Andrew Small and Jim Sharp
Words by Patrick Kirk-Smith
A few years ago I was introduced to a project called Art in Unusual Spaces, an inspirational project that broke new ground in Yorkshire, and I’ve tried to take stock of what the project had to say ever since. I think it’s a large part of what Art means today, as a word in its own right: The ability to look differently. So when, on a visit to The Walton Centre, an NHS specialist hospital, I came across work of the quality and integrity that would normally be expected on the walls of municipal galleries, I was astonished.
The work in question is that of Jim Sharp and Andrew Small, amongst a few others, who take neurology as a starting point, and runs from there. So, if you’re ever in a hospital, or a similar grey building, take a moment to look at the walls, because on the odd occasion, it’s seriously worth looking at.
Their collaborative work focusses on neurological health, using the perplexities of connections in the brain as a starting point, and using what they refer to as ‘kaleidoscopic’ imagery in response to further research. Apparently, these kinds of bright, repetitive images have incredibly positive impacts on eye and brain health, so it’s understandable why these two artists took the project on. It must have been irresistible to Jim Sharp – who works regularly in lenticulars and 3D imaging – and Andrew Small – who has a vast experience with hospital commissions.
As well as both having an interest in the science of the project, the two artists have developed a bond over their interest in perceptual play – the act of getting enquiry out of viewers, who engage and interact with the work on a more informal/unintentional level than they ordinarily would. For Andrew Small, that often manifests itself as installation or sculpture on quite a large scale. One example of his previous work for the NHS is a piece commissioned for the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital (https://vimeo.com/30159229) featuring a huge digital heartbeat, which needs interaction to spring to life. The work the artists have developed for the Walton Centre has far more visual similarities with Jim Sharp’s work though.
Sharp has two sides to his creative career, working as an artist in his own right, and using the skills he has gained to produce 3D commissions as a design service. You might have seen more of his work recently on display as part of Threshold Festival 2016. The technique that jumps out as his work though is the lenticular, a method of image production that never ceases to amaze and delight.
I honestly find myself more amazed by static, 2D lenticulars, than I do most 3D films these days. The technologies that go into 3D films have become commonplace and are taken for granted already, and that’s progression I guess. But the production of lenticular images (a method that has existed since the 1930s and is usually used in novelty flicker pictures) still takes you by surprize, and despite its obvious positives, you’re more likely to have a 3D TV than a lenticular on your wall. That’s a bit odd.
For this project, focusing on neurological pathways and kaleidoscopic imagery, the lenticular couldn’t be more perfect, grabbing the attention of every hospital visitor who walks past them, and redefining the role of that particular waiting room. Not into a gallery, but into a space where something can be seriously considered, by people who can often find themselves in serious psychological and/or physical pain. It is something to change the subject, or to shift the mood.
And thankfully, this is not the only work in the hospital. Andrew Small and Jim Sharp might be pushing the boat out and blurring the boundary between hospital and gallery slightly more than the others, but work by many more artists is on display throughout the NHS centre in Walton.
I’m not necessarily suggesting taking a trip to The Walton Centre just to see the work, because I’m fairly sure it would be irresponsible to fill the waiting room with people who weren’t actually waiting. But the work of the artists in available on their respective websites below, and they regularly exhibit work across the North West, so you’re not that unlikely to bump into their work – just make sure you’re looking.