at Cardiff and she said it must be ‘obvious’ to the audience that he was a joy to teach. She loves sculpture, especially those which contain religious iconography, as such object are able to depict their own time and historical location: from them we can learn a lot about the past. Claire grew up amidst the feverous religious background of Ireland, but sees religion as a fascinating litmus test for the culture and political leanings of a time. Tending the Fires, her longest piece at 2.5m, serendipitously includes a ‘quote’ of The Fonthill Vase, now one of Ireland’s national treasures. One of the first examples of Chinese porcelain in thirteenth-century Europe, The Fonthill Vase is also inextricably linked to this area, belonging once to William Beckford’s collection at Fonthill Bishop, only a mile or so from Messums Wiltshire.
Malene Hartmann Rasmussen came to ceramics relatively ‘late’, choosing to peruse it professionally in her mid-thirties. She was fortuitously offered a work placement with Dutch artist Carolein Smit (another in Myths, Materials and Metamorphosis) an experience which inspired her largely autobiographical and figurative work. Many of Malene’s ceramic pieces are inspired by nature those such as Nightfall, her ‘trolls’ and Corn Dolly series. She likes the idea that her ceramic objects have ‘grown themselves’, as if they were alive. Her dog Jango is as present in her work as he is in her studio. His upside-down head was the inspiration for My Inner Beast #5. Malene has been awarded a highly coveted Artist in Residence position at the V&A, which she begins in April.
Messums Wiltshire was delighted to host Margaret O’Rorke and Sandy Brown and their respective demonstrations. During Margaret’s demo, ‘Porcelain in Your Hands’, she explained that after holding porcelain up to the sky she had a ‘eureka’ moment about using domestic lights in her work. She explained her work and how it is made. Margaret then ‘threw’ one of the porcelain pieces that can be seen on her wonderful porcelain and woven fibre optic chandelier at the entrance of the barn. Champion of the positivity of making with the hand, Sandy Brown lead a ‘Spontaneity Performance’ and a hands-on making event for the many that joined. Sandy first exhibited her process and then gave the audience clay to make their own figure. She asked them to ‘empty the mind’ and not to have a goal: letting the hand think rather than the brain.
The last event of the Clay Festival was the highly anticipated performance ‘Resetting the Table’ with Steph Buttle and Duncan Hooson. This was a tale of two halves, first the scene was meditative, with lit candles calming the audience whilst we watched them throwing, (on the potter’s wheel as well as literally onto the central structure on the table) pots, plates, bowls, cups and strips of clay. The second half invited the audience to get up and get involved. Premade handles were stuck on objects in inventive ways and participants were encouraged the deconstruct the traditional tableware that had been made. The event was a success as far as audience interaction was concerned and enjoyed by all.
Workshops took place in regular sessions throughout the day. These included potter’s wheel classes with Wiltshire Creative’s Mirka Golden-Hann in the Long Gallery as well as children’s workshops in a marquee in the courtyard—‘Clay Play’ with Mel Coughlan and ‘Clay & Print’ class with Heidi Steller.
Photos by Paul Nicholls
On Wednesday 14 March, Messums Wiltshire was delighted to welcome internationally renowned taxidermist Polly Morgan to speak on her work, life and inspiration in our thirteenth-century barn. A twenty-foot screen served as the backdrop for huge photographs of finished and in-progress creations. The visual result was certainly awesome and impressive. Taxidermy, stemming from the Greek ‘taxis’ meaning ‘order’ and ‘derma’ meaning ‘skin’ together mean the ‘arrangement of skin’.
Polly Morgan has always had an intimate experience of animals, from the very beginning of her life. Her family owned farmland in Oxfordshire which was inhabited by creatures as exotic as ostriches. It was not uncommon for sick goats to be nursed back to health in the family home. Morgan herself bred hamsters in her bedroom. When an animal died, her father would be determined to discover the mortal cause himself. Morgan remembers viewing her first ‘autopsy’ distinctively, watching as her father ‘nicked’ the goat’s stomach and being amazed at the presence of yet-undigested, intact grass. That grass looked the same internally and externally to a body resonated with the young Morgan in a way which would ultimately shape her life’s interests.
