Words by Patrick Kirk-Smith
Mark Wardel’s Wild Mutation kicks off the much anticipated Spirit of 76’ exhibition series at The Gallery Liverpool. The series, curated by Duovision’s Martin Green & James Lawler, promised to be a collection of brave statements and bold colours. Mark Wardel’s inaugural show ticked those boxes completely, but for a different reason entirely to what I was expecting to see.
Far from the retro, glazed, expressions of the 70’s that secretly inspire a generation of the 20teen hipsters, Mark Wardel’s exhibition was a clean and modern display of honest personalities. Simple lines, and clean clashing colours created a visual of the 1970s when I stopped to clean my glasses, but with them back on my nose, and a clarified vision, the work was a brilliant precursor to what promises to be a very interesting series.
Wardel’s new adventure into stencilling was an interesting twist on his usual visuals, but held much of the identity of the artist non-the less. It wasn’t that which caught this modern mood though, it was his choice to use subjects that wore everyday expressions. You know the ones, those emotions you pass through on the way to work. They usually come with a fairly blank face, but eyes that could cut through their opponent’s soul. That expression. Quiet and reserved on the outside, but painfully ready for the fight against the day on the inside.
While Mark Wardell’s work is a brilliant opening to Duovision’s series, and a perfect fit in the gallery, the real reason to visit this exhibition is its standing in Liverpool’s history. A history that is happening right now, that was created by the vision of Billy Wilson. A friend to most he met, and a supporter of everyone who needed it.
I have never written something so difficult, and can scarcely believe Billy is no longer with us. His gallery spent its years supporting the outsiders, and quietly helping Liverpool create its own cultural identity. In many cases, he provided the first space an artist could show their work, and in others a space for internationally renowned artists to make a mark in a new city. For me, his impact was simply in welcoming me with open arms to his gallery, and providing unrivalled praise and active support in everything I have done since – gestures I will always remember fondly.
For Art in Liverpool, the support of Billy Wilson has been completely unquantifiable, not least by providing a permanent address for us to reside at his beautiful gallery. The most crucial role he played though was to extend his warmth, without regard for himself, not just to Art in Liverpool, but to artists in Liverpool at all stages in their career.
Mark Wardell’s exhibition is another success for Billy, just as much as its curators, and I’m sure he would have loved the exhibition, but don’t take it from me, get down to Stanhope Street to see this puzzling show that captures the a very specific part of everyone you’ve ever met, and turns them to face you so pensively it can’t help but get your mind racing.
Liverpool will be a harder egg to crack without Billy, but his legacy lives on through his wonderful children, his outstanding gallery, and a series of exhibitions that will continue to be rolled out by Billy’s friends and curators until the end of October 2016. We owe it to him to look on the bright side of life.