Hegelian Biscuits in a Rich Port Solitude – a visit to the Wilson Gallery

“Comedy noses are ground down over six months producing a kind of mince”.

The menu hangs on a Cheltenham wall, this is the sort of town you’d expect exclusive cuisine.

“mark of the beast under a greasy scalp in an unbearably thick sauce”.

Sadly, for the gourmand seeking new, exotic and disgusting meals, the encased menu is in an art gallery, not outside an eaterie and so the meals can only digested in your imagination.
The Swallow Seed Menu by Colin Lowe and Roddy Thomson, a satire on bad social habits with a grand side serving of Pythonesque preposterousness.

This is part of The Last Word in Art exhibition at the Wilson Museum and Art Gallery. Fortunately, despite being about the use of words in art, it is not one of those exhibitions that you would prefer was a book.

Two Magritte inspired works, Darren Lago’s This is Not a Pipe Hairdryer and Anthony Earnshaw’s Spoilsport, in which a fly rests on the soap bubble emanating from a pipe. Composition by Roger Midy-Chapelain, a painter and set designer, made me think of the films of Powell and Pressburger, surely the greatest imagination to have been let loose in the mainstream of the British film industry.

The collages of Richard Hamilton, a kitschy collage catalogue interior, and JG Ballard favourite, