Review: Trapped in the Image: West Kirby Arts Centre

Jacob Gourley and Stephen Nulty’s exhibition – Trapped in the Image
on exhibition throughout February 2018
at West Kirby Arts Centre

Words, Trevor Smith (Visiting Writer)

If January and February are any indication, then it looks like an exciting year is in prospect for West Kirby Arts Centre. Along with an extensive range of daytime classes, courses and events, there is also an ambitious schedule of art exhibitions and musical performances.

Currently there is a prestigious exhibition, “Trapped in the Image”, by two young painters, Jacob Gourley and Stephen Nulty. This show is now open and runs throughout February.

First impressions are that this is the standard of exhibition that WKAC should be attracting and hosting. The works on display demonstrate an impressive quality and confidence that both entertains and challenges. Overall, the two artists’ contrasting subject matter and styles combine to form a complimentary and cohesive show.

Jacob Gourley’s a recent graduate from the University of Gloucester with 1st Class honours, Jacob also has been awarded a scholarship to study at the British School of Art in Rome.

For this show he has produced an impressive display of large canvases that reflect classical themes, myths and figures. A consistent feature of these images is his confident handling of bold colour. The deep reds and golds of these works reflect the influence of such artists as Rothko and, in particular, Francis Bacon. Bacon fans will have much to enjoy here. The mysterious interiors are populated by dramatic figures that partially emerge and recede into the intriguing spaces. The layered references to ancient mythical figures, Echo and Narcissus, for example, constantly demonstrate the artist’s admiration for classicism. Overall, it is a bold attempt to combine ancient themes and modern techniques.

However, for me, the highlight of Jacob’s works is a triptych entitled “Connection”, the most recently completed of his paintings. It shows commuters travelling on public transport. This is a very different theme to his other paintings and has a contrasting colour scheme. The vermillion interiors are replaced here by a more sedate palette, dominated by greens and greys.

Jacob’s intentions are immediately obvious in this work. It clearly portrays the way that commuters seek to isolate themselves within very public, often crowded, circumstances. The travellers in this work are using technology to create safe personal spaces for themselves. By connecting to the Internet, to their friends via text messages and to their personal music play lists, they are effectively disconnecting themselves from a socially awkward situation.

These characters are not depicted in any form of negative way; it would be tempting to portray them as unhappy or dehumanised individuals. Instead they appear rather serene and accepting of their circumstances. Fellow commuters are subtly featured as mere reflections, present but not obvious.

Stephen Nulty’s paintings also invite us to explore comparisons. He too has recently graduated from Gloucester with a 1st Class honours and was awarded £1000 for his degree show piece.

In Stephen’s case the comparisons exist between reality and non-reality. He combines the visual grammar of the virtual world with the very real world of existing violent conflicts. Much of his graphic imagery and symbols are directly borrowed from the world of digital gaming. Stephen explores relationships that exist between the extreme, artificial violence of this popular media and the visceral, real violence of combat and conflict.

He recognises our de-sensitisation to violence in the digital age and holds it up as a mirror to the fierce confrontations that are raging in real time. By using framing devices, soundbites, interface graphics, diagrams, maps and stencils, he reinforces the notion that this is not reality. He employs a muted palette of harmonious lavenders, greys, pinks and sand that belies the violence implied within the canvases.

There are some nice visual puns here also. The works are punctuated with numbers that both indicate a gamer’s score and also allude to aggregations of casualties. His multi-layered, multi-media works also remind one of the ground breaking artwork of modern graphic novels. In particular the art of David Mack has similar resonances and techniques.

All in all, this represents an impressive display of paintings by two young artists of potential. The show runs until the end of February and I wholeheartedly recommend a visit.


The arts centre is a busy place constantly in use so we have identified some times other than before gigs when the exhibition will be available for viewing:-

Monday 18.00-19.00
Tuesday 16.00-18.30
Wednesday 13.00-15.00 and 16.00-19.00
Thursday 14.00-18.30
Friday call to check viewing times available
Saturday 11.00-13.00
Sunday 10.00-15.00
Call 07484 537 502 or email to check if you are making a special trip.

About the author:

Trevor Smith was awarded a Fine Art Degree in painting from Birmingham, in 1976. He now lives in West Kirby following a teaching career in Liverpool schools. Trevor Retired in 2012 as Head of Arts Faculty in the North Liverpool Academy in Anfield, listing exhibitions at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham and Bluecoat Gallery in Liverpool amongst his key artistic achievements