Cornelia Parker at the Whitworth


The main exhibition showing at the Whitworth following its reopening is a major retrospective of the work of Cheshire born artist Cornelia Parker.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but was blown away by what I saw.

Cornelia Parker is described as a “sculptor and installation artist” by the Tate and the exhibition features works covering the range of her repertoire; large scale installations, bronze castings, found objects, flattened objects, objects transformed into wire, abstract paintings created from her blood.

The first room contained a collection of smaller works. There were metal objects- a spoon, a silver dollar and bullets, transformed into wire. The wire from the bullets was woven and manipulated to form grid like patterns. There wereDSC04867

There were two other weapon related works – a sawn-off shot gun that had been sawn up and the following work which consisted of teo metal pieces from the early stages of manufacture of a colt pistol in a glass case with a metal powder that was all that was left from a pistol that had been destroyed.


There were also Rorschach “ink blot” patterns made using snake venom and anti-venom antidote mixed with black and white ink and a series of pieces of canvas which were originally the linings of paintings by JMW Turner from the Tate’s collection which had acquired markings and stains forming abstract patterns.


Amongst the works displayed in he central barrel vaulted gallery there was Rodin’s Kiss (the real one, borrowed from he Tate) tied up with string.


On the floor there were two bronze works cast from the cracks between paving stones

Black Path (Bunhill Fields) was created from the paving stones around the tomb of William Blake in the non-conformist cemetery were he’s buried in London


There was a connection with the other similar work Jerusalem which was cast surreptitiously from the cracks between paving stones in occupied East Jerusalem. Blake’s most well known work is probably his poem, Jerusalem, which was set to music, becoming a popular hymn. There is a connection with the Whitworth which owns a number of drawings and prints by Blake and Manchester was the heart of his “dark satanic mills”.


In the Exhibition brochure Cornelia tells us about how she created the work

When I visited Jerusalem and he West Bank several times in 2012, I found myself meditating on William Blake’s poetry. His idealisation of Jerusalem is a far cry from the politically fraught place it is now. Territories and boundaries are contested on a daily basis.

On one of my trips I took a couple of containers of cold cure casting rubber as extra weight in my luggage. I used this to cast the cracks in a section of old paving in the occupied East Jerusalem. This was done at night, away from the Israeli armed guards that patrolled the streets. When the rubber mould was set, I peeled it up off the pavement, rolled it up and put it back in my suitcase – making off with a piece of Jerusalem. For this exhibition in Manchester it has finally been cast in bronze to sit on a different turf, in the home of Blake’s “satanic mills”

These two works sit just above floor level, propped up with pins. One visitor during the first few days of the exhibition tripped over one of them, so extra staff are on hand to alert visitors!

There were two other works close to the floor, this time suspended from fine wires attached to the ceiling.

Accidental 1 consists of 16 silver plated objects – plates, cutlery and the like that had been squashed by a 250 ton industrial press


and  its companion piece, 16 flattened musical instruments, Composition with Horns (Double Flat)


They were simple, but effective.

Other works in this room included a series of tapestries, hand embroidered by inmates of various prisons.


Each piece had two words with opposite meanings (War,Peace; Life,Death; Past, Future; Light,Dark; Conscious,Unconscious; Love,Hate) and their definitions. They were produced so that one of the pair was read from one side of the fabric and the second from the opposite side. Clever.

The other two rooms each contained only one work.

War Room was a tent like structure made from perforated paper left over from the manufacture of British Legion poppies which covered all the walls and were suspended from the ceiling..


Standing inside was quite a serene experience. Almost like being inside a chapel. I guess hat was the artist’s intention – to create a feeling of a chapel of remembrance.

The final work was probably the most popular and seemed to be especially so with children. The  “frozen explosion” of Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View


The description on the Tate’s website sums it up succinctly. It’s a

restored three-dimensional volume of a garden shed exploded by the British Army at the request of the artist. The surviving fragments, suspended from the ceiling and lit by a single bulb, create a dramatic effect and cast shadows on the gallery’s walls.

An amazing work.

All in all a fantastic exhibition. We resolved to return before it finishes at the end of May

The New Whitworth


On Saturday we finally got around to visiting the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester which re-opened on 14 February following an 18 month closure while the building was extended.

