Essential Elements, currently on display at St Bride’s Gallery, is part of the Independents Biennial – the long-standing fringe event to the Liverpool Biennial.
The space is exquisite; much like the recently reopened Old Blind School on Hardman Street which currently houses the group exhibition as part of the Biennial’s somewhat perplexingly titled A Needle Walks into a Haystack, St. Bride’s is an impressive church building, in a similar state of decay. Unlike The Old Blind School however, St Bride’s does not look forward to the promise of refurbishment after the exhibition closes in October, and it is a shame that more cannot be done to save this incredible community space. From Amnesty International to the Socialist Singers and the Red Cross, the building is home to over fifteen local groups who regularly meet there.
Speaking to the curator of the exhibition, artist Brian Hackney, I learn more about the duo running the gallery. Brian and Jan Hughes have recently returned from Berlin, where they transformed a disused warehouse into a thriving gallery space, hosting 17 group exhibitions over a two year period, showcasing the work of over 300 artists. Much like the exhibition here at St. Bride’s, the Turn-Berlin Gallery was fully independent, and Brian describes the Berlin art scene as organic and welcoming, and hopes to infuse some of that mentality into our local cultural offering.
The exhibition features the work of four very different artists, all working with the classical medium of paint on paper or canvas, each reinventing their materials to produce a diverse range of work.
Starting at the top of the building, opposite the impressive antique organ on the top tier of the church, is Decanting Desire by J Chuhan, a collection produced during her Time and Space residency at Metal in Liverpool. Chuhan’s work was selected for the show months in advance, allowing her to create a site-specific response to space and her large scale paintings on thin paper span the breadth of the walls upstairs.
Complimented beautifully by the purple and green stained glass windows, Chuhan uses rich purples, reds and golds to create her gestural, impressionistic paintings, using paint as an illustrator would a pencil to sketch with the brush; a stripped back visual depicting an incomplete human presence. There is a certain restless quality to her painting, as splatters of rogue paint escape across the borders of the page. Her images are recreated from vivid memories and daily observations – a brief meeting with a commuter on the train or a passer by in the street is realised in passionate bold colours, as she relocates these private moments of observation into the public gallery space.
Boxers by German artist Buffy Klama, is a series of images installed in the stairwell. The first few paintings are realised in angry dark blues and reds, and by the time the visitor has descended the first flight of stairs, the figures in these paintings have become monochrome. Klama insists on having little or no interpretation to accompany her work, and Brian reveals that the series is a response to the loss of her mother. Knowing the context of the work, the images no longer symbolise violence, but the battle of the self and the struggle to accept what has happened. In these black and white portrayals of loss and stasis, the solo figures appear hunched, hairless, skinny and passive – not what you would expect from athletes in boxing gloves.
Finally at the bottom of the staircase, the penultimate series of pastel pink boxers represent a vibrant transformation, as if life has returned to the artist as she accepts the loss. An eerie sense of motion washes over the final painting, as a bodiless arm punches the lonely figure – perhaps a lasting reminder of what has taken place.
Places Apart by Uzma Sultan, an MA graduate from the Slade School of Art is disappointing in comparison; small paintings of perfume bottles and the interior of the home are presented using repetitive patterns. These snapshots of life fail to capture the imagination in the same way Chuhan’s recreations of stolen glances manage, and are not representative of the usual scale and quality of this artist’s work.
The last series of work in the show is my favourite, by British artist Jane Walker, who manipulates perspective in her large-scale cityscapes. In Hidden Games, Walker’s paintings take inspiration from her penchant for climbing tall buildings, and recreating the view from on high. All but one of her works use white and grey lines on a black backdrop to create a bustling aerial view of cities across Europe, and her sprawling city spaces become vaster the higher she climbs: the detail of her work growing with every step she takes towards the top of a building. The use of white on black reverses our familiarity with the form, like road maps in the negative. Her lines are sparse, making the background or natural landscape as important as the shadowy man-made roads, and trying to make sense of the winding lines makes for pleasurable viewing.
A wonderful independent space with the possibility of attracting many more great artists’ work, Essential Elements at St. Bride’s can proudly assert its status as one of the best offerings of this year’s Independents.
Essential Elements continues at St. Bride’s Gallery until 25 October 2014. Find out more at: www.independentsbiennial.org/ or visit http://stbridesgallery.org/ . St Brides Gallery, St Brides Church, Percy Street, Liverpool L8 7LT.
This article was originally written for Corridor8