Ex Libris was curated by Dr Ryya Bread and the preview was full of people, many of them artists who knew one another, and the event had a lively buzz which erupted after the introductory talk.
Each work had the writing that inspired it also on the wall, although it was not always exhibited at a good height for reading. Some of the writings were very well-known poems and it was a challenge for the artists to respond with any visual art that could rival an often well known and loved piece.
The Newlyn Society having lost its original Newlyn Gallery space has found Neil Armstrong’s attractive gallery next to his remarkable sculpture park, restaurant, shop and plant stall, a useful alternative. Members, selected from applicants by a committee, have to submit their works on a chosen theme for further selection each time the Society mount a show.
There is enough variety amongst probably 50 works for visitors to find something to like or hate, to make them think or of which to despair of making any sense.
Upstairs Susannah Clemence quoted from Milton’s Paradise Lost where Eve is wondering whether to tell Adam about the tree of knowledge and her richly coloured oil painting showed Eve amongst foliage, holding an apple with the Serpent nearby. I hadn’t thought about this, that if the woman gave Adam the apple to eat, there was a moment when she could decide to keep it for herself.
Nearby there was a painting of the coast from St.Agnes, showing patterns of light on the water. This was by Stuart Ross, but made more noteworthy by the words next to it ‘Painting of a rice cake’ which referenced a thirteenth century text, ‘a painted rice cake does not satisfy hunger’, and commentary about this, about the nature of reality and painted images. The two works held up equally as worthy of attention.
Andrew Swan had etched on aluminium an image of a female head representing homeless women next to statistics about this outrageous circumstance and a stamp with the same head replacing that of the Queen, provocatively next to the lyrics of God Save the Queen.
Downstairs Duncan Walters offered a chalk drawing of a computer on slate done so understatedly and cleverly that I at first walked by it thinking it was a laptop. It was on a table with one leg propped up on books and called ‘The reference section’.
Gordon Ellis-Brown offered ‘Houston we have a problem’, as a title but also printed on his aluminium panel next to a group of women like Steptford wives, a smiling but sad looking group, almost merging into the background, maybe the wives of the spacemen, maybe representing the parallel exploration of how to rethink the status quo to accommodate the feminist demands of women in the second half of the twentieth century and beyond.
Karen Lorenz made reference to a Roland Barthes essay. Her work was about dementia, the death of the person in a way as broken up jumbled images on video played within a printed book, the text upside down and a tiny paper house on top. This was not only clever but eloquently sorrowful.
This is an exhibition with many memorable images which repays time and attention The demands made on the artists to grapple with ideas shows a welcome trend to endeavour to comment on contemporary life seriously.
‘Ex Libris’ – in response to chosen writings, Newlyn Society of Artists at Tremenheere Gallery, Penzance, Cornwall 3 – 21 April , Tuesday to Sunday, 11 – 4.30 Free admission.
Volume 33 no 6 July/August 2019 pp 32-33