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House, Oriel Davies Gallery, Newtown - the New Welsh Review Blog

BLOG Ellen Bell

NWR Issue 109

House, Oriel Davies Gallery, Newtown

Participating Artists: Frances Carlile, Ainsley Hillard, Jeanette Orrell, Charlotte Squire, Amy Sterly & Felicity Warbrick

The last vestiges of Storm Barney are pounding the Oriel Davies Gallery. Rain is lashing at its windows and glass-fronted doors. Visitors are being blown in, pack-a-macs flapping and umbrellas dripping. Phew, they say, peeling off gloves, hats, smiling now, happy to be inside, out of the weather.

In House, Oriel Davies’ current show, it’s the weather that shapes many of the dwellings. Frances Carlile’s print, ‘Glass Door’, 2015 brings Ted Hughes’ poem ‘Wind’ to mind with its house ‘all at sea’ and ‘windows trembling to come in’. And then there are Carlile’s structures, ‘Story’, 2013 and ‘Lyric’, 2013, miniature homes formed from blackthorn. Wall-less, open to the elements, her houses are falling, shattering, disintegrating, as unsafe inside as they are outside. Fairytale associations come flooding in – familiar stories like Goldilocks, Hansel & Gretel, Red Riding Hood and Snow White and the less familiar Baba Yaga and The Three Little Men in the Wood, all featuring a shack, hidden deep in a forest. Some offer refuge, others do not. As spaces, all are transformational.

‘Quite Light’ 2014 detail Ainsley Hillard

Fairytale symbolism is equally resonant in Jeanette Orrell’s collection of domestic ware. Here again, the usually solid has been made skeletal. Her ‘Wire Baskets 1-V’ are wraith-like containers, fragile, devoid of usefulness, while her line of ‘Brush Drawings, Series 3’, like the broom in Goethe’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice, demonised into action and sweeping at will, seems to have a life of its own. There must be some magic here.

Indistinct voices begin to permeate the gallery. Ainsley Hillard’s textile hangings and audio recordings provide a perceptible, albeit spectral, human presence. Imprinted on filaments that curl to the floor like Rapunzel’s hair are photographic images of an elderly woman, a toddler and boy, all staring out of the same tall shuttered-window. Meanwhile a woman’s voice is intoning ‘the evening breeze begins to whisper through the trees’, which segues into a man’s. ‘On a bank of moss’, he is saying, ‘he spends his empty days.’

Far less wistful are the declarations in Amy Sterly’s woodcuts, with their cacophony of exclamation marks shouting with cartoon-like indignation. Here house is a repository of conflict. Chocolate-boxy images of black and white timber-framed buildings are despoiled by upper-case bellowing. SLAM! SLAM! go the doors in ‘Landscape I’, 2012, AHHH! screams a speech bubble in ‘Fine Period Detail’, 2012 while another replies, SOUNDS LIKE SOMEONE’S IN TROUBLE!

Meanwhile a hand-sewn conversation is playing out on Orrell’s canvas shoe, from her ‘Plimsoll Series’, 2010-14. ‘I wanted a wedding cake to be covered in candles’, it reads, ‘What?’ he said. ‘What?’ Strains of Dusty Springfield singing ‘A House is not a Home’ start echoing in my head.

In Felicity Warbrick’s series of monoprints, house takes on manifold forms. There is a chenille-fringed stool, a road sign declaring itself to be ‘Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Historic Highway’, a birdcage, an igloo and another sign on a faux lawn, with its command ‘Please Do Not Sit on the Chairs’. Fairytales again, this time David Hockney’s pared-down, acerbic etchings for Grimm’s. Then ‘Flight’, 2013 catches my eye. A glass-cabinet of doll’s-house size stairs going nowhere, meticulously carved out of soap. Soap. This time I recall my mother-in-law, then well into her nineties, saving shards of Imperial Leather, Pears and Lux to form a moulded, waste-not-want-not, lurid cake only to stay unused, gathering dust on her kitchen windowsill.

The same frowsy kitsch-ness pervades Charlotte Squire’s ‘Strange Fruit’, 2015. A landscape of lampshade towers, a beige nylon mass of mini Kremlins, their flexes swirling like luminescent serpents around the floor. Then there is her wall of ‘Tesselating Switches’, 2015 with its repeated dotting of white nipples. Triggered memories burst like sherbet on my tongue. Enough, I’m replete. I’m spent.

A man in a short-sleeved checked shirt, trainers and with a key pouch on his belt brushes past me. At the gallery exit he stops and lets out a long, long sigh.

Ellen Bell is an artist and writer living in Aberystwyth.

House is at Oriel Davies Gallery, Newtown until 27 January 2016

Pictured (top right) ‘Lyric’, 2013, blackthorn, Francis Carlile


previous blog: Experimentica15, Chapter Arts Centre
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