Arts Council Crafts

Enniskillen's Higher Bridges Gallery displays works from the ACNI Acquisitions Collection of Applied Art

Thank heavens for dedicated artist/craftspeople like Victoria Bentham, who can envisage a ‘Locus Amoenus’, a pleasant place, and, through a maze of memory, recreate its green vistas in ceramics for our delectation.

Similarly, embroidery expert Christopher McCambridge delights in taking found fabrics and transforming their traditional patterns with his dextrous needle into works such as 'Re-interpretation: Falling for Grandeur', a sumptuous royal blue and satin pink wall hanging embellished with care and flair, its Japanese flowers and branches stitched with skeins of wool and pearl cotton threads.

Emma McMinn, meanwhile, chose for her canvas what I take to be cream viyella, a twilled mixture of cotton and merino wool, and has drawn upon it with miraculous neatness a black ink architectural design entitled simply 'Line'. I doubt if it’s what the artist intended but it reminds me of dockside buildings in Shakespeare's or Samuel Pepys’s London.

 

These are just three of the 17 pieces from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI) Acquisitions Collection of Applied Arts, which are on display at the Higher Bridges Gallery in Enniskillen during August Craft Month.

In the single page exhibition programme, Suzanne Lyle, ACNI head of visual arts, is pleased to point out that having the ACNI buy an artist’s work represents more than a few pounds in the pocket – it is an endorsement that carries weight and opens the door to new opportunities with other art collectors and galleries.

This is undoubtedly true, but I do have a bone to pick with the ACNI about the way in which they have presented these works. No biographies are available even though many of the artists enjoy international acclaim, and one is left to assume that they all live and work in Northern Ireland.

Nor are there any indications of artwork dimensions or the materials or techniques used, details which can enhance the appreciation of the viewer. That said, the ingenuity and novelty of the exhibits on display and the range of human emotions they reflect is gratifying.

There is humour and originality in Brendan Jamison’s waxwork 'Green JCB Bucket with Holes'. Jamison is of course famous for his sculptures in non traditional materials such as the sugar cubes, which he used in his celebrated replicas of 10 Downing Street and the Tate Gallery.

In the realm of romantic nostalgia, Janet Ledsham presents her alluring 'Love Schemes and Echoes'. It’s a large fan made from fine wood and net fabric overlaid with the faded photograph of an unknown female surrounded by delicate autumn leaves. Framed under glass, the piece would not have been out of place in a Victorian bedroom or a French boudoir.

In contrast, print maker Winston Weir refrained from washing his hair or cleaning his teeth while he meditated for a time on the daily life of down and outs. He then screen printed the images he saw in the mirror onto brown paper bags to create four 'Bag Men'. The black and blue faces evolve from a full to a half head to a disappearing peep on the final bag.

In the same vein, Sinead Breathnach-Cashell illustrates the reality of the dole queue with her 'Belfast Dole Ticket No 192', a slightly curled up specimen preserved for posterity in porcelain.

 

Imported from Asia, fine porcelain was once as valuable as gold and Ursula Burke exploits this idea in 'Safe as Houses', a kitsch little 1950s style porcelain ashtray complete with tree stump. In place of ash it holds miniature gold ingots and a piggy bank pig with ingots strapped on its back.

Catherine Keenan, a graduate of the University of Ulster who now works in Portstewart, studied glass blowing, cold decoration and carving at the West Midlands International Glass centre. She names her trio of topsy turvy blue and red, orange and green, red and mint blown glass vessels 'Eye Candy', and indeed they are as bright and tasty as seaside rock and a feast for the eyes.

At first sight Anna Robinson’s 'Flourishing Decadence' looks like a dried peony rose but this artefact is made from copper and copper foil. Julia Wilson, meanwhile, uses copper wire to create 'Out of Time', a figure in a voluminous skirt, which could suggest barbed wire or a dancer’s ballroom gown.

Zoe Murdoch’s delicately wallpapered box cabinet contains her usual intricate assemblage of minutiae, in this case a couple of period wedding photographs, skulls of various sizes, a pair of swallows and, crucially, a set of scrabble letters which read ‘Be Near’ for this piece is entitled 'O Muse Be Near Me Now and Make a Strange Song'.

Finally, Ann McNulty’s uniquely stylish black and white raku pedestal vase, 'Altered Horizons 1', returns to Enniskillen where it was created in her Buttermarket studio during the filming of a BBC documentary about her work. And it is worth traveling to the town over the next weeks to view these works, which showcase the undoubted quality of Northern Ireland's skillful designers.

The exhibition continues at the Higher Bridges Gallery, Enniskillen until September 6. August Craft Month continues in venues across Northern Ireland until August 31.