TALK & SUPPER: Ashley Gray from Gray M.C.A.

Wednesday 27 March   CANCELLED

Material: Textile is being curated in collaboration with Gray M.C.A. the gallery and collectors of post-war textiles and fashion illustrations. Gray M.C.A source rare and unique works made by artists including pieces by Picasso, Matisse, Henry Moore and Ben Nicholson.

Join us to hear Ashley Gray talk about collecting textiles and the option of joining him and other guests for supper afterwards in our Mess Restaurant.

“Ashley Gray of Gray MCA’s 2016 BADA Lecture “The Post War Textile Visionaries of Modern Art” was a tour de force! His vivid depiction of the importance of the 1950’s & 60’s commissions from Edinburgh Weavers and Ascher from the giants of Modernism was a revelation.”
Marco Forgione, Chief Executive, BADA


Beetroot Carpaccio, goat cheese & hazelnut
Slow cooked pork belly
Crushed roasted new potatoes
Grilled red peppers, shallots & caper salad
Red cabbage, courgettes & figs slaw
Chocolate & salted caramel tart, pistachio ice cream

SUPPER CLUB: with Glass Artists from the Glass Festival 2019

Friday 25 January 2019

Meet and dine with some of the world’s foremost glass artists on the eve of our Glass Festival 2019. This informal event will be a buffet selection devised by head chef Sunny Sin and the Mess Restaurant team and a chance to mingle amongst the makers and other likeminded patrons of the arts.

There are only 15 places available, so please do book early to avoid disappointment.

DEMO: Venetian Canework with Glass Artist Scott Benefield

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Saturday 26 January 2019

In glassblowing, cane refers to rods of coloured glass which can be simple or complex and contain strands of one or several colours in a pattern. In the blowing process canes are added to vessels or other blown glass objects to create intricate, often spiral, patterns and stripes. Come along and watch Material Light artist Scott Benefield unleash his signature creativity in cane work and take the alchemic process of glassmaking to another level. A unique opportunity to watch a highly skilled artist demonstrate a level of work rarely seen in the public eye.

Caneworking is an ancient technique, first invented in southern Italy in the second half of the third century BC, and elaborately developed centuries later on the Italian island of Murano. Artist Scott Benefield takes the exquisite techniques of mid-century Italian glass as a starting point for his work. He moves beyond historical replica by intentionally disrupting the rhythm and order of pattern to create unique, tension-filled pieces that question our ideas about perfection and control.

Scott is internationally known as a glassblower and educator with a speciality in Italian cane techniques. He has conducted workshops on these techniques in the UK, ROI, Turkey, Japan and throughout the United States where he resided for many years. He was a director of the Glass Art Society in the U.S. and is currently on the GAS Advisory Board.

TALK: with Light Artist Michael Hulls

Saturday 8 December 2018

A single golden star winking in the middle of the barn accompanied by quiet tolling of bells launched Michael Hulls‘ Tungsten Requiem last Friday at Messums Wiltshire – an elegy to the humble light bulb now being tossed into the dustbin of history to make way for LEDs.
The single light was soon joined by clusters of others, illuminating the rafters of the barn like nests of fireflies.
Some people lay down on the warm floor of the barn, to fully appreciate the gentle glow of pulsing filaments burning, hissing and crackling within the bulbs.
In a discussion following the performance, Michael Hulls, an associate artist with Sadlers Wells Theatre said the piece reflected his ‘rage against the dying of the light.’
‘We are looking at a species on the point of extinction – tiny pinpricks of light that will soon be no longer’ he said.


Tungsten Requiem

Hulls spent thousands of pounds buying up boxes of the discontinued light bulbs – largely from Germany.
‘I love seeing that burning filament and got my credit card out and started hoovering up all the lights I can find,’ he said.
The bulbs have a life expectancy of 2000 hours, based on burning non stop at 100%. In my pieces we are upto a maximum of 20% and even then only intermittently, so that is into years and years.
Each of the 9 hanging constellations of Tungsten bulbs are named after different stars – Castor Pollux, Polaris and Antares – in a variety of sizes containing between nine and 52 bulbs each.
As well as the beautiful golden light they emit are the shadows and shapes that form on the floor under each light fitting, reminiscent of the crystalline shapes of snowflakes. Contrasting with the warm, solar light of the Tungsten bulbs is the cold blue lunar coloured LED lights at the top of each light Tungsten constellation.

