‘Routes North’ – Exhibition Review

‘ROUTES NORTH’ at Messums Yorkshire’, 15 Jan – 19 Feb.

Exterior of Messums Harrogate. (Credit: Chelsea Van Zyl).

Routes North is a joyful celebration of contemporary art from nine artists working in the North of England. It’s been curated in a way that uses colour and energetic line within the artworks to give a sense of cohesion and helps guide you through the space. There is a playful approach to the way some of the artists are exploring areas of interest that include: the urban environment, rural landscapes, industrial history and domesticity.

The exhibition includes painting by Jenny Beard, Simon Crawford, Lisa Denyer, Christopher Tansey and Jill Tate, and sculpture by Alice Chandler, Ian Jackson, Connor Shields and James Thompson. Working across Leeds, Knaresborough, Hull, Newcastle and Manchester they of course cannot help but be influenced by their environment. I’ll look specifically at some of those with a stronger focus on their geographical location.

From the street you get a tantalising glimpse of painting and sculpture with the front of the gallery dominated by James Thompson’s ‘Re-Constructed Space: Plinths’. At first glance these jesmonite pieces are like oversized chunks of pastel pink coloured confectionary that you might want to lick. Some are strewn across the floor whilst others are skewered on a 3m long piece of timber. These are a direct response to the urban landscape, being cast from moulds based on plinths from Victorian statues that were relocated from outside Leeds Town Hall to Woodhouse Moor to make way for city development. The work raises questions about the role of the plinth to elevate public monuments throughout the city, what these monuments represent and the façade presented to the public. The positioning of James’ work at the front of the gallery where it can be viewed from the roadside is interesting as the gallery floor itself acts as a raised plinth, accessed via two steps from street level.

Taking a very different approach to presenting working on a plinth is the work of Ian Jackson. His work is almost covertly positioned throughout the gallery space. His work is made in response to a vein of limestone that runs through the North of England and has impacted not only the natural landscape but also the urban environment, industries and the way people have lived in the local area. Based on drawings used by stonemasons, Ian cuts and etches sheets of zinc that are layered into compositions that are presented hung on the wall. This is the second time I’ve seen his work curated in this way. The subtle positioning almost reiterates aspects of the limestone vein running underground.

Moving into the urban environment we have three sculptural works accompanied by a photographic piece by Connor Shields. His work explores working class masculinity, much of which has been shaped by his childhood growing up in Middlesbrough. Drawn to building sites, he combines industrial materials that may be considered hard and masculine with the softer, handcrafted or more domestic materials such as fibre and knitting which might be viewed as more feminine. Within his work he challenges associations viewers may have through his use of materials to showcase the strength of fibre and its ability to support objects made of cement, bitumen, steel… etc.

Sculptural works and photography by Connor Shields and paintings by Jenny Beard. (Credit: Chelsea Van Zyl).

Lisa Denyer’s work continues the exploration of the domestic and pushing of materials. She uses paint with filler to create spontaneous, gestural marks that are combined with geometric paper cut-outs overlaid to frame aspects within her small-scale collage works. She references memories from her childhood of her mum icing cakes as an influence and sometimes uses icing tools to create her work. The end results are these small scale works with colour oozing beyond the edges, giving the illusion you could just swipe your finger across and taste it! Whilst the bright almost florescent colours have become a constant, the other colours used are impacted by her environment and where she is based. The green within her work is used purposefully, as this specific green Denyer associates with Manchester.

Paintings by Lisa Denyer. (Credit: Chelsea Van Zyl).

Leeds based artist Alice Chandler’s studio is in a former textile mill so it’s no surprise that she’s interested in the industrial heritage of the region, associated materials and the more domestic elements of her childhood with influenced from her mother and grandmother, both who are quilters. The sculptural series shown in the exhibition takes familiar and everyday objects that are tweaked to question the meaning of the object. Arranging smaller textiles and glass pieces within metal and wooden structures, Alice is interested in how we curate objects within our homes and what this says about us.

Sculptural works by Alice Chandler and paintings by Simon Crawford. (Image: Chelsea Van Zyl).

Simon Crawford’s colourful abstract paintings are full of energy that depict feelings he associates with the landscape, architecture, people and places. There is a real sense of bodily movement within his paintings. You can almost feel the flow of his arms to make the marks across the surface of the canvas. His paintings are bold but loose and not overworked. There is a real sense of confidence is his work that comes from his experience of painting. The paintings Simon is showing feel like a joyful celebration of the environment around him.

The works explore a variety of materials and forms with a rawness and immediacy that’s perhaps a little more avant-garde than we’ve become accustomed to in Harrogate – which is fantastic and very much welcomed!

The opening night had a wonderful energy thanks to an eclectic crowd of philanthropists, collectors and artists. It was great to see this mix of people in one space and whilst this is the final show that Messums Yorkshire is having in this temporary space, they are planning to maintain a presence in the North.