Preview: Gray Ⓖ at Kirkby Gallery, and the 18th Knowsley Open

Words, Patrick Kirk-Smith

Historically, open exhibitions were revered, highly judged, highly commended, monetised affairs that showed, rather than showed off, the hierarchies and industry relationships of fine art. Today, most are quite straightforward opportunities for emerging artists to show their work.

Neither is a bad thing, and both have their let downs, so there is a very true value in finding the middle ground; a space where artists are offered the chance to exhibit work alongside peers at all levels of their career, receive honest and formative critique and develop relationships with curators, without necessarily having exhibited before.

Open is open I guess, and it’s the Knowsley Open currently that seems to be going further than most to deliver their open exhibition in the context of the borough, rather than offering space without reason.

For artists and makers local to Knowsley, myself included, the open seems to be a genuinely supportive system. The best example of this is Gray, who has volunteered at Kirkby Gallery (hosting the exhibition) and through entry into the Open was given the  opportunity to show an exhibition of his own making.

The exhibition displays the gallery’s willingness to work with local artists (bear in mind they hosted work by Henry Moore last year) but also, for the public who will see the exhibition, they get the context of the local creative industry, in seeing an entire body of work by one local artist alongside entries into a group show linked by merit rather than subject. The juxtaposition of group show and solo show delivers a narrative rarely seen at Opens.

Gray ’s work focusses on iconography in pop culture, heavily influenced by Warhol and Hockney, whose oversaturated work transformed the way contemporary art works. Iconic artists in themselves, their influence on the artist showing alongside the Open is largely in immediacy. Immediacy in creating the work, but also in translating it into clear, concise, messages, which are more a result of the artists’ Graphic Design training.

The work is digitally manipulated and recoloured, printed, retouched, collaged and edited with analogue paint and chance methods highlights the hand of the artist in his work, as well as simply representing the icons he depicts. They are also, appropriately for the gallery, icons of literature as well as music, art and society leading on from the success of the Frankenstein 2018 book art exhibition which ran through the Independents Biennial, and into 2019.

The gallery marks the entrance to Kirkby Library, and is usually occupied by nationally and internationally acclaimed artists, so when the Open comes to town, is worth seeing to remind yourself of the artists living and working in this brilliant borough, and the connections and ties between them all.

The 18th Knowsley Open Art Exhibition & Gray corridor exhibition is open 7th Feb – 4th May 2019
The affordable Art Auction is 9th May, 5pm
Kirkby Gallery, Norwich Way, Kirkby, L32 8XY

Words, Patrick Kirk-Smith