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Five must-see exhibitions in April

From Picasso posing for his pals to a very personal view of motherhood, Laura Davis picks out five Merseyside exhibitions you won’t want to miss this month.

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Lee Miller – Friends at Farleys, Victoria Gallery & Museum, Liverpool City Centre, until November 24

The guestlist of Farleys House reads like an answer to the ‘dream dinner party’ parlour game.

Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, Man Ray, Leonora Carrington, Dorothea Tanning, Kenneth Armitage, William Turnbull, John Craxton, Eileen Agar and Richard Hamilton all visited the Sussex farmhouse where surrealist photographer Lee Miller lived with her husband Roland Penrose and their son Antony.

She took the opportunity to pose them for pictures, witty images of world-celebrated artists completing household tasks, which foreshadow today’s pervasive selfie culture.

In one, Picasso points to a way sign, his posture reminiscent of a catalogue model. In another, New Yorker illustrator Saul Steinberg wrestles a hosepipe into a sculptural shape.
These and many more feature in Victoria Gallery & Museum’s new exhibition, the happy coincidence of an offer by the Lee Miller Archives to loan a couple of pictures to galleries around the country and a gap in VG&M’s programme for something much bigger.

As well as inviting you into the world of Harleys House, they demonstrate Miller’s eye for an image and her sense of humour. But crucially they are also a gateway into her extraordinary life and achievements, her shift from high fashion model in 1920s New York to innovative surrealist photographer whose street scenes and studio experiments won her acclaim, to US Army photojournalist who captured Hitler’s Berchtesgaden house up in flames.

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Chwarae Teg / Fair Play, Convenience Pop Up, 39 Borough Pavement, Birkenhead, until April 20

Remember that feeling you had as a kid – that you could try pretty much anything just for the pure joy of it? You’d colour in a picture, unconcerned with going over the lines; run down a hill, not caring if you beat your personal best; pick up a musical instrument, unconscious of your parents’ internal struggle to stay in the room?

When did that fall away, replaced by the apparent need, as adults, to only practise things we’re good at?

This is the question being asked by Sorrell Kerrison in her exhibition Chwarae Teg / Fair Play, part of The Town is the Gallery programme put together by Birkenhead-based Convenience.

Is it a byproduct of the capitalist dilemma, or simply an inevitable aspect of ageing? she asks, through a diverse display of art works that range from textile and sculptural pieces to animations.

Kerrison’s childhood memories inspire her work – she is originally from Wales and now lives in Liverpool – as well as traditional textile craft including embroidery and quilting, which she reimagines. She sources materials from charity shops and salvages items that would otherwise have ended up in landfill, transforming them from unloved objects into treasures.
In Chwarae Teg / Fair Play, she invites us to transform ourselves too, by reconnecting with the innate sense of wonder that so often disappears with age.

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Another View, Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight, April 20 to August 18

While men were free to roam the countryside with their easels and paint boxes, women artists have traditionally been more confined, either by societal conventions or their duties in the home.

So it will be fascinating to explore the contribution women have made to Landscape Art in the Lady Lever’s Another View exhibition, which opens this month.

Travelling through time, from early depictions by female amateur artists through to the 19th and 20th centuries, it will consider how the way in which women considered the outside world has changed – and how their views have been impacted by social, economic, cultural and environmental developments.

Highlights include work by Harriet Gouldsmith (1787-1863), who was hailed as the first professional woman landscape painter, and Blackberry Gathering which shows women enjoying the outdoors. Its creator, Elizabeth Forbes (1859-1912) founded an art colony in Cornwall, exhibiting and selling work to major exhibitions internationally.

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I Became a Mother, Warrington Museum & Art Gallery, until May 19

You only have to tap open a podcast app to find parents lining up to confess the messier, scarier side of being a mum or dad these days. Meanwhile publishers keep churning out guides to becoming the perfect parent, setting unreasonable expectations for sleeping, feeding, potty training, zero-sugar meal plans and never, ever, ever shouting.

Refreshingly, Lāsma Poiša’s exhibition I Became A Mother treads a line between the two – the concept of the virtuous, nurturing mother figure and the fear of your sense of self being entirely consumed by the tiny bundle of joy that’s just appeared in the world.

Before her baby daughter Esme was born, Poiša, a British Latvian who lives in Todmorden, worried that her photography career would be hindered by becoming a mother, yet instead it has given her a rich, new subject to explore.

Having won Warrington Arts Festival’s Open Exhibition in 2022 with a bold image of herself and Esme, she has continued to investigate the themes and challenges of the ‘metamorphosis, evolution and recovery’ involved in the journey from womanhood to motherhood.

The result is this powerfully honest exhibition, which has been guest curated by Paulette Brien, from Grundy Art Gallery, Blackpool.

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Sumuyya Khader – Now We Sit With It, Calderstones Mansion House, Liverpool, permanent display

Almost wherever you look in Liverpool’s Victorian history, it is entirely, devastatingly unsurprising to find a connection to the kidnap and enslavement of African people carried out in the name of progress. Even when there is no direct proof of a link, the evidence tends to be murky.

During The Reader’s two-year research project into Calderstones Mansion House’s past, no direct tie was found between slavery and the building’s original owner Joseph Need Walker.

On the one hand, many of the metals manufactured by the Walker family were a central part of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. On the other, letters between his father and William Wilberforce show that he and Walker’s three brothers supported abolition.

In response, The Reader commissioned a painting by Liverpool-based artist Sumuyya Khader, who explores place and identity through a combination of text, colourful imagery and texture.

Instead of creating an image of slavery or of the Mansion House’s previous owners, she decided to address the lack of Blackness both in the building’s history and its present.

Now We Sit With It now has a permanent place in Calderstones, reminding us to question our own preconceptions as well as the world around us.


Laura Davis is the writer of Stored Honey, a weekly newsletter celebrating the arts and culture scene in Liverpool and the whole of the North West. You can read and subscribe for free at www.stored-honey.com

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