Michael said he ‘wanted the lights to have a relationship with each other at some times but not at others.’
He added, ‘Different points in the soundtrack triggers different sequence of lights. An aspect of a Tungsten bulb is that as they become bright you feel their warmth like our own precious star. The LED lights are cold whereas the burning Tungsten filament makes energy visible, like an open fire that works on all of us at a fundamental level.’
Summing up Johnny Messum described the art work as a ‘dance in light;’ summarising both how elements of Michael Hulls’ light pieces relate to each other and also life itself.

Read more about ‘Tungsten Requiem’ as part of our Material Light exhibition at

Read more about Michael Hulls at:


TALK: ‘Life of Brian’ with Richard Cork & Brian Taylor’s Family

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Saturday 17 November 2018

Brian Taylor’s son Gabriel with his portrait busts

The picture created of Brian Taylor by his family and friends after being gently probed by the former art critic of the Times, Richard Cork in a discussion at Messums Wiltshire was of a quiet and ‘very difficult man’ but also one passionately devoted to his art.
‘I was told I couldn’t meet Brian because he was in a black depression,’ said the wife of Brian Taylor recalling their first encounter at St Martin’s art school where she was a pupil and he was her teacher. ‘So I went up to him and told him that we had a tutorial booked. I knew I had a lot to learn and he said you need four, one hour drawing classes in the sculpture department.‘
Their son Gabriel described how he sat ‘for hours’ for his father, starting from when he was six years old to create some of the best loved sculptures the artist did.
‘When he was working he wouldn’t be interrupted by anything; he was totally absorbed in what he was doing. He was a man of few words and there weren’t ongoing exchanges. When you sat for him, you felt you had arrived in his territory. We watched old films and DVD’s or listened to cassette tapes as we sat for him for sessions that lasted for up to three hours and sometimes longer.’
‘I did fall asleep when he was sculpting me – which is why my head is down in one of the portraits’
Gabriel added that he continues to see new things in the sculptures made by his father. ‘You can never take enough from these pieces. He was temperamental and could be stubborn but he was a genius with his work.’
Michelle said; ‘He was very temperamental and didn’t talk a lot. He hated small talk – the important things in life were sculpture, gardening and cooking. He was always busy.
Even though I was a painter and he was a sculptor we didn’t clash; he believed the fundamental basis of all our work was drawing ; he was a great lover of painting, in particular Masaccio and Della Francesca.
He understood that painting was all about painting the person from the inside and he applied the same principles to his sculptures.
You really get a sense of the personality of the people he worked on. He told the individual story about them.’

Read more about our exhibition ‘Brian Taylor: A Retrospective’ at

TALK: with Decorative Artist & Gilder Tuesday Riddell

Saturday 1 December 2018

Tuesday Riddell lived up to her surname when she started explaining the arcane practices that go into creating her delicate and intricate lacquer ware paintings during a talk at Messums Wiltshire.
Holding a wooden panel that she had sanded and then painted with a mixture of varnish, powdered iron and volcanic ash she demonstrated how she creates her quietly elegiac works featuring golden insects quietly devouring each other on the forest floor.

Each picture takes three days to prepare and Tuesday usually has six on the go at the same time. Having drawn a beetle in glue onto the board, she then delicately brushed on a fluttering piece of gold leaf with the effect that the image of the beetle materialised, it seemed, out of nowhere.
‘I am very meditative when I am making my lacquer ware pieces – they force me to concentrate. I have to stay very calm when I am painting them as there is no space for error. If I skip a meal my hand will shake and the work will be ruined.’
The hardest and most dangerous part of the process she said was right at the end of creating a piece when she sweeps the whole board with a final coat of shellac that he has to paint quickly and without hesitation. One false move and the images underneath can be destroyed.

The process begins with preparing a board with up to 30 layers of European lacquer which is sanded between layers to create a mirrored black surface to then paint images upon with gold which will afterwards be gilded with 23.5 carat gold and silver leaf before brushing off the excess gold to unveil the image on the surface. She subsequently builds up the shaded background with line, gold powders and metal flakes before being layered with the final coats of varnish.

The pieces are, she revealed, a quiet elegy to the destruction of the planet by mankind.

She mourns the destruction of the forest and its tiny inhabitants in her miniature worlds of golden insects devouring each other on the forest floor.