The original Edwardian building – red brick, , Jacobean influenced, set in a park– was opened in 1908.  It was overhauled in the 1960’s with the interior given a Scandinavian look, and some of those features have been retained.


Like many galleries, the Whitworth collection, and it’s ambition, outgrew the building, hence the latest extension designed by MUMA (McInnes Usher McKnight Architects).

The building has been extended at the rear with a new glass clad wing housing the cafe


a glass clad corridor at the rear of the original galleries with a new Resource Centre underneath in what had originally been storerooms




and a new brick built gallery.


The extensions surround a newly created garden space.



Inside some of the sixties interiors have been retained


but the original barrel vaulted galleries at the rear of the original building have been opened up to their original height.



The Great Hall on he first floor at the front of the building has been reopened and made accessible to visitors


The new wing containing the cafe is particularly attractive



The cafe is like a large glass box with views over the par and the newly created garden. The sloping site means the cafe, although on the same level as the ground floor entrance at the front of the building, is elevated so cafe patrons are level with the canopies of the adjacent trees.


One of the objectives of the re-modelling was to integrate the gallery with the park, and the architects have certainly achieved that.

Callum Innes at the Whitworth

Callum Innes, Exposed Painting Green Lake, 2012. Courtesy Frith Street Gallery, London

Callum Innes, Exposed Painting Green Lake, 2012. Source: Whitworth website

We paid another visit to the Whitworth gallery yesterday. We particularly wanted to have a look at the exhibition of paintings by Callum Innes, one of five exhibitions they’re showing at the moment. When we were there a few weeks ago, the main room where a number of larger paintings have been hung was inaccessible due to staff being trained on the use of a large scissor lift. This time the room was being used for the weekly “baby club” of activities for under fives. There were babies with their parents sprawled on the floor doing art related activities. But they were in a roughly defined area and we weren’t prevented from going in the gallery.

Callum Innes is an abstract painter, known for his "unpainting". He applies paint to canvases, sometimes two or more layers, and removes it using turps to create simple, but interesting patterns. Some of his paintings were like Mondrians with squares or rectangles of colour, but he creates then by applying and removing paint. Due to his technique His colours have a weathered look and run at the edges. Simple but effective.

Picture source: artist’s website

Although most of the paintings were created using bright pigments, there were a number of monochrome works. There were two paintings from his Monologue series. In these the canvas was covered with black paint and turps used to wash off sections of the paint the washes creating a ghostly waterfall like effect. There’s some examples from this series that can be viewed here.

Untitled 35 (2012) was another monochrome painting. In this work there is a thin vertical black line in the centre of a white canvas. At first glance it would seem that he had painted the black line onto the canvas but this wasn’t the case. It was covered with black paint, most of which was removed with turps leaving behind the vertical line and, noticeable on closer inspection, traces of black on the washed areas of the canvas.

Although best known for his oil paintings, Callum Innes has recently been experimenting with watercolours, and the exhibition a selection of works on paper and new watercolours made especially for the Whitworth. Interestingly the latter are displayed horizontally on trestle tables, underneath glass.

Each of these small paintings has been created using two colours. The first colour applied tot he paper in an area defined by masking tape. After the paint has partially, but not completely dries, the masking tape is removed and the second colour applied on top of the painted area. The two colours merging to create a third, but with traces of the original visible at the edges.  As the Whitworth’s website explains

His ongoing series of watercolours continues Innes’ experimentation with the power of colour, combining pigments to create an often fluid and unclassifiable hue. Throughout his work apparently simple actions create paintings with a complex depth, documents of the process and the duration of their making.

The following video, produced by the Tate, shows how creates these smaller works.

Source: artist’s website

For another view, there’s a good, insightful report of his visit to the exhibition by Andy Parkinson on his blog  Patterns that Connect here.

John Piper at the Whitworth

John Piper, Rocks at Capel Curig. c.1950. © The John Piper Estate

John Piper, Rocks at Capel Curig. c.1950. © The John Piper Estate. Source: Whitworth website

The Whitworth Gallery in Manchester are currently showing the exhibition of pictures by John Piper of landscapes in North Wales that I saw last year at the National Museum of Art in Cardiff.  John Piper: The Mountains of Wales – Paintings and Drawings from a Private Collection features a large number of paintings of Snowdonia that the artist had produced while visiting the region during the 1940’s and 1950’s.