She moved to London to study English, fulfilling a life-long dream of relocating to a city. She settled in artistic Shoreditch – the stomping ground of the infamous yBas. Looking for taxidermy to decorate her home, Morgan realised it was a good deal cheaper to travel to Edinburgh for a day course in making a taxidermy bird than it was to buy one already ‘stuffed’. She booked her ticket and commenced her professional relationship with master taxidermist George Jamieson. Over the years she has built up a network of clients who supply her with animals which have met their maker due to natural causes or the fate of an unpreventable death. Morgan has previously said that she ‘hates the fact that death hangs over all of our lives’ and that she sees the aesthetic of the dead body – one without its soul – as a beautiful ornament. She admits to being squeamish but ‘only with smells’, which are produced by the ‘slipping’ or malting of the animal’s surface caused by bacteria. Maggots, frozen, are also a nasty part of the job.
Morgan has a strong sense of curiosity, seeing taxidermy as a mirror to a fascinating dissection in a biology lesson. It reveals the anatomical structure and sub-layers underneath a familiar body. The idea of the human self as an animal resonated acutely for Morgan during her pregnancy and experience of giving birth, though she believes she is probably more in tune with her biology than the average human. After returning from the Serengeti to England, she discovered her appendix had burst and she had also contracted gangrene. The experience of a segment of her body as rotten and dead influenced ‘Hide and Fight’ (2012), a taxidermy stag (pictured above) with bats nesting in its open stomach. This is one of her few autobiographical pieces and coincidentally is also one of her largest. She commented that big animals are very heavy and require more hands than she regularly has.
She first exhibited in Reconstruction #1(2006) where Vanessa Branson famously bought ‘Rest a Little on the Lap of Life’ (2006) a Surrealist-influenced piece of a rat lying in a champagne glass, underneath a dangling, decadent chandelier. Morgan surprisingly stated that this is not a narrative piece, but a reaction to spending time with animals and their intrinsic forms. Yet I would argue that a viewer could clearly read a tongue-in-cheek undertone to this work in particular and that it is all the more stronger for it. Unlike birds or other creatures, rats seem to take on the shape of the object they are placed within, here the rat is like a furry scoop of ice-cream. Yet Morgan is interested in semiotics, believing that all viewers can have an opinion on her pieces, even if it differs to her own.
Her more recent work is minimal and abstract. As such it takes animals further away from their biological and recognisable forms. Three examples: ‘Ins and Outcomes’ (2017), ‘2 North A’ and ‘3 East B’ (both 2016) can be viewed in Messums Wiltshire’s Long Gallery. They have a limited palette, inspired by the colour scheme of hospitals; so to bind the ‘body’ of work together as a series. Morgan decided to experiment after a period of dissatisfaction with her work. She did not recognise herself as the artist she was described as. She said it is ‘important to get bored of your own work before everyone else does’. Her inspiration arrived in the form of a snake serendipitously frozen into an impossible, Escher-like coil in one of her freezers: a beautiful, modernist sculpture. She loved the idea and executed it in a mad rush. Focusing on snakes was new and required new ways of working. She could no longer depend on feathers and fur to hide the bumps caused by wood-wool stuffing. Instead, she would fix the form of the snake in cling film, freeze the mould and then cast it in dense rubber. The time it takes to complete a snake depends, obviously, on its size. It could take at least three days, plus drying for several weeks, for a small species. The colour can then fade, so painting, varnishing and mounting on a plinth are the final stages. It can take weeks for a massive snake before drying.
