Late Night Art Digest: August 2016

John Higgins takes a tour of studios and spaces across Belfast to drink in some of the key exhibitions currently on display

Late Night Art is a noble tradition in Belfast. For one night a month the streets are paved with attractive people with unusual hair and trousers and the thinking is as free as the wine, drunk warm and from plastic cups as you nose around the gallery or shared-space. I start my evening at one of its more distant outposts. Huddled in the red-brick belly of Queens University is the Naughton Gallery.

The exhibition is Keiler Roberts' Powdered Milk. Roberts was once a fine artist who hated the gallery system and started drawing comics (winning an Ignatz award in the process). She must be kicking herself to find herself back in a gallery – just when you thought you were out, Keiler...

Her comics are charming, bitter sweet vignettes, where kids do indeed say the funniest things. This is Roberts' secret weapon – her daughter Xia is a riot of non-sequiturs and gnomic one-liners. Roberts favours a clean, naive style to delineate her beautifully edited life. The strips take their time: this is life reduced to stock, boiled down to static moments of calm and quiet. She has taken a scalpel to her world and pared away each sensation to its essence.

Powdered Milk is like a plunge into a cool, clear pool. There is a contemplative feel to the stories, a stillness. In an odd way they remind me of the paintings of Vilhelm Hammershøi, though he was never so confident with his 'zingers'.

Powdered Milk.png

Next stop is Platform for Elaine Leader’s Untitled. None of Leader’s recent work has a title, leaving the audience to flounder; there is nothing descriptive to latch on to, no assembled narrative. The viewer then is forced to make their own judgements, to invest and project. It’s a risky stratagem, relying on an engaged observer, but on Late Night Art there is a ready stream of curious, interested art lovers. No one knows where they come from or, indeed, where they go to for the rest of the month. But they’re here today and they are ready to appreciate.

The piece itself is a wall on tracks – intermittently there is a sliding mechanism, a piece glides smoothly off and then back again, rather after the manner of a brilliant white trombone. It’s interesting work -it betrays itself, it is defensive and mute and ultimately self-contained. It defies the participation of its audience rather than engaging it, it is a Beckettian circuit, operating without your permission. It exists to tell you that it doesn’t need you.

Elaine Leader

Over at the PS2 gallery we have ceramicist Nicola Drennan and painter Jane Rainey’s collaborative open workspace project Amalgamate. The show is part of a series of five projects involving multi-discipline collaborations in the PS2.

The artists have built up the show within the exhibition space on themes of landscape, their language naturally cross-pollinating and creating a cohesive whole. Rainey’s landscapes, hazy and fantastic, are peppered with whinnets of surprising detail: pink and coral palette knife work suddenly worried into the canvas.

My friend says it reminds her of '90s TV shows Dungeons and Dragons and Trapdoor, and she’s right – these are utopian idylls, but Archean oddness lurks there as well. There are faux shells on the wall and wild canary yellow trees with leaves of wispy broken brush work. Multicoloured coral creatures plummet and roll through the sky, breaking off like bulbing toadstools, or floating away like gobbets in a Lava lamp.

The ceramics are like rashers of bacon or pearlescent molluscs: crawling, leaping, mutable and beautiful, either flesh-toned or marbleised, liked the end-pieces in an old book. It’s a beautiful show.

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I finally head to the Black Box for Real Sketchy, Adam Turkington’s democratised art exhibition. The rules are very simple: Adam hands out pens and paper and everyone draws whatever it is they fancy. You then hand them in and he projects the live art on the walls.

Amazingly, the results aren’t entirely pornographic every time (not even my efforts) and there’s a nice cross-section of those who are a bit nifty with a pencil and those who couldn’t draw a bath. It’s all good fun, and the bar helps proceedings along immeasurably, though the drawings do tend to edge down the side of the page by the end of the evening, and the signatures wouldn’t look out of place on a doctor’s notes.

I’m aware that I’ve barely scratched the surface of all that Late Night Art has to offer; it really is one of the hidden gems of Belfast, a beloved institution and a beautiful way to see the city, to meet like minded people, to bother artists and see their work and help you to realise that you are not alone. There are still people trying to create, to question, to ornament the world that we live in. I’ll be back again next month. Of course.

Late Night Art takes place in Belfast on the first Thursday evening of every month. To book a bus tour for September 1 visit www.belfastarttours.co.uk.