As I approached the gallery, I wondered if there would be any comments on my Martin Parr tote bag; Parr is not a favourite among OCA students and staff probably because he is more of a documentary photographer than an art photographer though some might question that. No one notices my tote bag in the end. The cup of tea imprinted on its’ side does not attract the degree of attention the bright colours of my Hockney bag frequently does!!
Showcase which marks 30 years of The Open College of the Arts is an exhibition about different approaches to art such as textiles, creative writing and of course painting. Photography is another pathway the college offers and yet here there is room for debate since the debate about photography and art still lingers … not as to whether it is art rather whether it meant to be art in the first place! Photography for photography’s sake rather than for arts’ sake; at the OCA it appears to be towards the latter! (another view open to being contested)
Perhaps the most striking aspect of this exhibition is that the white walls remain white. There are no paintings or photographs hung from their walls.
I find my exhibited photograph in the corner of a display box. It is a Vermeer reconstruction of the Milkmaid that won an OCA competition back in 2009. The archival sleeve has been removed which is disappointing because not only is it there for protection, it is part of the “art-object” giving the print acutance. Surprisingly, it is the only straight photographic print in the exhibition!
There are other photographs but these are projected onto a wall. The work of different students is featured here such as images by Jonathan Hall who has photographed people in the street; most of the people featured are blurred yet in the foreground are one or more figures more clear defined. This still-moving contrast helps to give the work substance.
Anthony Carey is an artist whose work is also projected here. This is perhaps some of the most striking work on show. Essentially it is a collaborative project as he asked people to make marks on paper, to fill in between the dots, with the result that 163 different designs emerged; these have also been combined to create further designs and the main artwork is a row of transparent frames on which the designs have been etched and placed alongside each other in a wooden support. Carey has also produced a couple of publications to support this.
There are a number of artists’ books lined up on shelves. Some of these contain watercolours. The one that interests me most is by an OCA friend called Dorothy who in her early 90’s is the OCA’s oldest student. Her pathway involves drawing and book design. This little book of sketches is titled “quickies and shapes”
Another art book that grabs my attention is made of cloth. The pages are stitched together and remind me of what many consider to be the first photo book of cyanotypes by Anna Atkins.
There is more artwork on show but the evening is not just about seeing art, it is also about talking art as tutors are present. I recognise OCA tutor Bryan Eccleshall but cannot remember his name or where from; it turns out to be the Georgia O’Keefe exhibition study visit. We discuss Hockney and his validity as a painter as well as his contribution to photography! Another topic of conversation was the need for theory to arise from practice rather than on it’s own.
It is good to connect with the OCA world; some might prefer to use the word family yet for me it is not that intimate.