Bluecoat Display Centre, Saturday 29th April 2017 – Saturday 3rd June 2017
Words, Leyla Gurr
I had a wonderful art teacher in High School. She was short, almost entirely spherical and smelt of coffee and cigarettes. She had a knack for picking out the weakest kids and pushing them forward to fantastic things whilst simultaneously providing tremendous support to the people in the class that showed talent and achieved good grades naturally. Unfortunately she was a temporary fixture and left after only one school year, handing out stickers with “Don’t let the bastards grind you down” written on them as she went. When I read the word mentor she is one of a handful of people I think of, and I’m forever thankful for having met her.
So when the ‘Protégés’ show at The Bluecoat Display Centre was announced, I fell in love with the idea. How wonderful, to see work from both mentor and protégé displayed side by side, effectively translating the relationship that I wish I could have cultivated with that temporary art teacher all those years ago.
The Bluecoat Display Centre is a small space, with only room for a handful of pieces. This is a shame because the idea behind this exhibition is so good, it would have been fantastic to see even more examples of this relationship on display. Having said that the presentation works very well with what it has, showcasing some wonderful ceramic and metal work with beautifully written info cards. The real charm of the exhibition is in these cards, each one showing a story or comment from protégé to mentor and vice versa. It’s wonderful to be able to get some context on these special relationships and learn in their own words how these people have shaped each other’s lives and careers. With that extra understanding it becomes easy to see the links between the work itself, making the whole thing a wonderful learning experience for anyone that visits.
A particular highlight was the work of Alan Whittaker and his protégé Attila Olah. Their stories were charming and their work reflected each other perfectly – earthy forms and minimal shapes brought to life with some first rate ceramic work.
I would love to see this idea expanded into a full exhibition, with more space to breathe and a wider variety of artists and mediums. This is however well worth a visit, the pieces on display are charming and the stories behind them give a rarely glimpsed look behind the scenes at the teamwork and dedication that it can take to become a successful artist.