Literature Inspires at the Dickon Hall Gallery

Come for the sugar sculptures, stay for the art

Visiting the Dickon Hall Gallery in the Crescent Arts Centre can be a nerve-wracking business. It is through no fault of the eponymous curator Dickon Hall, who combines professional art-savvy with a genuine love for art. Any discomfort has, rather, more to do with the sugar-cube confection sculptures in Gallery 1.

The pieces are safely tucked away behind glass, but it is hard not to imagine a You’ve Been Framed montage of sugar-scattering pratfalls. On the way out, another patron comments that they can’t look at the sculptures without wanting to lick them. ‘They are sturdier than they look,’ Hall comments in an attempt to reassure. (Although licking is probably not advisable.)

Replicas of Helen’s Tower – near Bangor – the sculptures, created by local ‘odd materials’ artist Brendan Jamison, are part of the In an Old Book exhibition. It is a literary-themed exhibition (Helen's Tower qualifies due to its connection to Lord Dufferin's mother and the poems he wrote about her) designed by Hall to tie in with the Belfast Book Festival.

Piggybacking is something that Hall thinks more galleries should do to encourage footfall from atypical gallery audiences. As far as the Dickon Hall Gallery goes, he believes the association with the festival has helped spotlight the exhibition. However, while the Belfast Book Festival might entice visitors through the gallery doors, it is the quality of the exhibition that keeps them there.

The sculptures by Jamison are the most immediately striking. The scale-replica of the Tower in the middle of the room is breathtaking. Meanwhile, the various ‘sections’ of the Tower on display around the room give a chance to marvel at the intricate details.

Every crenellation, ornament and window-sill has been painstakingly reproduced. The detail is so impressive that, catching sight of a damaged cube, the assumption is that it mimics similar damage to the original stonework.

‘I think this space is perfect for Jamison’s work,’ Hall notes enthusiastically. ‘It has the scale needed, but there is still an intimacy to it. And the buildings are obviously from the same period. You look at windows in Helen’s Tower that are the same shape as the windows in the room.’ Yet, while Jamison’s sculptures ‘always generate comment’, the rest of the exhibition is equally impressive.

‘Mark Shields made a very serious contribution,’ Hall says, talking about the eight paintings hung along the back wall in Gallery 2. Inspired by the diaries of Etty Hillesum, a Jewish woman living in Nazi occupied Amsterdam, the paintings capture the emotion and depth of the extracts used as inspiration.

‘It adds an extra dimension to the show,' Hall adds. 'It can be difficult in a group show for artists to come up with a way to leave a real stamp on the exhibition. Sheilds has managed to do that.’

Other paintings that are worthy of note include a painting from English artist Sophie Coryndon. ‘Last Light’ depicts a tent pitched in a darkening forest, shadows encroaching around the edges of its internal glow. Hall is delighted to have her work exhibited in the Gallery for the first time. He is eager to bring in more English artists as well as Northern Irish ones.

Hall also points out Colin Davidson, Colin Bates and Jeffrey Morgan, whose drawings of Derek Mahon will also be displayed at the Aspects Literary Festival in Bangor later in the year. All of which have attracted interest and comment from visitors to the gallery. In fact, according to Hall, ‘nothing has been ignored. That’s been the nice thing about the show.’

As far as personal favourites go… well, no curator is going to let that slip. Professionally, on the other hand, Hall admits that he is pleased with how Jeffrey Morgan’s work fits the space in the Gallery. ‘The back wall has the scale to display his three paintings together. I have never seen Morgan’s work displayed to such advantage.’

Viewers will get their chance to judge for themselves, since Hall hopes to keep the exhibition on display throughout the summer, until September 3. It is a long run for an art exhibition – most at the Dickon Hall Gallery run for three and a half weeks – but Hall will still be sad to see them go. ‘There are a lot of things in the exhibition that work well,’ he says. ‘And a lot of things it would be nice to spend more time with.’

For more information about the exhibit, check out the CultureNorthernIreland What's On Guide.