Having enjoyed looking at the paintings last year, I was keen to have another look and wasn’t disappointed. Many of them are almost abstract, but the well known features such as “the Devil’s Kitchen”, Snowdon and Cader Idris were clearly recognisable. As I commented in the report from my previous visit in Cardiff, I think that Piper successfully captured the rugged beauty and the atmosphere of the wild landscape of Snowdonia.

In the gallery next door to the Piper exhibition the Whitworth is showing exhibition of drawings and watercolours from its own collection of watercolours  of the Welsh landscape. Sublime: Watercolours of the Welsh Landscape. For me, these much more realistic depictions of the landscape were less inspiring than Piper’s dramatic paintings, but were still worth a look.

It was interesting to compare George Fennel Robson’s watercolour of the “Devil’s Kitchen”,

 The Devil's Kitchen, Llyn Idwal, Caernarvonshire, Wales

George Fennel Robson’s The Devil’s Kitchen, Llyn Idwal, Caernarvonshire, Wales Source: Whitworth website

with Piper’s ink and watercolour painting from more or less the same viewpoint.

Cwm Idal, 1949,  John Piper

Cwm Idwal, 1949 by John Piper Source National Museum of Wales website

The exhibition also included a display of rocks and minerals from Manchester Museum (both the Whitworth and the Museum are affiliated to Manchester University) that I found quite interesting in themselves.

The Piper exhibition closes on 7 April, which is a pity, as I’d like to go back for another look. But I may have the chance sometime over the Easter break.

Visual art or poetry?


There’s a small exhibition of works by Richard Long showing at the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester at the moment. It only consists of four works – two constructions made from stone and two of his “textworks” painted on the wall of the gallery.

Richard Long’s work is very much linked to the landscape. He creates sculptures from stone (like the two on display at the Whitworth) and sticks and paintings made by daubing mud on the wall. He is also renowned for his “land art” where the works are created within or on the landscape itself, in many cases simply by walking through it.

Another aspect of his work are the “textworks” where he uses words to record observations, thoughts and feelings, and facts, and related to epic walks that he undertakes. These works are then transferred to the wall of galleries where he is exhibiting.

The two textworks included at the Whitworth are “A day’s walk across Dartmoor following a drift of clouds” which consists simply those words written in sky blue capitals on the white wall of the gallery. (We’d seen this before during our visit to the exhibition of his works at the Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield  last year) The more interesting work for me was "An eight day walk in the Cairngorm mountains Scotland 2007” (shown above).

To help us understand the world, it is often helpful to categorise, to put things in “little boxes”. But sometimes this doesn’t work as things are not always that simple and can fall between the boundaries, occupying more than one box. I think that Richard Long’s textworks are like that. They are words and can be considered in many ways to be poetic. (For me this is particularly true with "An eight day walk in the Cairngorm mountains Scotland 2007” ) . But they are painted on the wall and so are visual art as well, especially as the structure of the text has been clearly thought out. So in this work the pyramidal structure of the words is reminiscent of one of the stone cairns he would have encountered on his walk.

Visual art or poetry? Both, I think.


Other examples of Richard Long’s textworks can be seen on his website here.

“We Face Forward” at the Whitworth

2012-09-16 14.04.23

On Sunday morning we set out for Wakefield to visit the Hepworth Gallery where we intended to see the Richard Long exhibition that’s showing there until mid October. Heading down the M61 we started to see a message on the matrix signs telling us that the M62 was closed at Junction 21. I can never remember where these junctions are but it seemed ominous and it soon became clear that the closure was at Milnrow, which was on our route across to Yorkshire. Realising that this was going to introduce a severe delay we turned around. We weren’t very pleased, but our annoyance was soon put into perspective when we found out the reason for the closure. There had been a serious collision overnight and a young woman had been killed. It appears that she was a passenger in a car hit head on by another vehicle driven by some idiot who was well over the blood alcohol limit driving the wrong way down the Motorway.

Putting off the visit to the Hepworth (we should be able to get over later this week), but having been looking forward to a day out, I decided to head into Manchester and visit the Whitworth Gallery to see the exhibition of West African Art – “We Face Forward”. It was actually the last day of it’s run, so if we had gone over to Wakefield I would have missed it. The exhibition has been showing over a number of venues in Manchester since June, including the City Art Gallery which I’d visited earlier this year.