‘These dark enchanting techniques are especially suited to my voice as an artist,’ she said. ‘The mirrored reflective surface lends an elegance and grace fitting to my images and compositions.’

‘I want to reflect the mass loss of species caused by global warming’ she said. ‘Insects are used as symbols in a political scene in which horror contrast with beauty. Whimsical small animals and insects devour each other and the birds are dying.’

Tuesday has been inspired by amongst others, Otto Marseus van Shriek – a 17th Century Dutch master of vanitas paintings. ‘We have at our disposal technologies that are numbing and unhealthy. This escape from reality created a need in me to return to physical material.’
Artists Grayson Perry and Rakib Shaw as well as stores like Liberties are all exploring art of the past she pointed out; William Morris’ designs are currently being used for a new range of clothes by Gucci.
‘I care about aesthetic legacies and lacquer work is one area which is not yet surpassed by modern ways of doing things. A lot of modern techniques give the art a Disneyland, plasticky feel, and it is important to me to keep the human, manual product’ she said.

When making her works she can get small ones finished in a couple of weeks or six weeks for the biggest works. Now, she wants to go still bigger – making works six-foot high.

‘Lacquer ware is a bridge to our past culture,’ she said, ‘but it must evolve with contemporary art practice – I want to take it to new places.’

Tuesday’s works are on show in the Long Gallery until Sunday 22 December, read more at

Friends Studio Visit: Sculptor Laurence Edwards

Friday 30 November 2018

It is rare to be able to gain access to an artist’s studio, they are places like the recesses of a mind where ideas are borne and considered before they are ever let out into the public eye. They are in every sense private spaces, and yet to be invited into these is to step behind the finished object and to see their inner workings much like taking the back off a clock. They can be extraordinarily beautiful in their execution of process. So it was when we stepped into the first of two studios belonging to sculptor Laurence Edwards. This was his day or ‘Morning Studio’ up on the remote towns of Suffolk. A place that was once a Fire Station and is now a light infused, detritus strewn start point for all of Laurence’s works. In the corner are a set of dented metal tubs holding murky mouldy clay. This sort of embryonic soup is the recycled clay that his destroyed sculptures go into, only to be resurrected again into new forms. ‘My earliest sculpture is probably in there’ muses Laurence as we stare at his latest ongoing work. Handfuls of clay wrestled and pulled over asteel armature that still protrudes through in places, a primordial figure wrestling out of the ground. It is proving impossible to take it all at once so we fire questions at random, why Reindeer horns cast in wax? – Inspiration from a wild trip up onto the Russian Tundra to study the Reindeer herders with one of the countries leading anthropologists. Laurence tells of a Russian approach to travel where breaking down and fixing your means of transport are as much part of the journey as the destination itself. ‘It was a remarkable experience’ he said ‘to journey for days and to meet these people who had probably never had contact with western humans before and to witness their relationship with the land was extraordinary.

There are also a fine set of Antlers on the wall and we alight on them by way of contrast I could not work with those Laurence answers there is too much heraldic significance, feudal weighting, but these (the antlers smuggled back from Russia) these speak of something else ‘They are admittedly much smaller and certainly less grand, more accessible perhaps and we muse on the distinction. Other parts of the building are set aside for working in Wax, this perhaps is the material or moment that really defines Laurence’s work. Having trained at the Royal College of Art and won the Henry Moore Scholarship, it was really the process o f bronze casting that became his fascination with a life aim of mastering both modelling and casting work. In achieving this he is one of the rarer artists working today and certainly process is very much at the forefront of his work. Process is the topic that we turn to as he leads us through a complicated figure in wax, wood and rope that is on a stand in the middle of the room. ‘This figure is out of memories that have been percolating in my mind since coming back from the outback of Australia in Spring 2018. There the landscape makes such extraordinary impact on your mind, I remember desicated foxes hung off trees and wire fencing that has withstood deluges of flood borne detritus that has clung on through months of heat. ‘These thoughts have become in Laurence’s work – a small figure stands with arms outstretched weighted down by organic material. We begin to learn about how decisions are being made here relating to the bronze casting process. Runners and Risers (the tributaries for hot liquid bronze entering the mould and the escape of air). What looked at first to be a piece of rope or twig leading off from the midriff of figure may in fact turn out to be the escape route for air a it is replaced by bronze in the casting process -or i t may be both. The duality of form and purpose here leaves us all wanting to understand more about the bronze casting process itself, so after wandering the various rooms of his studio which seem so laden with idea in a state of flux we went in pursuit of the finished object: an altarpiece at Blythborough church a few miles away.

