Few galleries present a threshold piece as inviting as Carol Peace’s Bird Bath, which occupied the front of Sarah Wiseman Gallery’s latest exhibition, ‘Connections: Carol Peace and Andrew Hood’. The sculpture, over five feet tall and composed of gritty bronze resin, depicts a girl holding a disproportionately large bird bath. Although her head is tilted slightly downwards, there is a sense of patient excitement and youthful tentativeness. The bird bath itself is a peaceful offering to birds and gallery-goers alike, epitomising the enigmatic enchantment that characterises Peace’s sculptures.
The exhibition also featured the work of Andrew Hood, a former graphic designer turned full-time painter having attended John Moores University in Liverpool receiving the prestigious Gorstella Award for Fine Art. His oil paintings in ‘Connections’ depict both frenetic streetscapes and natural landscapes, and teeter between the impressionist and abstract. In Sunday Dusk, a fairly muted streetscape is overlaid with dripping reds, yellows, and blues. Hood effectively blends abstractions with figurative painting, and in Summer Skies, the left half of his canvas is devoted to a fairly realist depiction of diaphanous cloud cover. Beginning with a vertical line of scattered colours in its centre, the painting switches idioms, offering a fusion of bright lines, dripping blotches, and streaks. Hood might be best described as a Monet reveling in the chaos of Pollock, with a colour palette of ethereal greys, vivid fire-engine reds, and mustard yellows.
Peace, on the other hand, who studied at the Winchester School of Art, offered sculptures that possessed anatomical accuracy mingled with enchanting disproportion. This gave them an aura of magical realism; they might have wandered out of A Hundred Years of Solitude. The feet in Bird Bath are enlarged, suggesting an organic earthiness and groundedness — curator Sarah Wiseman noted that Peace often sculpts her figures using sketches of yoga classes. Such a quality of movement and stretching was evoked gracefully, and I couldn’t help thinking that the sculptures would have been more at home in a garden. Girl with Wings, which depicts a female figure with butterfly-like wings on the verge of leaping, particularly explored the idea of precipitating movement.
The exhibition was aptly entitled ‘Connections’: there were connections between the artists’ methodologies, in their use of quickly-drawn, dynamic sketches as their templates; thematic connections, each keen on depicting the effects of their scenes or characters; and material connections, with Peace animating the texture of her sculpture with striated grooves or slabs of globular bronze, and Hood reveling in paint’s consistency and texture.
But perhaps most importantly, the gallery took two very different artists and invited viewers to find their own ‘connections’ between them. Wiseman, who has been working with both Peace and Hood for over ten years, was inspired to curate both artists’ work together because she saw potential for dialogue. ‘I felt that they had an energy that would work well together,’ Wiseman said. ‘For [Hood] it’s an attention to line, and the way that his work with graphic design has influenced his painting. His paintings possess an aching confidence. For [Peace], it’s the physicality and intimacy. But it was really just an instinctive decision to put them together.’
The dialogue created worked most effectively in one of the gallery’s smaller sections, where Peace’s Things Aside and Personal Arm rested on block stands in front of Hood’s Forest Edge and Reflections. The figure in Things Aside, turning backwards as if distracted, swayed in the wake of the painting’s motion, preparing to cross the threshold of Forest Edge. Though working in radically different modes, the two artists function best together when narratives seem to emerge organically from their works.
In spite of the slight dissonance of Hood’s streetscapes viewed as a backdrop for Peace’s meditative individuals, the exhibition succeeded as a whole. Hood’s streetscapes, created from sketches made in France, Morocco, and India, were more overtly figurative, but didn’t feel jarringly urban or industrial. Red Canopy, Paris portrayed a prandial scurry from the vantage point of an apartment. Amidst the seemingly dejected pedestrians, blotches of colour created a lurid excitement. Rendered from a window sketch, the dynamic scene reflected the artist’s creative process. Hood sketches a scene before reimagining it in the studio by pouring and scraping paint.
‘Connections’ was a pleasure to see, possessing an intimacy, brevity, and sincerity all too rare in a contemporary art scene that revels in irony. The gallery seemed to strive not for intelligence or wit, but rather for the possibility of creating the forms and limits necessary for an engaging experience. In that sense, it felt less like a static collection of objects than a vibrant stage.
‘Connections: Carol Peace and Andrew Hood’ ran from 8 to 29 October and is now closed. More information on future exhibitions at Sarah Wiseman Gallery can be found here.