At the beginning of her career she was the recipient of death threats. The recent renaissance of the practice in recent years, Morgan postulated, could be down to its rebrand as being more ethical. Taxidermy no longer needs to invoke or be the product of mass murder or hunting. Incredulously Morgan has even been asked to taxidermy a human being, an offer she graciously refused. Bizarrely it is not illegal in the UK, although Morgan admits that along with many ethical reasons she would not want to identify too strongly with a subject close to her own image. I would suggest that the increase of taxidermists could result from the rising ‘neo-Victorian’ movement. Victorian-inspired practices such as taxidermy, scrapbooking and collecting, even making jewellery from hair and artwork from animal skulls are being recast as ‘retro’ and thus all the rage. Perhaps in the internet age these Gothic pastimes offer us a more direct engagement with our own biology and mortality. In the 19th century, death was a daily threat, with the death of a loved one commonplace. A sense of supernatural horror and imminent extinction was grappled with in a more concrete way. Artists inspired by this ‘neo-Victorian’ movement in the Long Gallery arguably include Bouke de Vries ‘Still Life with Kingfisher’, 2017 as well as his two birdcages, Kate MccGwire’s ‘Sentient’ and ‘Sissure’ (Ommateum) (both 2016) and Alastair Mackie’s ‘Untitled’ (sphere) 2004. Interestingly, all of these pieces can be described as still-lives and/or still-deaths. ‘Nature morte’, the French expression for still life, works better as a literal translation.
We are midway through our second Material: Earth exhibition, Myth, Material & Metamorphosis. This show crosses our two spaces, with ceramics, earthenware and porcelain in the barn and two-dimensional work as well as mixed-media sculpture in the Long Gallery.
Highlights in the barn certainly include Barnaby Barford’s sublime polar bear, standing at the life-like height of 8ft at the end of our medieval space. Early works of Grayson Perry’s, dating from 1984 lend a fresh way of viewing this contemporary British master and Kate Malone’s archetypical Whaddeston Big Mother Pumpkin surrounded by other vegetables such as Fennel and Light Artichoke transform quotidian, almost mundane objects into glittering, botanical portraits.
Claire Curneen’s 2.5m long Tending the Fires is an ambitious ode to the possibilities of porcelain as a material. It features martyred St Sebastians, stoic, outward looking torsos and the head of an owl bejewelled with gold-leaf eyes all entangled and pulled inescapably together under a blanket of Christ’s crown of thorns. At Messums Wiltshire we are most excited about Curneen’s artistic inclusion of The Fonthill Vase, a bluish-white Chinese porcelain dating from c.1300. Its namesake is the earliest documented Chinese porcelain object to have reached Europe at the early date of c.1338. The original vase takes its name from its fleeting existence in the collection of the eccentric William Beckford at Fonthill Abbey during the 1800s (only a few miles from our locality).
Other artists in the barn include Christie Brown, Katie Spragg, Sophie Woodrow, Bouke de Vries, Bertozzi and Casoni, Lena Peters, Catrin Howell, Sam Bakewell, Jessica Harrison, Philip Eglin, Kerry Jameson, Livia Marin, Carolein Smit, Malene Hartmann Rasmussen, James Webster, Claire Partington and Vivian van Blerk.
The work in the Long Gallery pertains to the theme of Metamorphosis, which as Ovid describes in his magnum opus Metamorphoses, is the fact that ‘everything changes, nothing perishes’. Three-dimensional, sculptural work includes Alastair Mackie’s Untitled (sphere) a work encased in glass and composed of an orb constructed from hundreds of mouse skulls, each having passed through and cleaned by the digestive tract of an owl.
Polly Morgan’s ethical taxidermy pieces invite us to rethink our position on this rather lost, Victorian art form whilst Bouke de Vries’ winged, Surrealism influenced birdcages pose questions relating to transition, change and anthropomorphism. Alexander the Great and The Source (after Ingres) both by Andy Warhol in the 1980s are surely crowning glories of the two-dimensional work in this room. Attention must be drawn also to neoclassical paintings: John William Waterhouse’s Narcissus and Merry Joseph Blondel’s masterpiece Sappho.
