In Around Oxford Art Galleries – March 2022

This Friday afternoon, the sun was a giant spotlight shining on North Parade; illuminating the silhouette of pedestrians queuing for fresh sourdough, bags of figs and sprouting purple broccoli in front of 2 North Parade Produce. Through the window of the Meakin + Parsons Gallery opposite, rays of sunlight illuminated a quadrangle of brightly colored works on paper mounted on floats in white frames; a mosaic of ochre, cyan and magenta circles dancing on joyful grounds of pink, purple and cerulean. They reminded me of nautical flags; badges of an alternate reality that could herald a new wave.

These works, by London-based artist Dominic Beattie, are titled Glyph – a term loosely referring to any type of intentional mark, such as an incised vertical line on a building or a sculpted symbol. Admired for his fluid manipulation of color, developed in patterns across a wide range of media, these paintings suggest a sort of shift for the artist, from the hard edge to a more free and elliptical style. It is this memory, of walking towards the works of Beattie on a sunny afternoon, that comes to mind when I start writing this article, at a time that seems completely different. Right now, with my fingers hovering over my keyboard, I’m thinking a lot about useful flags and marks. I wonder how to frame this story of a fantastic new collaborative gallery in Oxford, which celebrates emerging talent alongside some of the best names in abstract art, without ignoring the harrowing live stream of news and the fight to our neighbor for freedom. What, if anything, can art do to help?

Emily Wolfe (Fog, 2021, Oil on linen)

My mind reminds me of an image from his image store, The Black Square, by Kazimir Malevitch. Born in Kyiv (1879 – 1935), the avant-garde Ukrainian artist and theorist profoundly influenced the evolution of abstraction and expressionism in the last century. This work, which he painted three times, became known as “point zero of painting” or “an impassable line between old and new art” for the way it drew a line between realism and expressionism. In a way, Malevich’s life mirrors the tumultuous decades following the October Revolution (1917): initially praised for his extremely radical vision, the artist was eventually forced out of his abstract business, after his imprisonment . His iconic black square (now cracked) was confiscated and hidden for 50 years under Stalin’s rule. Currently housed at the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, his work foreshadows the terrible consequences of censorship and fake news.

It’s something we take for granted here in the West, our abundant freedom of speech and permission to speak truth to power. And yet, precisely because it is displayed so euphorically in this bright new gallery, I will tell you this wonderful and heartwarming story. Not only is it a huge privilege to have something so upbeat and inclusive open to the public, but now, more than ever, we need to support the arts. So ‘Here We Go’ let’s talk about Meakin + Parsons and their inaugural exhibition at 16 North Parade, featuring Carl Anderson, Dominic Beattie, Christopher Brooks, Ham Darroch, Ann-Marie James, Jillian Knipe, Anna Liber Lewis, Zanny Mellor, Barbara Nicholls, Charley Peters, Bridget Riley, Toby Twiss, Robin Walden, Eleanor May Watson and Emily Wolfe.

Building on the success of their showroom in West Oxfordshire, established in 2018 to exhibit modern and contemporary art, this new iteration for the gallery sees the addition of a new partner: Hannah Payne of The Art Five. Under the direction of Lucy Meakin, the company will offer an integrated consultancy service, working with private clients to establish and manage their collections, “a model that allows us to both think local and act globally”. Meanwhile, Ben Parsons – also VIP Director of London Art Fair – will focus on the modern and contemporary programme, alongside the gallery’s strong secondary market activity and in ongoing conversation with The Art Five.

