Threads Through The Past – Participate Contemporary Artspace, Shrewsbury
Every artist could do with a Durand-Ruel to promote their works but, alas, they are few and far between. Instead of ruing their lot more enterprising artists get off their posteriors and create their own routes to market. One such group of ten artists have created a community interest company called Participate Contemporary Artspace, occupying a former supermarket site in a rather run-down 1970s shopping arcade by the Severn in Shrewsbury.
It was my pleasure to visit the space and view an astonishing retrospective of the works of Wendy Riddick and her daughter, Rebecca Sarah. Wendy is a prominent textile artist in the region and her works are large and highly tactile, using lots of natural fibres including silk and her own hair. So tactile are some of her works that there is an overpowering urge to touch them, a tendency which so imperils the fragility of some of the creations that they have to be protected behind glass. For those who still have the urge the artist has cleverly put a number of samples of the fibres in an area where they can be touched to the viewer’s delight!
Stylistically, Wendy’s works are impressionistic, revealing her fascination with the texture and natural patterns to be found in nature or in what to many of us would seem derelict or decaying sites. There is something of Anselm Kiefer about her works but whereas the German worked with metals and paints Riddick uses stitching and pastels as well as paints. She started developing her style independently of and unaware of Kiefer.
The piece de resistance is a large piece of work called Crossing Borders which is due to be exhibited at Powys Castle in September and is still a work in progress. It takes as its theme the castle itself, the dominant colour of red reflecting its sobriquet, the red castle. The intricacy of the work deserves a long period of study and contemplation but as you explore each part you realise there are stories within stories – the discovery and development of silk, the silk route, key figures associated with the castle and its position in Borders’ history, its link with the Hughes family – Riddick’s maiden name – and heraldry. A stunning piece.
Equally impressive but in a more subdued way is the gorgeous pastel quilt entitled the Telc Quilt, the inspiration for which came from the artist’s visit to the Moravian town. Pieces that also took my eye were one inspired by the Battle of Shrewsbury, dark and brooding, mounted on a wonderful Heath Robinson-like easel donated to the Space by an artist two weeks before her death, and the wonderfully subtle and impressionistic piece called Germinate which my inept photography barely does justice to.
By way of contrast, daughter Rebecca Sarah’s work is more angular, brutal and displays a bold use of colour. If I was to characterise it, I would describe it as pop art. Her subjects in the main reveal her devotion to the Britpop band Blur – there are three stunning portraits of Damon Albarn – and fish. Beautifully painted boxes are one facet of her work and there is a marvellous one of her as a mermaid breaking free from the shackles of the fish counter where she spent the last few years working.
Both artists display a picture of Rebecca drawn from the same image. Rebecca’s self-portrait is angular and provocative in its use of colour whereas Wendy’s is more impressionistic and subtle in its colouration. And there in a nutshell we have the difference in styles of two amazing artists, both of whom deserve wider renown.
They may just achieve it through this exhibition. Art is alive and well outside of the metropolis!