As is painting, so is poetry

Pequod/Princess Alice (2008) Ink on paper, copyright David Steans

Pequod/Princess Alice (2008) Ink on paper, copyright David Steans

Rating: * * * *

Unlike previous exhibition Place Making, the Norman Rea Gallery’s new show, As is Painting, so is poetry boasts a youthful energy more suited to a University Art Gallery. Curator and show creator Beth Walton’s first solo exhibition as the title (a quote from Horace) suggests aims to explore the “relationship between written language and visual communication, both its harmony and contention” through ten sets of up-and-coming British artists.

It becomes obvious that the majority of the work throughout this exhibition is illustrative, creating a key link between text and image. As children we grow up with illustration as a medium for storytelling, progressing from picture books as small children to reading the images on book covers as we age, as Horace suggests; illustration is poetry in itself. However the numerous illustrations featured in this exhibition are not aimed towards children, in some cases the subject matter being more mature than the method of working would initially suggest. However, this is part of the joy of this work; the need to look closely at an image allows the viewer to form their own ideas behind how text and image are linked within the individual work.

As with many exhibitions, some pieces do appear lost alongside others. This is the case with the work of The Nous Vous Collective, whose pale drawings seem to vanish next to Amelia Crouch’s bold monochrome canvasses. However, Beth has arranged the show so that each set of work is different from the last, thus keeping the feel of the show vibrant and fresh. Layout-wise, it is best to begin with the first piece in the back left corner, and then work around the room, paying close attention to each item so that none are missed out, rather than standing back and viewing the exhibition as a whole.

With the diversity the show offers it is difficult to suggest its highlights. Here is a case where individual preference will form the basis of how the exhibition is received. Personally, it is the work of Nicolar Bell that stands out, and this is perhaps partly due to the context in which these drawings were created. Currently travelling around South East Asia, Bell has drawn these charming illustrations en route, sending them back to Britain from exotic destinations directly to the Curator to be exhibited in the gallery. It is perhaps these little touches that make this exhibition special, and when combined with a theme that runs clearly through the whole show, we can be sure that much thought has gone into the choice of artists and the way the show has been hung.

With three weeks left, there is plenty of time to visit and make your own mind up about the exhibition. Does the chosen artwork succeed or fail in investigating the link between visual communication and the written word? Either way As is painting, so is poetry is one exhibition to visit for the eclectic mix of artists, here it is difficult to get bored when there is always something different to see. If Beth Walton’s curatorial role is to be judged on this exhibition, then her future is likely to be as bright as that of the artists she has included in this show.

As is painting, so is poetry will be showing at the Norman Rea Gallery until 12 February 2010

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