“Prepare to be dazzled”
Walking through the doorway into Unexpected Excesses (an exhibition of work from Jan Knibbs and Lizz Watts), my immediate impression was a riot of colour, texture and form. However, thankfully Watts was there to guide us through the collection and how it was created.
One of the most striking pieces, a framed collage called The Return, juxtaposes broken ceramic teapots with papier mache flowers, which appear to grow from the ground in which the pottery has fallen, representing the circle of life. It was full of vibrancy and energy, and a great example of the vivid style of the work on show.
In talking to Watts about her pieces, she revealed that she likes her work to develop organically. She may start off with an idea but at some point it develops a life of its own, and many pieces tell a story. A favorite theme is nature and the changing seasons. A particularly impressive vase with a group of swans’ necks curving from the lip was always intended to be connected to swans thematically, but the final form they took in the piece was completely organic and unplanned. There are certainly no two pieces alike.
The clothes, hats, shoes and other gloriously opulent and embroidered textiles by Jan Knibbs were displayed on mannequins and elsewhere scattered through the exhibition, the effect combining gracefully with the ceramics.The philosophy behind both the textile and ceramic creations is concerned with practicality as well as being stunning to look at: the clothes and shoes are wearable, the bowls and vases usable.
What really makes this exhibition special is that it is both interactive and experiential. Not only are visitors able to talk to the artists but they are also positively encouraged to handle the pieces, feel them and examine them closely. In doing this it can be a pleasant surprise to find a continuation of the decorative motif on the inside or throughout pieces, as well just on the surface. On top of this, when I visited, a harpist (Bianca Watts) appeared and played for us to give an added layer of decadence, and I was lucky enough to be given a glass of Prosecco to enrich my Sunday afternoon with further “unexpected excess”. If that weren’t enough, visitors are invited to contribute a few lines to a daily poem, started by poet in residence Dawn Gorman, in order to really become part of the work.
As one might expect, this exhibition is an extravagant, beautiful and seemingly chaotic collection of work. Yet there was a real cohesion to it – the ceramics complemented the textiles, and all the added extras fit perfectly into the overall theme. On close examination there were many hidden treasures: ribbons at the back of dresses, decoration inside pots, and lots of small details that made me want to keep examining every piece further. The atmosphere in the room was intimate and relaxed without feeling stuffy or overpowering.
This exhibition is called Unexpected Excesses, and it’s easy to understand that some visitors may see the room, and indeed some of the pieces in it, as too much, too ornate, a gilded lily. But whether it’s your personal taste or not, it’s definitely worth experiencing. There is a varied programme of guest artists and things going on, from poetry to music, as well the incredible art on display. Check the programme before planning your visit, or just turn up and prepare to be dazzled.
Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 16 August)
Visit the Other archive.
Photo credits: Bill Johnston