Other artists in the Long Gallery include Ann Carrington, Charlotte Cory, Wolfe von Lenkiewicz, Ori Gersht, Eric Gill, Aubrey Beardsley, Iain Andrews, El Gato Chimney, Simone Pellegrini, Jules Joseph Lefebvre, Wilfred de Glehn, Chris Riisager and Kate MccGwire.
Upcoming events – not to be missed – in our programme include the Clay Festival (30-31 March). The Clay Festival is a celebration of all things earth, taking this fundamental material as the starting point and centring it around the wheel of pottery. Talks, demonstrations and workshops for adults and children alike can be booked into and enjoyed, please see links below. This festival will be preceded by a talk by extraordinary taxidermist Polly Morgan on 14 March (last few tickets remaining).
Link to the exhibition: https://messumswiltshire.com/material-earth-ii-myths-and-metamorphoses/
Link to the Clay Festival: https://messumswiltshire.com/clay-festival/
Link to Polly Morgan’s talk: https://messumswiltshire.com/talk-taxidermy-artist-polly-morgan/
Messums Wiltshire is pleased to announce that Malene Hartmann Rasmussen, (b.1973) a
Danish artist who is currently showing in our second Material: Earth exhibition, has won a
coveted residency position at the V&A Museum in partnership with the Danish Art Foundation.
Rasmussen will begin her six months stay in the studio in April, situated in the museum’s
ceramic department. Over the course of this residency there will be a series of events and open
During her time at the V&A Rasmussen will respond to works by the 16 th century French potter
Bernard Palissy (c.1510-c.1589) who was famous for having struggled to imitate Chinese
porcelain for sixteen years. Rasmussen has said she admires ‘the eccentric and passionate
potter Barnard Palissy and somehow feel a kinship in our common fascination for plants,
insects, animals and ceramics. Palissy developed a life-cast technique of lifting moulds from
plants and dead animals and using the ceramic casts to create elaborate narrative scenes that
often thematically evolved around water and the pond. During my residency I wish to dive under
that water and see what grotesque creatures lurk beneath the surface and reveal the secrets
Rasmussen will also experiment with new methods of making using lost ceramic techniques as
she studies objects in the V&A’s collection and archives. The National Art Library will become
Rasmussen’s centre of historical and technical learning, surely inspiring her interpretation of
insects, animals and plants rendered theatrically in ceramics. These objects will then be
photographed and digitally reworked to form two-dimensional patterns and will be printed onto
paper, woven fabric or even ceramic tiles. This process will be in collaboration with her partner,
the photographer Sylvain Deleu.
Rasmussen lives and works in London.
Photos by Iain Kemp Photography & Logan Isaac
By Paula Tegerdine
International artist David Spriggs has filled Messums Wiltshire with beauty and light.
Material Light with its centrepiece ‘Vision II’ standing six metres high saw David packing a year’s worth of work into four months to complete.
Exhausted but happy, he said: “I really feel this is one of the best exhibitions I have ever done – it’s a major accomplishment for me.”
Material Light is on exhibition until February 4 at the monastic barn in Tisbury – now regarded as one of the UK’s most exciting contemporary art spaces.
David said: “I abandoned everything to do this. A lot of exhibition spaces try to have neutral architecture, like White Cube, but here I wanted to work with the architecture.
“Here there is a certain calmness which I like. For me, showing at Messums is significant – the barn has so much history and the architectural structure really lends itself to this.
“The architecture frames the work and the piece would not exist without the architecture – it’s integral to the space.
David grew up in Cheshire, moving with his family to Vancouver when he was 14, and Material Light is his first exhibition in the UK. Having been invited to exhibit, David responded with light and beauty, referencing Stonehenge and the area’s unique heritage.
