Belfast Print Workshop Xmas Exhibition
There are no mince pieces, but plenty of Christmas cheer
A mellow crowd turns up for the launch of the Belfast Print Workshop's annual Christmas Exhibition. There’s mulled wine to warm the cockles on this suddenly very cold night, though no mince pies. 'Ah, the cutbacks!' it is concluded.
It's the kind of evening where you will find a little boy nibbling shortbread in a corner, while a tiny girl squeals at a colourful print of three foxes hung at her eye level. The artists and their guests, meanwhile, discuss not only the works, but also each other. Words of congratulation and encouragement are exchanged.
The exhibition rewards a patient viewer. With prints and paintings displayed frame-to-frame, the gallery is more in the Victorian than the modern mould, allowing punters to better compare, contrast, and decide what they like. Then, if you fall in love with a piece, you don't have to demur too much about taking it home with you: mini prints start at £10, and even the bigger works are quite affordable.
The exhibition starts well, with Ivan Frew's impressionistic 'Twilight Fermanagh'. The eye is drawn not by the huge, dark tree, but by the small and watery full moon that is bleached away by the aurora borealis-like glow on the horizon. Its collograph technique adds to its mystical quality.
'In the Forest of the Night', a colour reduction lino by Marg McArdell, also sets the imagination running. The landscape of diagonals and verticals formed by the trees both suggests the rippling motion of Blake’s brightly burning tiger, and invites the observer to travel in its layeredness in search of the elusive animal.
Further exploration reveals John Morris's cute drypoint images of birds; the anonymous people of Sarah Cullen; the psychedelic skull explosions of Ben Allen; and the clear linocut shapes of David Steele's 'Memories of Yoyogi Park'. Sarah Gordon's intaglio, 'The Day That I Dreamt It' is darkly humorous. It gives us two people: not happy, and yet there they are, dressed up as a giraffe and a crocodile.
'Escape' by David Steele is undoubtedly one of the most dramatic pieces on show. At first glance the work is incredibly grim, but at closer inspection the emaciated figure, white lines etched in black, is seen to be smiling, perhaps thumbing his nose? Within an exposed ribcage his heart is visible, revealing an unexpected tenderness.
'What’s Going On?' is a triptych by Bronagh Lawson. The medium is enigmatically left blank on the description card. Fragile lines are sketched on faded pink, with headlines involving the Catholic church, Ian Paisley and 50-pints-a-week teens shunted across them. Indeed, what’s going on? There must be a connection in this unholy trinity of modern Belfast but, like its title, it poses more questions than it answers.
The appearance of Amy Winehouse heralds her definitive elevation to the questionable cult status of Elvis and Marilyn Monroe. We’re delighted by the traditional drawing skills of the adjoining print of a primate’s head against foliage, until we realise that the artist (Roy Fisher) of both pieces is the same. He may have drawn the crude 'Amy, Amy, Amy', but it’s unlikely that he’s responsible for the original drawing of the chimpanzee.
Will White's etching 'White Rock' shows a welcome mastery of both draughtsmanship and restraint. Its careful composition is almost Japanese, its boat and seaside village mostly suggested, and the reflections in the water barely sketched at all. Less, in this case, is definitely more.
There's quite a contrast between that and the screen print 'Promise'. An angry mouth, scrawled dark blue on a dirty pink surface with wild zigzags, suggests that artist Bill Penney has had more than a few broken.
Colin Davis’s 'Wolf' dominates the gallery. It is savage in its execution, inks on lithograph plate in slashing diagonals. The beast is impressive in its flight, its shape barely defined, suggesting a blur of motion, while the dark blue colour gives an impression of the short half-days of the icy north.
'But is it art?' is the often asked question. Which is invariably followed by, 'Do I like it?' And though you can’t argue about taste, one thing can definitely be said of the BPW's Christmas exhibition: none of it is bland, and everyone should be able to find something to their liking.
Belfast Print Workshop's annual Christmas Exhibition runs until the end of December.