Read more about sculptor Laurence Edwards at

Dance with Alistair Spalding CBE, Artistic Director and Chief Executive of Sadler’s Wells

Wednesday 21 November 2018

With the unlikely tunes of a late soundcheck still playing in the background, the director of Sadler’s Wells, home to some of the most exciting contemporary dance today took to the stage to start a talk only ever heard once before.
Immediately the surprising image of Louis XIV appeared on the screen in a rather fetching period costume. It was the Sun King’s personal interest in dance that led to the codification of the ballet moves that survive today. Ballet we learned provided pleasure and interest in his court and was also in part a reflection of the stylised moves and postures the courtesans themselves adopted as outward signifiers of rank and class. The subsequent rise and rise of ballet in Paris, Russia and Norway broadly followed dynastic lines of marriage amongst Royal families.
Alistair contrasted this with the opening of Dick Sadler’s hall of entertainment in 1683 in Islington. A great many lines of entertainment ensued, reenacting sea battles on a stage full of water, fisticuffs, wrestling with the occasional sing song sent in to test the artistic heights, such it appeared was the status quo for much of entertainment in England . Dance was noticable mostly for its absence with a clear preference at any societal level for the theatrical, the linguistic or the bawdy. A lineage that was suggested aligned to the more Teutonic interests our Royal household and associated countries.
Alistair then outlined the weypoints in dance from that point generally, chiefly the period of 1890- 1895 and two men Ivan Vsevolozhsky and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky who wrote what have been consistently been the three most popular performances ever since: Sleeping Beaty, The Nutcracker and Swanlake.

Moving onwards he highlighted the role of the Choreographer and in particular Diaghilev who had come into Ballet following a passion for collecting Art, that is to say with no specific dance background. His company, the Ballet Russe would go on to change to the course of dance and their performance in 1913 of “The Rite of Spring” is widely considered to be the starting gun for modernism in Ballet and the beginning of contemporary dance as we know it now. A distinction that he drew loosely as an interest and association with the ground and weight as opposed to weightlessness in earlier dance forms.Needless to say the intial performance was reported to have started a small riot of outrage.

Back at Sadler’s Well another towering figure took to centre stage. Lillian Bayliss was the remarkable producer who ran not only Sadler’s Wells but also The Old Vic with a vision to “create art for the artisans of Islington”. Perhaps the clearest testament to her endeavours was the formation of both the English National Opera and the Royal Ballet, both out of Sadler’s Wells. So it was not until 1928 that a Ballet Company formally existed in the UK!

The development of Modern Dance gathered pace quickly from this point, with notable influences in forms of expression coming from the dance hall and show business, notably Fred Astaire whose untrained and natural movement would influence and inspire George Balanchine at the New York Ballet. American influence at Sadler’s extended to the drive of Robin Howard, an ex Fighter pilot who had lost his legs but brought Martha Graham and the Graham technique to London. Later in the 80s the impact of Hip hop and the Rock Steady Crew, would be followed by the burst of creativity in Music Video, Michael Jackson and Bruce Lee. Remarkable pools of inspiration at first sight but formative on some of the current greats such as Wayne MacGregor and Hofesh Shekter.

Meanwhile in Europe and particularly Germany a more extreme minimalism had taken root. Some people are just simply ahead of the thought processes others and so it was with Pina Bausch and her work in the industrial town of Wuppertal in Germany. Her studied works have become canons of modernism and play to packed audiences whenever they travel.

Sadler’s position in this, as the showcase for dance really clarified in 2000 with Alistair taking the helm in 2005 and made commitment to just present dance. Sadler’s does not support a dance troupe, positioning instead with selected Choreographers who in term have their own crews. The divisions between Ballet and contemporary dance have narrowed and there has also been a willingness to take on and introduce inspiration from different fields such as contemporary art.

The future looks as exciting with the announcement of a development into the East of London as part of the Olympic legacy and a commitment to promote and present more female choreographers

In 2016 Sadler’s Wells Associate Choreographer Russell Maliphant was the first to set a performance in the barn
In 2017 New Wave Choreographer Alexander Whitley presented the second piece.