His artworks Polar, Antithesis, Gravity, Enigma and Cloud columns also explore the ephemeral – a direction begun with his first Cloud created in 2000.
For Vision he used an airbrush to paint 45 transparencies, which if placed end to end, would cover the side of a skyscraper.
He said: “’Vision II’ suggests thinking about the act of perception. There is a power relationship with you and the piece. As the viewer walks round it they are building the image in their mind. It’s almost as if form is creating itself as the viewer walks around.
“There is a feeling of contraction and explosion. Even though it’s static it does not feel static – there is constant tension in the energy.
“When you think of what a prism does it’s a transparent form that separates light into different colours. Transparency, colour and power are topics I’m exploring and the idea of the ephemeral and the immaterial. I feel like I’m feeling in the dark and finding an idea.
“I feel there has been an abandonment of beauty in contemporary art – people dismiss it. You can still have beauty and have conceptual meaning. I want people to feel something when they see my work.
“It’s not neutral and if someone walks into a gallery and the first thing they say is they don’t understand it I feel the artist has not done a good job. If art is communication you really have to feel something – it’s not something you have to put into words – it’s a feeling and experience.
He said: “One thing with all my works is when we think of sculpture it is a process with a definite boundary. This has a sense of no boundaries to it. The Futurist idea of the form belonging to everything around it, here becomes a layered space to form and light falls off. Light spills off so there’s no boundaries to the form.”
He said: “I want my work to be positive and to inspire people. A lot of work is doom and gloom and there is no feeling in it.”
On 13 December 2017 the seminal British etcher Norman Ackroyd joined us at Messums Wiltshire in our 13th century barn for a talk on his life and work, interviewed by curator Catherine Milner. The event was split into thirds: commencing with a short documentary by the BBC following a ‘day-in-the-life-of’ Ackroyd as part of their ‘What Do Artist’s Do All Day?’ series, with questions from Milner and the audience thereafter.
Ackroyd studied at Leeds College of Art until 1961 and then at the Royal College of Art until 1964. After his education he moved to New York during the 1970s for several months to work, following the migration of his artistic contemporaries from London and sincerely entertaining the possibility of a permanent relocation. He finally decided the cultural climate of New York was far too ‘hysterical’ for his mentality and, returning to the UK, rejected the modern art scene, choosing instead to follow his own path. Soon after his return he journeyed to the tip of the British Isles — the Orkney Islands — beginning an unofficial project which would see him chart over five-hundred viewpoints of the UK. He would sit on the cabins of fishing trawlers, sketch-book in hand, genuinely wanting to venture to those remote places, interested both in the artistic potential and geological rarity of these locations. Wanting to ‘squeeze out the essence of the place’, Ackroyd liked exploring as a pursuit in itself, enjoying the ‘bonus’ of subliminal subject matter and avidly sketching all that he saw in situ.
Now he lives and works in a restored industrial warehouse building in Bermondsey, where the BBC documentary team followed him from dusk till dawn over the course of a single day in 2013. When asked about his choice of profession he coyly replied, ‘It keeps me out of bother’ and further commented how fantastic it was to be able to engrave for a living — something which his family, historically all butchers in Leeds, thought most impossible. When asked about his central London base, at odds with the geography of his subject matter, Ackroyd explained he had lived in remote places throughout his life, taking ‘ages’ to get to one scene from the next. Milner suggested the call of the wild was part of an artistic journey rather than the main way of life. Agreeing, Ackroyd recalled the annual Christmas dinner at the Royal College which invites all of the academicians out of the mania of London and into its hallowed halls. Artists are, by demand of their profession monastic, and living in the capital gives Ackroyd access to social and artistic spheres, as well as the ability to draw back from them.
