Review: The Williamson Open 2018

The Williamson Open Art and Photography Exhibition 2018
Williamson Art Gallery and Museum, Birkenhead, Wirral
23rd March – 6th May 2018

Words, Samantha Browne

The Williamson Open Art and Photography Exhibition invites participation from local photographers and artists in paint, pencil, collage, print, textiles, digital media, ceramics and various materials for sculpture.  An Open exhibition is non-juried, allowing amateur and professional alike to enter on an equal footing and for the visitor, this means there is an unspoken request that they too enter the exhibition space with an open mind.

This concept is immediately reinforced as soon as you walk through the Williamson doors and enter any one of the three gallery rooms.  Sometimes an art gallery can be an intimidating space, but the form in which an Open displays its works, for example with a juxtaposition of sizes and media and no name plates, underlines the fact that you are there primarily to enjoy the works shown.  Prior knowledge is not required.  This allows the visitor to roam unencumbered by the weight of art history, theories or perspectives, and if your curiousity does get the better of you to know the title, media and price of the works shown the accompanying catalogue is only £2.  The catalogue also provides background information on the worthy Art Prize Winners, Janine Pinion for Night: Marine Lake, and Dennis Spicer for Studio Table (Red Sun), and the Photographic Prize Winner Rose Mair, for Strong is an Understatement.

The Kriterion Award, named after the pen-name of Mrs Kay Greenwood-Casey, arts critic for the Wirral News, gives visitors the chance to vote for their personal favourite.  Last year Mark Moynihan not only won this ‘people’s prize’, but also the Art Prize.  This year he has two portraits on display, Peter and Alice.  Their execution makes them contenders to repeat his success for the Kriterion Award, but what gives his works an added dimension is the wording he puts on the side of the canvas.  These words appear to come from the mouths of the sitters themselves, leaving the viewer with the resonance of their voice and an insight into their personality.

An oil painting that generated much amusement was Ladies who lunch by Christopher Tattersall.  Items listed such as ‘Dead pig and eggs’, ‘Half dead cow and chips’ and ‘carcass of dead chicken’ guarantee you will not forget the menu board depicted in the corner.  The Williamson has important collections of local ceramics, including Birkenhead’s Della Robbia Pottery (1894-1906), and when one sees Fungoid by Karen Gittins one is reminded of the skill, fun and vitality such a media can possess.  One sculpture that stood out for me is Hare by Paul Bearman.  The tactile quality of this piece forced me to use all my resolve not to touch it and the fact it is created from cement means I will never look at a cement mixer in the same light again.

There is a total of 357 items on display by 187 artists, thirty-five are £NFS (not for sale) but those that are, range in price from £35 to £3,500.  An open mind is always nicely accessorised with an open wallet and the Williamson participates in the ‘Own Art’ purchase plan by the Arts Council England, which offers interest-free credit for the purchase of works from this exhibition.  This means, for those like myself who have yet to win the lottery or become a self-made millionaire, the opportunity realistically exists to own one of the works on display.

This year marks the 90th anniversary of the Williamson Art Gallery and Museum and for this nonagenarian what this Open exhibition proves is that there is a life and vitality within its walls that belies its age.  Janine Pinion makes the poignant observation that ‘our human lives are temporary and vulnerable’.  I would suggest that what the tradition and output of the Williamson Open exhibition shows is that we are driven by a desire to make physical the transience of our existence.  In doing so, each generation connects with what other generations have left behind.  This is perhaps most obviously illustrated in an acrylic work entitled Statue room, Walker by Dennis Oakes, for it depicts a marble sculpture by Antonio Rossetti (1819-1870), in this case aptly called Time is Precious.  Open exhibitions undoubtedly keep us open minded and, in so doing, could they be the secret to eternal life for public art galleries?

A wonderful introduction to art in all its forms, I would thoroughly recommend the Williamson Open Art and Photography Exhibition if you want to expose the minds of children, friends and family to a cornucopia of creative expression.  It is well worth the trip across the Mersey.

The Williamson Art Gallery and Museum also contains a café, gift shop, bookshop and art shop which I found well worth my time.  For more information visit: https://williamsonartgallery.org/