A number of dance Students attended and supper was served in the Mess Restaurant

Read more about Alistair and his work at Sadler’s Wells at
Read more about the dance performances we have shown at Messums Wiltshire in collaboration with Sadler’s Wells by choreographers Russell Maliphant and Alexander Whitley

What’s the point of drawing?

Three of the artists with works in our New Perspectives exhibition took part in a panel discussion about the value of drawing. Held in the barn at Messums Wiltshire on November 16th the discussion was moderated by Anita Taylor, founder of the Drawing Project which weeks to develop and promote research initiatives in drawing including the Jerwood Drawing Prize.

First to speak was Daphne Todd, head of the Society of Portrait Painters and winner in 2010 of the BP portrait prize. Todd complained that many art students nowadays are taught to draw by copying photographs but as she put it, photographs are ‘small, flat and dead’ when compared with drawing from life. ‘When you are drawing from life you are using your whole self and your eyes are probing into space. The camera records things that you haven’t seen and that wasn’t part of your experience. There is real importance in clinging to the skills that sadly are not being taught, particularly in state colleges nowadays. The challenge is how to get the 3-D world onto a flat canvas. It’s important that we carry on connecting as human beings and carry on using our spirit and intelligence in terms if selecting what’s out there.’

Daphne then revealed that she had had an affair with the painter Euan Uglow, whose work is also in our exhibition and had modelled for him. ‘I think I learned more from watching Euan’s struggles with perception than I did from six years as an art student,’ she said. Daphne revealed that she ‘dives straight in’ without actually doing any preparatory drawings when making her paintings. She paints on multiple canvases ‘to show the bits I am concentrating on.’

Peter Brown or ‘Pete the Street’ as he is colloquially called on account of his penchant for painting en plein air with an easel in front of his subject said: ‘If I am trying to paint from photos then the initial passion is lost. I grew up in a house in the middle of a wood and spent all my childhood playing on my own. My winters were spent building a model railway, it’s important to learn how to play in order to draw. You have to learn how to motivate yourself. He added: ‘I grew up looking at books containing very cheesy illustrations of woodland scenes. They gave me confidence. You have to have the passion to make you want to do drawing and the confidence to do it. I love abstract art but it wasn’t for me. Drawing is mindfulness at its best; it is a wonderful way of spending time in the public domain – people talk to you.’

Saied Dai made an impassioned plea for drawing that started with saying; ‘Observation is central to
existence.’ ‘If you do not have observation you are not aware and without awareness you are not able to do anything at all’ he said. He continued; ‘I would contend that observation is central to virtually every aspect of thinking. Drawing is the benchmark of artistic tradition. In my experience, after 30 years of training, observation is very arduous. People say we don’t need it but observation feeds imagination. Whether you are figurative or non- figurative, drawing is one of the most profoundly engaging processes that uses all your cognitive faculties; intellectual and emotional. Identifying shapes, tones and colours is an acute way of learning about relationships. Figurative artists are dealing with the complex idea of representation to try and express psychological elements. The biggest tragedy in the loss of drawing is the loss of any kind of sustained feeling. The use of the mechanical and of photographs in art has taken the place of perception and seeing. But if art is merely a matter of recording, a photograph can do it very effectively. But figurative art is not about copying – the whole history of art could not have been done by copying. Drawing is the way that artists think. A drawing reveals how they are emotionally from moment to moment. It tells you about their past, their sensibility, proclivity and capacity for analysis, all of which are indicated in the way they express themselves. It tells you all of the past and is involved in predicting the future. No subject is more compelling than the human face, more paradoxical or more contradictory than human beings. A life room changed my life and changed others.’

DEMO: English Stemware by Glass Maker Emsie Sharp

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Sunday 27 January 2019

Emsie Sharp designs and makes colourful tableware both modern and traditional using full lead crystal glass. Her passion is for producing wineglasses which she learnt whilst working in Venice on the island of Murano. On the Sunday of our Glass Festival Emsie will be demonstrating her specialist skills in wineglass or stem ware making here at the barn gallery whilst talking us through this fascinating process.

Recently Emsie has been working with the National Trust at Mompesson House, Salisbury contributing to their 18th century wine glass exhibition. She was also commissioned by the BBC in collaboration with the National Trust to produce Georgian inspired wine glasses for their series “The Manor Reborn” which was aired in December 2011.

Emsie works from her studio in Dorset.


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