Review: Kaleidoscope: Colour and Sequence In 1960s British Art

Walker Gallery View with David Annesley, Blue Ring, image, Moira Leonard

Review Kaleidoscope: Colour and Sequence In 1960s British Art
Walker Art Gallery, until 3rd June 2018

Words and images by Moira Leonard

Arriving at the Gallery I am greeted by Arts Council Collection Project Curator Beth Lewis, who explains there are currently two exhibitions on display at the Walker Art Gallery that draw on the Arts Council England (ACE) national collection. As they complement each other so well it seems appropriate to look at them together.

Whilst I was originally expecting to review ‘Kaleidoscope: Colour and Sequence in 1960s British Art’ I am happy to be introduced to the displays of ‘Meticulous Observations and Naming the Money’ by Turner Prize winning artist Lubaina Himid as well.

The latter is of great fascination to me as 20 of her works are featured from the original 100 which make up the whole installation. Each life size figure represents an African slave who was taken from their homeland and sold to the highest bidder hundreds of miles away.

Each figure holds an item referencing their own expertise prior to being enslaved. On every back is a four-line poem highlighting their African name, their generic European name and a positive statement about who they were.

These figures are seemingly scattered randomly throughout the whole art gallery, but if you look closely you will see Himid has cleverly placed each one next to an established artwork from centuries before, highlighting links and asking questions of the viewer. Look out for the dog in a traditional 18th Century hunting painting, or the drum in a scene of decadence or the opulent pottery in a display case in the centre of the room. Like a Kaleidoscope, this approach presents each topic anew and encourages the viewer to look again.

This brings us nicely onto the Kaleidoscope exhibition. ‘To look through the simple cylindrical form of a kaleidoscope is to find a complex sequence of colour shape and form. With repeated twists of the lens, the kaleidoscope offers multiple perspectives in two or three dimensions’ according to the brochure and this is exactly what both exhibitions do.

‘Kaleidoscope: Colour and Sequence in 1960s British Art uses work from the ACE collection augmented by National Museums Liverpool collection to ‘survey’ a seismic change in art at the time. Clearly illustrating the shift from easily recognisable painterly images to strong simplified statements, reducing topics to their very essence using bold colours, geometric shapes, repetition and manmade fabrics.

The artists displayed in this exhibition went to great lengths to distance themselves from the brushstroke of the painter, using industrial techniques and materials to create glossy, unfettered finishes like David Annesley ‘Blue Ring’ 1966, reminiscent of Leonardo Davinci’s The Vitruvian Man, 1490 without any of the detail. It is like a suggestion, a murmur, an echo, but at the same time, very solid and grounded and rooted firmly to the floor.

There is no disputing that this is is a very visually stunning exhibition.

Beth’s favourite exhibit is Kim Lim’s ‘Candy 1965’. Her lyrical description: ‘it’s close to the ground, not monumental, it’s placed in the centre of the room and needs space to breathe – it demands respect’.  I love her enthusiasm. This piece doesn’t move me in the same way, but I can appreciate the soothing simplicity of it.

She goes on to tell me that it was Sir Anthony Caro who pioneered removing plinths from sculptures to create freedom in his works. Caro also used stainless steel and industrial processes to achieve this, like his seemingly dancing sculpture ‘Slow movement 1965’ recreating the sense of big bold colours more frequently found in paintings. Such paintings as Bridget Riley’s spectacular ‘Cataract 3’ where her geometric shapes and bold colours cleverly create the illusion of movement on the canvas. I can’t look at this picture for more than a few seconds without it changing before my very eyes.

Another sculptor Tim Scott, frustrated by the limitation of paint, uses fibreglass to create ‘Quinquereme 1966’ and introduces Perspex, fibreglass and acrylic sheeting to bring in the colour aspect. Sculpture on a grand scale, reminiscent of Roman Galley ships, giving the illusion of continuing through the floor of the gallery to the next level.

Grounding all these exhibits is ‘Heap 4’ by Barry Flanagan. This work seems an anomaly here as it is not as rigid as the other sculptures. Instead it is hand stitched hessian filled with sand and rooted to the ground by gravity. It is in fact a lovely work to end on and makes you wonder what comes next…

This touring exhibition has already been to Warwick, Nottingham and the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in Wakefield. The final leg of this collection’s journey is right here in Liverpool, so it will be your last chance to see it. It is worth a look, and I would encourage you to take a little extra time to see Lubaina Himid’s work just across the hall as well.

If you feel like lingering even longer then National Museums Liverpool have provided immersive learning spaces for both exhibitions and these are not just for children, you will find a whole variety of books and resources to explore. And who knows, maybe it will inspire you to create your own artwork?

Kaleidoscope: Colour and Sequence in 1960s British Art runs from 24 February – 3 June 2018

Lubaina Himid’s Meticulous Observations and Naming the Money ends 18 March 2018