2012-09-16 14.05.02

Almost all of the Whitworth was given over to the exhibition, so there was plenty to see. It even overflowed into the park and the driveway up to the Gallery.

2012-09-16 14.03.28

As is usually the case with exhibitions where works are on loan, no photography was allowed of the exhibits, but there are some pictures on the exhibition website. As with most Contemporary art exhibitions, the exhibits were included paintings, 3D works, photographs and video.

There were several works by Amadou Sanogo, an artist from Mal, displayed in one of the rooms on the ground floor. They were large unstretched canvases painted with acrylics with some elements of collage. They were very colourful with abstract designs featuring human forms.

Nearby there was what I thought was a very powerful work, Purification (2012) by Barthélémy Toguo, who originates from Cameroon. It was a long narrow painting, 4 or 5 metres wide, featuring bloody human torsos with handwritten statements about human rights along the top and bottom edges. According to the exhibition website it’s

based on an interpretation of the sufferings experienced by various populations through deportations and genocides of the last century.

A series of works by the Nigerian artist, Lucy Azubuike, making up her Wear and Tear Series, (2011), were on display on the first floor. They were collages created from torn posters, pages from magazines and paint. In creating the works she allows them to be weathered by exposing them to the elements. At first glance they appeared to be random, abstract patterns. But standing back and concentrating on them for a few minutes, I started to see forms and images emerging – a flower bed, the surface of a river or lake, the vegetation in a dense forest, a large moon rising and dominating the sky. I though they were very effective and they reminded me of some of the collages by by Jacques Villeglé I’d seen at the Contemporary Art Museum in Nîmes that I’d visited in July.

The work that seemed to attract most attention from visitors was the installation created especially for the exhibition by Pascale Marthine Tayou. The World Falls Apart (Le monde s’effondre) 2012 occupied the room on the side of the building next to Whitworth park which has large ceiling to floor windows overlooking the park.

Pascale Marthine Tayou

Picture source: exhibition website

It was a mixed media installation comprising a forest of wooden poles extending from the floor almost to the ceiling. They were decorated with African masks and figures, and hanging from the ceiling there were bundles of goods inside sacks and large three dimensional diamonds made from metal rods. Some of the bundles had wigs attached to their undersides and looked rather like dead bodies. There were large photographs of paintings/collages hung on the walls.  The forest echoed the trees in the park outside the gallery that could be seen through the large windows. Some of the trees had diamond structures hanging from their branches, taking the installation outside the gallery into the park.

There were works on display from a number of other artists, but these were the ones I particularly enjoyed during my visit.

The Whitworth had also included a display of African textiles from their collection in the fist gallery on the ground floor. They were very beautiful with some intricate designs, patterns, stitching and embroidery.

After I’d had a good look around the Whitworth I headed up to the City Art Gallery to have another look at the works displayed there.

We Face Forward was a good opportunity to see Contemporary African Art which is generally poorly represented in the UK. Unfortunately it’s come to the end of its run. However, I found this video about the exhibition on the Tate website, which gives a flavour of what was on show.

Les Arbres à Bleu

2012-04-07 15.37.27

This was another exhibit I particularly liked at the Cotton – Golden Threads exhibition at the Whitworth Gallery.

The work of Aboubakar Fofana, it was a forest created from rolls of cotton cloth all dyed with indigo in different patterns and standing on a “beach” of sand. Scattered on the beach were loofahs, again dyed with indigo.

There are some details about the work and the artist on the exhibition blog :

Aboubakar Fofana is a calligrapher, artist and textile designer. Born in Bamako, Mali, he lived in France for over thirty years but is now based back in Bamako.

Using organic fibres and natural dyes, he is committed to preserving and revitalizing Mali’s nearly lost tradition of natural indigo and vegetable dyeing. Profoundly concerned with maintaining Mali’s cultural heritage, in acquiring his skills he sought out the country’s remaining textile masters.

There’s an interview with the artist on Soundcloud

I was particularly interested in the use of indigo in this work as I’ve recently finished reading Colour by Victoria Findlay. The book, which I didn’t find completely satisfying, contains chapters on all the colours of the rainbow, as defined by Isaac Newton, which included indigo.

