Social Deformity, co-curated by Clare Ferguson Walker, View Gallery, Bristol, Sept 19 – Nov 17

2 Oct

socdeffClare is one of the hottest talents in Wales at the moment, known not just for her artwork, on display in this curiosity of an exhibition at Bristol’s View Gallery, but also for her entertaining performance poetry, her stand-up comedy, and her talent as a singer. When I asked her what she thinks she’s best at a few weeks ago though, she joked instead that it was her ability to perform a specific sex act. I think this pretty much sums up her non egocentric nature, and I should add that both Clare and husband, Ben, have given me permission to mention this!

Dressed to look like one of her own sculpures – she really did look like a work of art! – Clare opened the launch night with 3 very nice songs, accompanied by Ben on guitar and backing vocals (he also later performed a couple of solo songs in the guise of Drunk Uncle), before then launching into one of her performance poems. Best friend, Mab Jones, added to the frivolity with a couple of her amusing takes on slightly dysfunctional relationships. We were then free to look around, glass of bubbly in hand.

socdef1I have to say, one point I felt about this exhibition was that I’m not entirely sure that the title fitted the work, but as a collection of, in the main, surreal figurative pieces, it is very effective. Clare’s sculptures greet you in the entrance. One of these pieces has been cast from the body of Clare’s own daughter, while the work that features on the cover of the exhibition’s programme, The Clockwork Heart, is hand-crafted, and incredibly life-like. There are also distortions within the pieces however – the eye in the centre of the hand on The Clockwork Heart, or flames emitting from the head of Ladybird Ladybird. It’s like the effect of looking at someone while on drugs – the cockroach in Everything is Relinquished makes you think of the film, Naked Lunch – and I got the impression that many of the pieces in this exhibition were, if not directly drug-inspired, then created by artists who have indulged at some time in their lives.

This is not in any way meant as a slight. Just as with some of the best music, created while on drugs, then I’m sure so has some of the best art. The most well known surrealist artist of all time, Dali, whose face looms large on the outside of this gallery (and whose moustache Ben Ferguson-Walker has imitated), is quoted as saying, “I don’t do drugs, I am drugs.” Read into that what you will! Perhaps all of these artists will be offended by my suggestion, and maybe I’m wrong, but there is definitely a trippy nature to a lot of these pieces.

I would also suggest there is a link to rock music and culture. Dean McDowell’s portraits have the cold look of the rock chick, or perhaps the once popular Suicide Girl. Craww’s illustrative work merges flowers and mystic figures. Both these and Damian Daly’s detailed pen work have the look of certain album covers, perhaps like the work of Vaughan Oliver, the 4AD illustrator who has created work for bands like the Pixies and the Pale Saints.

socdef3Adele Underwood’s paintings, also near the entrance, once again have a slightly disturbing gothic feel. The two infants, in Elizabethan costumes, in To Do, To Have, could be the young girls that haunt the hotel in The Shining. Some of her other work that is not on display in this exhibition brings to mind Alice in Wonderland.

socdef2Possibly my favourite works on display were by Adam White. Hanging on the back wall of the main room upstairs is a large painting of what looks like a cross-between a fish and a machine. To the right of this is a photo of a still-life set up that Adam has presumably constructed, so what is interesting is that despite the painting’s being very much of the surreal mode, it has in fact been painted from life! Perhaps the best piece of the whole exhibition though is another large piece of Adam’s which dominates the wall leading down to the lower section of the gallery. Animal Experiments is painted in soft colours, looking almost like a shroud. It is quite complex, but the central theme, as portrayed by the title, is pretty stark. A human form is depicted, wired up to machines as if it is the animals after all doing the experimentation. Very striking, it has a real impact and gets the old grey matter working.

Notable others include Damian Daly’s excellent portraits titled Adam and Eve, Glenn Ibbitson’s take on Japanese culture, some eery pieces by Michael Crofton, and some entertaining vases by Raymond Church, in the entrance alongside Clare’s pieces. On first glance, they look like any other classical Greek vases, but closer inspection reveals that they have black and white stencils stuck on, very modern in nature, in the style of Banksy.

Finally, there are also a few cartoons by Phil Jupitus. I can’t say these efforts, that look like they were knocked up in a matter of minutes on an i-Pad, add much to the exhibition, and in a way it seems a bit sad that just because he is well known, there is more focus on him in the publicity for this exhibition, but on the plus side, if he is able to attract people to see it – which I’m guessing was his intention – then I suppose that cannot be a bad thing.

Overall, there’s a good deal of variety here, a well put-togethersocdef4 little show. There’s nothing extraordinarily ground-breaking, nothing that will completely blow your mind, but instead there’s a chance to see some quite unusual work by a set of talented modern artists. With many of the pieces a little on the dark side, and with Hallowe’en approaching, now is definitely a good time to get across to Bristol and to the View Gallery.