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Review: Bluecoat Display Centre’s Spring Display

Exploring the purpose, use, and applications of materials is an urge most artists have throughout their life. That tactile need to explore the potential of every possible material is often what drives artists into their work. Bluecoat Display Centre’s spring display is open until 8th April, and shares that passion for material in buckets.

Janine Partington’s gentle leather work has the intricacy of embroidery, the texture of woodcraft and the finish of linocut printing.

Graham Burrow’s WhittleBirds are an experiment in branding and product design as much as an experiment in craft. His background in logo design and packaging design shines through in this freeform development of his practice, creating highly collectible sculptures, with bespoke packaging. Almost creating art for the sole intention of gifting.

Block colours and finely finished woodblock birds, of no particular species, are included in Bluecoat Display Centre’s spring display largely because they fit in, but they steal the show, cropping up on shelves as playful nods to the honest reasons these artists are making – because they can, and because it can pay.

What’s more, the inclusion of a Bluecoat Display Centre favourite, Emma Rodgers, and her immediately identifiable sculptures (accompanied for now by a window display dedicated to her recognisably textured sculpture) evidences that these crisply presented birds, and neatly framed leather work surrounding her sculpture don’t have a monopoly on saleable art.

Art can and should meet those needs. It can be functional or even utilitarian, as is the case with Hugh Miller’s hand-crafted chairs (currently on display at Walker Art Gallery in their ‘New Works at the Walker’ display) or Sasha Wardell‘s delicate but useful ceramic cups.

Utility is a simple way to sales, but also highly competitive. Emma Rodgers steers clear of utility, and focusses on the representation of movement, highlighting the character of her human and animal subjects with equal weighting. Yet, without any utility, or usefulness, they are valued, and represent the same drive towards craft and material exploration as the precisely finished birds, prints, and ceramics that make up the rest of this show.

There is a short window to see this work, as the display changes over on 8th April to make way for Unity. The next exhibition explores the identity of Eurovision through jewellery exploring themes of music, identity, acceptance, and diversity, opening 14th April.

Words, Kathryn WainwrightSpring Display is open until 8th April at Bluecoat Display Centre