After the BBC film Milner drew the comparison between Ackroyd’s work and the cookery process. He agreed, stating that 90% of cooking is about having great ingredients and it is the same with etching. He professed to working in thousands of various black inks, ‘self-indulgently’ making his own out of burnt natural materials such as bone and peach stone; all offering slightly different colours and textures. Just like a kitchen his workshop is meticulously clean, with the risk of contamination otherwise too great — affording yet another comparison with the family tradition of butchery. Etching with a copperplate can take three to four days of solid work and requires bewitching precision and experience. Ackroyd begins with delineating the reverse of the design on the plate aided by the reflection of a mirror. He described treating the plate like a painting, though one which needs absolute concentration, due to the ‘high-wire’ of working with acid. His etching presses, which have been passed on to him, are ‘two of the best in all of Europe’. The first, a ‘beautiful piece of engineering’, made at the time when etching was an industrial rather than artistic process, cost £400 in 1900 — which today would be equivalent to £52,000. The second is a smaller standard press, the ‘Volvo’ of the pair.
Ackroyd observed that his work is greatly influenced by the British Romantic Samuel Palmer, as well as the prolific printmaker Anthony Gross. He adores the ‘stopping-and-stilling’ mechanism of Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer’s work saying that ‘time is like a butterfly when it is pinned down’ in his works. His greatest hero is Goya, naming the Los Caprichos series, as well as Picasso. Both were great draftsmen Ackroyd remarked, a quality seemingly lost within the teaching of the art schools today, which undervalue the importance and the necessity of skill and technique. An audience member questioned with Ackroyd thought his career would have been vastly different had he attended the Slade or Central St Martin’s, instead of the Royal College. ‘Life is a lottery’ he began his answer and concluded that he owed a great deal of his success to his Alma Mater. He would largely accredit this to Julian Trevelyan and the hands-off approach of members of staff, allowing him to ‘just get on with it’. This method fostered deeply different artists, his classmates as diverse as Peter Blake, David Hockney and Patrick Caulfield. A second attendee asked whether he was ever tempted to include the human figure. Ackroyd replied saying that he does, in fact, ‘do his scales’ of art making: drawing from life and well as still life drawing. But it is the traces — the resonance — of humanity that he prefers; the marks where we’ve been; the civilisations rather than the individuals.
Norman Ackroyd has etchings of Old Wardour Castle as well as Bitham Lake at Fonthill in our exhibition, ‘A Wessex Scene’, which is on display in the Long Gallery until 31 December 2017. The editions of these works are also available to order at Messums Wiltshire. He has artwork in national and international collections including the Tate, British Museum and National Gallery of Art. Ackroyd became the Professor of Etching at the University of the Arts in 1994 and was elected a Royal Academician in 1991. In 2000 he was made Senior Fellow, Royal College of Art and was awarded a CBE for services to engraving and painting in 2007.
Messums Wilshire is delighted to announce the inaugural set of porcelain works belonging to the partnership between prolific ceramicist John Julian (Julian Sainsbury) and the celebrated Japanese artist and ceramicist Makoto Kagoshima. These works are some of the first in an ongoing series that the pair hope to collaborate on going forward.
Makoto Kagoshima, based in Kyushu, the southern island of Japan, illustrates whimsical and heartwarming motifs on clay, making each ceramic object a unique, one-of-a-kind piece of art. His works are designed with a variety of plants and animals, remembered from his childhood.
Sculptor and designer Julian Sainsbury is recognised for his collection of exquisite kitchenware, serveware and tableware. His designs are known for their pared-back aesthetic, neutral palette and finely judged simplicity. Leading chefs, discerning cooks and foodies alike around the world appreciate the sculptural form and the excellent functionality of his enduring classic designs. In 2013, after becoming disenchanted with the restrictions of conventional mass manufacturing, he set up his own artisanal workshop in Wiltshire.