In many ways, this new gallery was born out of a different kind of hardship: the pandemic. Locked out of galleries and confined to our homes, so many artists and art professionals have lost access to the ecology that sustained them. “I said goodbye to everyone at work on a Friday and didn’t set foot in the gallery or see my co-workers for another year,” says Payne. Not only did his old gallery remain closed during the initial lockdown, there were few opportunities to go on private tours and stay in touch with his tribe. Formally trained as an artist, starting at the North Oxfordshire School of Art & Design School and completing her MA at Central St Martins, Payne belonged to a community of artists, curators and art dealers. “I really missed going to vernissages, where you would have five minutes with artists and find out what they were thinking and working on. So I thought why not just make an interview platform and make it a 5 minute read…and just like that, The Art 5 was born. Characteristic of the flexible, adaptive and open-minded attitude of the creative sector – think Matthew Burrows Artist Support Pledge, online viewing rooms and Insta Lives – it is by finding another way to keep the conversation going that Hannah secured a future not just for herself. curator, but for the many artists with whom she has worked.

Ben Parson

Anna Liber Lewis No series, 2022 Pastel

“Ben and I have spent our lives traveling to London,” says Hannah. “It is a regional gallery model that reflects the general post-pandemic movement out of city centers and an openness to collaboration. I worked with unrepresented, unrecognized or emerging artists, as well as being on the advisory board of Made in Arts London at University of the Arts London; Prior to establishing his own gallery, Ben spent nearly 10 years managing Karsten Schubert who represented some of the biggest names in contemporary art, including Bridget Riley.

We stop talking and stare at the blue, red, and pink ribbons waving on the wall. There is the unmistakable ripple of simultaneous contrast, the triune signature of Bridget Riley’s colors. Still working at 91, she is unequivocally Britain’s greatest living op artist. Singing alongside the works of Beattie on the left, this limited-edition print (yes, that means we might be able to afford it) had been placed in dialogue with the large painting by Ham Darroch at the back of the gallery . Once Riley’s studio assistant, Darroch has developed his own style and practice. Occupying a central position in the space, this painting was for me like a giant badge of honor. I mean, how do you turn the simple combination of candy pink and warm caramel into such a well-balanced composition with nothing but the hard edge of a zigzag? Also the biggest work in the show, instead of overwhelming the other works, it kind of served to amplify their individual message. Charley Peters’ work seemed driven by electricity and I was delighted to discover Anna Liber Lewis’ work.

Crucially, while showcasing the work of prominent figures to watch alongside established names, the space has not – as is often the case in regional spaces – been overlooked. “We wanted to be really confident with the individual works, and not overcrowd the walls, but also keep a warm, domestic feel to the space by including the seating and this coffee table. We want people to come in, experience the work, talk about what they love and are part of our story. With this in mind, the Meakin + Parson gallery also includes an artist studio dedicated to a series of artist residencies that will be followed by solo exhibitions. The first is Oxford-based Emily Wolfe whose ethereal, multi-layered landscape paintings give voice to our environmental melancholy and question our connection to nature.

As Hannah speaks, my eyes return to the bright yellow sun at the center of No Series 1, a pastel drawing that beautifully encapsulates the power of positive resistance, incorporating the letters ‘N’ and ‘O’ into one deliciously balanced. . A work that engages in the “me too” debate by subtly questioning the politics of appropriation, it offers the viewer a new perspective on two very small, but important letters. Sometimes it’s OK, and actually really nice to say “NO”, especially when someone is threatening to block your light and turn off your little one.

square of luminosity in a dark nothingness. And while this work is unlikely to be confiscated or the artist imprisoned for taking a stand, it celebrates the power of abstraction to express a unique, personal and often inspiring point of view.

“In curating a very special selection of works by Bridget Riley for the upcoming show,” says Ben Parsons, “I am thrilled with how our collaborative program with The Art Five gives us the opportunity to identify and position talents in the context of established artists, while highlighting how dynamic and deep the conversation between them and us can be.

“Here We Go” will be followed by a series of solo exhibitions, the first being a Bridget Riley print exhibition in March 2022. Check it out! – Nico Kos Earle Independent Curator/Writer

Top photo: Bridget Riley (Red Red Blue, 2010, Screenprint in 3 colors edition of 75) and Dominic Beattie (Glyph (1,2,3,4), 2021, Spray paint and oil pastel on rag paper cotton

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