Nottingham Contemporary

A strange thing happened to me on Thursday. On a complete whim I decided to take a train to Nottingham. I had a bit of a walk round and then went to Caffe Nero for a cappuccino. So far so boring. Then I decided to visit a gallery. I’ve never been to Nottingham Contemporary before so I decided to give it a try.

There were two exhibitions on. One was an exhibition of drawings by Alfred Kubin, an Austrian artist and writer who I have never heard of before. He is described as a late Symbolist and all the drawings were made as a young man in the late 19th/early 20th centuries. They are incredibly powerful and predate but are similar to later Surrealist works. This is what the programme notes say:

“Haunting drawings of death, trauma and fantastical creatures inhabiting imaginary worlds sprung from Alfred Kubin’s pen at the beginning of the 20th century. His work, executed in a delicate, atmospheric ink wash technique, anticipated some of the horrors of the First World War, and the following decades, at a time when Europe’s empires were toppling. His exquisite, yet nightmarish black and white drawings came from his own imagination, or from illustrating works by writers like Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Edgar Allan Poe.” I would definitely recommend visiting this exhibition.

The other exhibition was of Francis Upritchard who is a New Zealand artist. At first I couldn’t quite see what her sculptures were aiming at. The more I looked at them though the more it became apparent, helped by the exhibition notes! Again, they are very impressive and quite haunting. I was most impressed by the “Hippies and Holy Fools” section. There seems to be a weariness and almost hopeless feel to them as though it is the last clinging to  a lost ideal. This is what the notes say about it:

“Francis Upritchard’s psychedelically coloured human figures “live” on islands of ornate furniture. There is a festival feeling to their gatherings, emphasised by Upritchard’s acid-bright colours, hand-woven blankets and tie-dyed silks. Upritchard has said “all the things that hippies hoped would happen, or felt might happen, didn’t.” In one sense her exhibition is about the failure of the 1960s and 70s counter-culture that is still celebrated at festivals – and its gaudy, individualistic “alternative” aftermath.”

What really struck me about this exhibition is how close it was to what I’ve been thinking about my own past as I write about it in “My Life In Music” and also what a coincidence it was that I had discovered the exhibition by chance. I’d only just finished writing about how the year of the Woodstock festival had seemed like the end of an era to me. I haven’t referred to any other sources other than my own memories and here I was confronted by my own feelings. Even more astonishing was a talk by James Riley that I saw in the study area of the gallery. In this he speaks about ” the symbolic status of 1969 as a terminal point at which the decade’s earlier optimism gives way to death, violence and ‘bad craziness’.” Almost exactly what I’d been thinking and writing. I came away feeling quite strange and determined to follow up some of the leads he discusses and to continue my own work. It’s taking on an importance I never really intended!

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