Arts preview: Painting in Time at The Tetley, Leeds

PIC: James Hardisty

PIC: James Hardisty

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A new exhibition at the Tetley in Leeds explores a variety of approaches to painting by contemporary artists. Yvette Huddleston reports.

Contemporary art can sometimes be regarded – rightly or wrongly – as inaccessible but we are lucky in the region to have several galleries that engage with audiences in an original and exciting way in an attempt to bring new understanding of the form.

A case in point is the current exhibition, Painting in Time, at the Tetley in Leeds which explores the continuing popularity of painting while addressing the question of what the medium constitutes today.

Co-curated by the Tetley’s Zoe Sawyer and Leeds University Phd student Sarah Kate Wilson, the show features works by a range of international artists who are working with paint in such a way as to widen the idea of what painting can be. Exhibits include inflatable paintings, painting machines and paintings that can be handled and reassembled by visitors.

“All the artists in the exhibition are working in the field of painting but they are using paint in different ways or have moved it off the wall, where painting has entered into a conversation with sculpture, film and performance,” says Wilson.

“For example Natasha Kidd has made a machine that pumps paint around the gallery into open-topped paintings. Each painting requires gallery attendants to open or close a valve so that the paintings overflow and drip onto the floor throughout the day. I think of them as live paintings. I am interested in artists whose work continues to evolve after it has left the studio.”

One of the works in the show is a performance piece by Yoko Ono made in 1961 which has been given its own room in the gallery and which invites the audience to follow the artist’s instructions and hammer nails into it.

“Throughout the exhibition it will continue to look different,” says Wilson. “There will be hundreds of nails and I am hoping people will pop in and see it again because things will have altered – it is a living show.”

Artist Claire Ashley’s large-scale works explore the space between sculpture and painting and form the centrepiece of the exhibition in the Tetley’s tall, light and airy atrium space. “They are huge taut sculptural masses,” says Wilson. “They inflate and deflate throughout the day and it is almost like they are breathing – they will be constantly changing and marking time.”

Wilson’s own work will be performed in the gallery twice a day and combines large sequinned paintings with strobe lighting. “Two members of staff will hold the paintings that under the strobe lighting look like they are shaking,” says Wilson. “It almost looks like molten metal.”

Other exhibits include paintings made of loose canvases which are more like fabric and the audience, with the help of gallery attendants, are permitted to remove them from the wall to place them in a different position. Jessica Warboys’ Box Paintings are mobile: situated in space away from the gallery wall, they are freestanding and can be stacked on top of each other or stand next to each other. The artist often refers to her artworks as ‘momentary conclusions.’ 

Many of the works in the show are in an interesting state of flux and some – such as Polly Appleborn’s paintings created out of plasticine and glitter on long trestle tables – will only endure for the length of the exhibition. At the end of it, they will be destroyed.

“All the artists are painting these moments in time,” says Wilson. “The fact that there is the work of so many fantastic artists in Leeds is exciting for me and for the Tetley.”

Throughout the run of the exhibition, the Tetley will be hosting a series of workshops and events with some of the artists featured in the show. These include a family art workshop looking at the different ways in which paintings can be made without making contact with paper, an evening featuring edible and drinkable artworks and the chance to collaborate on a giant group painting.

* Painting in Time is at The Tetley, Leeds until July 5. www.thetetley.org

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