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Review: David Clapham: The River Runs Through at Williamson Art Gallery & Museum

There are two things worth talking about here: David Clapham and the Williamson.
The Williamson is a challenging space for artists to show work in. Its false-Georgian architecture sets it out in its setting like a sore thumb. And inside, the building is laid out as a continuous corridor, with doors that weren’t built tall enough to be grand and aren’t small enough to be useful in exhibition lighting.

David Clapham’s hanging work through the centre of the exhibition’s first room changes the gallery completely. It is clever curation, working with usefully versatile work. The result is that the Williamson is shown off properly. The false-Georgian face is stripped away by a room packed with scaled-up work that does all the heavy lifting.

It’s impossible to write about this exhibition without placing it in that, very specific, site of Birkenhead’s Williamson Art Gallery first because it does work so well in and with its setting.

The paintings are generously enriched representations of landscape and memory. And while they are mostly set in Portugal, there are contrasts with the gridded rigidity of London.
Liverpool and Birkenhead where Clapham lived until the 80s don’t get a mention, but there is an implication of a lesson running through ‘The River Runs Through’.

The softer pace of life, gentler surroundings, and naturally adapting and moving landscape that surrounds the artist at his Portuguese home are, to borrow a word from elsewhere in the exhibition, lightweight.

Lightweight like his voile hangings. Lightweight like the pale verticals pushing through greens and gold skies. Lightweight, because he has chosen to move somewhere that exists in polarising contrast to his early career here in the city.

As well as his undeniable impact on Merseyside, David Clapham was a freelancer in the world of 1960s broadcast and corporate television. It’s a world away from the art world he later focused on, and further still from the life he chose in Portugal.

David Clapham taught countless significant artists at the old Liverpool College of Art, brought Yoko Ono to Bluecoat for the first time in 1967, before co-founding both the Academy Gallery and Bridewell Studios.

What he left behind is represented as a memory in these paintings. I’m not sure if the memory is peeking through his current nature-coated visions, or being shrouded by them, but there is rigidity at war with organics, and it’s beautiful.

David Clapham: The River Runs Through is open at Williamson Art Gallery & Museum until 15th June (Wednesday-Sunday)
Words, Kathryn Wainwright