Indigo is a vegetable dye that originated in India and has been used for dying cloth for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. It’s the colour of blue jeans. This is it’s chemical structure:

This is the chemical structure of indigo.

This is the Indigo plant from which the dyestuff is derived

File:Indigofera tinctoria1.jpg

Image source Wikipedia

The book is largely a series of mini travelogues where the author sets off on one or more journeys connected with each colour. In the case of indigo she travelled to India trying to find the “last indigo plant”. She found that the plant was no longer cultivated in it’s country of origin. Much  of the indigo used today is manufactured artificially.

Drop Sari by Liz Rideal

While we were in Manchester on Tuesday we called into the Whitworth Gallery. I wanted to have another look at the two exhibitions The Devil’s Wall and Cotton – Golden Threads, both of which finish this weekend, so it was the last chance to see them.

One of the exhibits in the Cotton exhibition that I particularly liked was a video installation by Liz Rideal. A series of images of fabrics, India and textile production processes were projected onto four white saris hanging from the ceiling and gently wafting in a breeze created by a fan. I thought it was very effective.

The video was flanked by two other works by the artist – Ghost Sari i and ii, monotype prints of of crumpled saris printed on Japanese paper from and a display of vintage sample books featuring Indian fabrics – some of which are actually featured in the Drop Sari film.

There’s an interview with the artist here

Another version of the work, Light Curtain, was also projected on the outside of the gallery during the night. Unfortunately I never got the chance to see this.

The Devil’s Wall

One of the highlights of my visit to the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester last Saturday was The Devil’s Wall, an exhibition of work by the British artist Idris Khan.

According to the Whitworth’s publicity, the exhibition

draws inspiration from rituals and practices of the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca that is one of the pillars of Islam and is undertaken by millions of Muslims each year.

It’s being shown in one of the galleries on the first floor.

The centrepiece is three large, black, metallic, cylindrical sculptures scattered in the middle of the room. The cylinders all have a funnel like hole in their centre and lines of text from the Qur’an, in both English and Arabic, are engraved radially into the metal, plunging into the central vortex. Even standing on tip-toe and leaning over the cylinders (being careful not to touch, of course) I couldn’t see the bottom of the hole, increasing the impact of the work.

Idris Khan_The Devils Wall_2011

Picture source Whitworth Gallery website copyright Victoria Miro Gallery, London and Yvon Lambert Gallery, New York.

My initial impression was that the black cylindrical sculptures looked like black holes, the effect enhanced by being sited in the darkened room  And just like anything approaching a black hole is drawn in and cannot escape, it appeared that the religious words were being pulled into the vortex.  To me, the work suggested how religion and religious ideology (not just Islam) suck people in.

Well, I got that wrong, as that wasn’t what the artist intended. The sculptures are meant to reference the stoning of the Jamarat, a ritual during the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca where pilgrims chant and throw seven stones at three walls, each representing the devil and symbolizing the suffering of the Prophet Abraham.


Picture source: Art Face – this picture is from a previous showing of the work, not the Whitworth. But the layout and lighting is more or less the same.

The exhibition also features a number of 2-dimensional works illuminated by spotlights so that they appeared to glow in the subdued background light. They include seven drawings from a series of 21 drawings, called 21 Stones.


Picture source anyartsmanchester

They were produced using rubber stamps to print lines of text – extracts from the Qur’an and more personal statements. Like the words carved on the sculptures, they are arranged in radial patterns. To me they looked like stellar explosions or the “atoms tracks” produced by atomic disintegrations

Disintegration of a nitrogen atom

Disintegration of a nitrogen atom Source here

The other works on show were from Khan’s Voices series –pictures of scores of minimalist music by Phillip Glass and Steve Reich. These were created from multiple photographs of the scores which are superimposed over each other, producing a blurred image where the notes and the underlying staff are visible but indistinct. This is a technique that Khan has used in a large number of his works.

I enjoyed the exhibition. The individual works were simple, but effective and were enhanced by their setting in the darkened room, lit by spotlights. One thing that, perhaps, could have improved the experience would have been to play some of the minimalist music featured in the Voices pictures.

Images of Idris Khan’s work, including some of the sculptures and pictures shown in the exhibition can be seen here.