White Christmas

A sugarcube fireplace, porcelain shoes and paintings by Rhonda Paisley in the Naughton Gallery's Christmas show. Watch an online exhibition with the gallery's Anna Patrick below

There may be no Bing Crosby holiday standards or bravura Danny Kaye tap-dancing numbers, but the Naughton Gallery at Queen's White Christmas exhibition delivers just the right dash of seasonal magic.

'Worn Out' 2009, Rachel DickinsonThe eclectic exhibition of white-themed artwork by an ensemble of Irish artists evokes arctic landscapes, alpine vistas, dazzling gewgaws and even the odd piece of toothsome architecture.

A visit to the exhibition takes you from the quietly contemplative, spare beauty of Helen Kerr’s batik and stitch Frostwind pictures, to the puckish irony of Rachel Dickson’s porcelain paperclay high heels. Peer at the insoles of one pair for sage advice: 'You can ask the rudest questions in the world if you smile.'

In line with notions of winter and purity, the exhibition is laid out without descriptive labels or other text. The titles are found on the price list, which ranges from £35 for Rachel McKnight’s petal-like polypropylene brooch to £5,400 for Cara Murphy’s elegant silver Meniscus centerpiece.

The Naughton Gallery’s long, creamy space - with matching track lighting - is the ideal setting for a show about all things alabaster, be it painting, sculpture or silverwork.

Appropriately, the 21 artists included were selected, in part, due to their reputations for making white objects. Emerging artist Laura Prue contributes climbing-inspired, pastel-coloured acrylics accompanied by knitted bags of white chalk (useful for mountaineers aiming to keep their hands dry). Philip Flanagan's colourful abstract paintings explore the concept of winter light, recalling the work of Ellsworth Kelly.
'Silver and Moonstone Ring' 2009, Fiona Kerr
Among the other artists featured are the father, mother and daughter trio Michael and Deirdre McCrory and Cara Murphy; sculptor Ben Allen, who moonlights as a partner in Belfast's Backbeat record shop; and two different artists named Alison Fitzgerald, though one is quick to point out she has 'a big G' in her name.

Not to mention Rhonda Paisley, daughter of Reverend Ian Paisley. She’s represented here by what curator Shan McAnena dubs 'slightly naïve' paintings featuring a glitter-bedecked fruit bowl, Slemish and a chicken. Paisley, a former Democratic Unionist Party politician herself, apparently had no quibble with being grouped in an exhibit billed as 'a group show featuring white works by Irish artists'.

If the show has a weakness, perhaps it’s the shear diversity of mediums included. Like a 17th century cabinet of curiosities, it verges towards the artistically schizophrenic. In the space of a few feet you’ll see Michael McCrory’s modern silver candlesticks, Alison Fitzgerald's willow baskets, and Carol Graham’s Three White Dresses oil series, depicting what appear to be brides emerging from a bucolic landscape, their heads out of sight beyond the edge of the canvas.

'Corporate Gifts' 2009, Felicity Straker-GrahamMcAnena explains that the exhibition launched in tandem with an art loan scheme for Queen’s University employees, allowing them to buy interest-free art via their salaries. As such, White Christmas 'aims to showcase the range of things we’ve done in the gallery.' The colour white offers a good organising principle because, in addition to its seasonal association, 'it is no colour and all colours.'

Conveniently, it’s also the colour of sugar cubes, which are exactly what Brendan Jamison used to create his whimsical, Lego-like sculptures of a fireplace, chimney and turret. They’re gorgeous - the perfect addition to any holiday table or mantelpiece. But at £1,200 for a fireplace entirely constructed of sugar, shouldn’t potential collectors be a bit worried about the object’s shelf life?

'Sugar is very enduring,' asserts McAnena. 'As long as you don’t get it wet.'

Now in Belfast, that not happening might indeed be a Christmas miracle.

Bree Hocking

White Christmas: A group show featuring White Works by Irish Artists is on view at The Naughton Gallery at Queen’s until December 20.