Union Gallery's latest exhibition – Winter Wonderland – is the artistic equivalent of a Christmas tin of Quality Street chocolates.
Some people will like certain items more than others. Some will feel certain items don't sit well with others and should be in a tin of their own. But all people will surely find something to enjoy in what is a uniformly stimulating selection of contemporary work.
Discussed here are a few of one reviewer's personal favourites. I'll come back to some others over the next few weeks.
Douglas Snedden's glowing 'Backstage' attracted attention when it was exhibited here earlier in the year (Breaking news, 18.6.11). Now he returns with 'Heavy Weather' (top-right), again creating beautiful mixtures of colour and form in an image which I have tried and failed to understand.
I think I can see a stormy sky, a dark headland, and the meeting of sea and shore. But what are depicted in the fore and middle-grounds have me baffled. Actually, though, it doesn't matter. I like the colours, and I enjoy the controlled energy with which they collide. For me, at least, sometimes that's enough.
Megan Chapman is new to the Union Gallery. An American living in Arkansas, her series of 4 paintings here – 'Sometimes I Love You and Other Stories' – explore a mind struggling to contain or define its evanescent grasp of love.
She uses typed words and phrases – complete with spelling mistakes, inconsistent spacings and crossings-out – which at times make perfect sense, at others are interestingly enigmatic. These fragments she sets amidst similarly mysterious graphite lines and white painted canvas. One can imagine the sensuous or aesthetic pleasure experienced in making these marks, but there one's understanding ends.
The effect, I find, is intimate and peculiar, as if listening to someone's private thoughts before the final phrasing of them sets a meaning. Below is 'This Modern World', perhaps the most conventionally poetic of the four.
Olivia Irvine's brightly coloured, richly evocative impressions of childhood are always popular, but this time her contributions include a rather wonderfully restrained view of a 'Girl, Dog and Moon' (see below).
Perhaps the principal figure stands on a hill, or perhaps at the water's edge, but clearly the night is warm and the summer air full of meaning for girl and dog alike. Lilacs and purples lend an enchanted feel to the composition.
Irvine's images are rarely self-explanatory. They are suggestive rather than explicit, and in reaching for their significance just below the surface the observer inevitably stirs personal childhood memories and associations of their own. In this way, paintings of hers which start as mysteries will often end feeling more like reunions, and for that quality I love them.
Both the paintings by Drummond Mayo currently displayed are of siblings, but to my mind it's the smaller of the two – 'Steppe Sisters' (below) – which is most eye-catching.
Some aspects of the work remind me of 'Sanctuary', reviewed here last summer (Breaking news, 18.6.11). Both relish strong diagonal shafts of light in spacious interiors, both involve distinctively dressed protagonists in acts of distinctive ceremonial.
The Steppe Sisters are – I think – dancers on stage, heads and bodies similarly inclined, picked out by spotlights. The red of their costumes leaps vividly from the canvas thanks to the subtlety of tone elsewhere.
Mayo's figures are not so much representations as vivified paint. They emerge, gradually, from a surface of gorgeous and complex texture, delicious splodges of colour and solidified motion which – for all the apparent confidence of their execution – are nevertheless delicately brilliant in evoking the (almost) tactile qualities of light and space.
Broughton is lucky to have a gallery in its midst with access to these works. Spurtle tactfully suggests you go and see them while you still can.
[Winter Wonderland continues at the Union Gallery, 45 Broughton Street, until 24 January 2012.]