David Inshaw, ‘The Badminton Game’, 1972-3, Oil on Canvas, H152.4 x W183.5cm
David Inshaw quoted one of his favourite writers, Thomas Hardy, an author whose work is especially relevant to the theme of Messums Wiltshire’s latest exhibition ‘A Wessex Scene’. ‘Beauty of emotion is far greater than the beauty of aspect’ Inshaw recited, highlighting a theme which runs throughout his own paintings, as he uses landscape as a metaphor for human emotion, pathetic fallacy come to life. It is this very emotion which is so pertinent to art, creating an environment of empathy in these rather ‘troubled times’: connecting us on this little fair isle to the rest of the world.
The interview began, of course, with the image that Inshaw is best known for — ‘The Badminton Game’ — a painting which established his reputation as one of the most eminent landscape artists when it was bought by the Tate in 1981. The image contains recurring motifs of Inshaw’s, namely topiary and sex, imbuing innocent landscapes with a dark, sensual melancholy; an enchanting wickedness. It is because of this, Catherine Milner, interviewer and curator of the exhibition, suggested that Inshaw is able to ‘sail above categorisation’ yet be rooted in supposed quintessential Englishness and naivety.
‘I didn’t start off like this’ Inshaw hurried to add, making his way in the world as a graphic design and painter in Kent. He later attended the Royal Academy in London, when at the time the art world was only concerned with American Expressionism, as well as Pop Art, both from ‘across the pond’. Peter Blake and David Hockney were the British artists all the rage. Inshaw saw these trends as somewhat directionless, and questioned whether there could be another possibility for art. He began constructing ‘semi pop-art’, painting with words; focusing on construction; coming to the climax of an unknown ‘YES YES’ piece.
In 1964 Inshaw was awarded a scholarship to paint in Paris. He professed most of his Romanticism must have originated at this time, as it felt like Paris had gone unchanged since the 1900s. When he returned to England he was to take up a job at Bristol, choosing to live in between that city and London in the ‘backwater’ of Devizes, Wiltshire. At once he fell in love with the wonderful area and all of its ancient history, steeped in myth and legend.
He started to paint landscapes, in the hyper-defined, quasi-Surrealist style of ‘The Badminton Game’. This morning scene was not painted from real life but from Inshaw’s imagination, made up of composite parts. The very phallic trees were in fact viewed from a pair of binoculars; the house was an old girlfriend’s; he had had relationships which both of the women in the image. The woman on the far side is a student, with her friend on the other side, closest to the viewer. Inshaw painted in this slightly manufactured look, as though it has been made by a machine, for ‘himself only’, and was to do so over the next ten years.
Terrible stomach pains made him realise that he needed to stand and paint more freely. He had obsessions with certain Wiltshire motifs such as Silbury Hill, admired by Inshaw as it reminded him of the ever-changing passing of time. Another trope was the Cerne Abbas Man, once muddy and dirty, now white-lined by the National Trust, ‘almost glowing or neon’ Inshaw observed. He declared his appreciation for this work, on such a large scale, citing the anonymous artist(s) as a genius. All of Inshaw’s paintings are much larger than their slide-show reproductions, he pointed out, noting the importance of the original canvas’ surface and quality of paint used.
He met Peter Blake at a dinner party and founded the Brotherhood of Ruralists in 1975, wanting to be the antidote to American Colour Field and Pop Art painting. It was a venture which was to last five to six years, a not uncommon amount of time for a British artistic group. Inshaw has also painted for well-known collectors and personalities, including two works for the veteran broadcaster and naturalist David Attenborough. Inshaw has contributed two paintings to ‘A Wessex Scene’: ‘Banished’ and ‘Cloud Study, Rainbow’. ‘Banished’ or ‘F*** Off and Don’t Come Back’ as it is affectionately known, evidences Inshaw’s casting of Wiltshire as a kind of Eden — dwelling in eroticism and the source of creation — with Adam and Eve’s departure from which as inevitable as our departure from life itself. Both of Inshaw’s paintings can be viewed in the Long Gallery until 31 December 2017.
Opera: Mad King Suibhne
30 November – 02 December 2017
“Verdi knew, as the great Broadway musical writers would come to know, that when it comes to socking it to an audience there is no more potentially powerful art form than opera, which combines music, drama, stagecraft, design, and vocal and physical athleticism in one intoxicating cocktail”. Clemency Burton Hill, Evening Standard.
In recent years it has been suggested that opera, once the reserve of the rich, metropolitan elite, has been reclaimed as an art form for the people. The multidisciplinary genre, which mixes fine art, design, music and often dance, has been taken out of the nexus of London to different locations where audiences want to see performances reflecting their lives and circumstances. Messums Wiltshire is contributing to this only-growing trend by staging Mad King Suibhne, in collaboration with Bury Court Opera; a project which took eighteen months in the making, from the initial discussions through to the finished opera.
Mad King Suibhne is an new opera by composer and Music Director Noah Mosley, commissioned originally by Bury Court Opera in celebration of their tenth anniversary. Premiering in March 2017, Mad King Suibhne is based on an Irish poem which was likely to be compiled in the twelfth century. Accompanied by a ten-piece orchestra, the opera will suitably take place in our thirteenth-century monastic barn. Mad King Suibhne will make use of Messums Wiltshire’s previous exhibition ‘Roots Up’ — a remarkable one-hundred and forty foot long installation piece by the American artist Judy Pfaff. The cast will incorporate Pfaff’s ‘scaffolding’ at the far end of the barn into their set and her famous trees will act as a fantastical portal for the audience to enter and exist the space.
Mad King Suibhne balances the fast-paced and colourful world of animals and the supernatural with more serious themes and the potentially destructive effects of an aggressively competitive society. The allegorical conflict between wildness and civilization is permeated through literature and the arts, but this opera reflects on a more fundamental theme; our desire to make the world a better place and the impossibility of such a wish.
The easy-to-understand, English libretto of Mad King Suibhne, written by Ivo Mosley, means the opera is accessible to first-timers, whilst managing to retain its magic and subtlety for those who consider themselves more experienced ‘opera-goers’. Mad King Suibhne, set in Messums Wiltshire’s barn, deconstructs the more elitist rituals of the art form, making it a ‘gateway’ occasion, as it is not too intimidating for those wanting to try. Mad King Suibhne will be less excluding: there will not be black tie dress-code or hierarchical boxes, and all the tickets are identically priced. However, our champagne and canapés service means that we are able to retain the theatre and the festivity of opera as a historical tradition to those who wish to indulge.
The composer Noah has commented on the importance opera thematically and also in aid of contemporary art-making saying that ‘It is the art form which brings together all art forms! Mozart has composed scores, Auden has written libretti, Hockney has designed stages, Bausch has created movement, Zeffirelli has directed, Pavarroti has sung, great orchestras and bands have played…. for opera. What other art form can claim such a broad scope of wonderful artists and disciplines?’
Messums Wiltshire is following the footsteps of other institutional giants such as The Royal Opera House and English National Opera, with regards to their student-saving schemes and access programmes. Furthermore the V&A recently launched ‘Opera: Passion, Power and Politics’, an exhibition which tells the story of Europe through seven operas, from Monteverdi’s game-changing The Coronation of Poppea in 1642 to Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of the Mtsenk District in 1934, considered so powerful by Stalin it was banned for 30 years. All of this coincides with Messums Wiltshire’s dedication to our school programme, providing an opportunity for primary and secondary students to visit and organise activities and events on Tuesdays.
To book tickets: http://messumswiltshire.com/performance-mad-king-suibhne/
Doors open 6:30pm, performance at 7pm.
Thursday 30 November – Join us for an audience with the composer Noah Mosley and to watch the final dress rehearsal. SOLD OUT
Friday 1 December – Opening night performance. Doors open 6:30pm, performance at 7pm.
Saturday 2 December – Evening performance. Doors open 6:30pm, performance at 7pm.
Performance duration is 1 hour 25 minutes (plus interval).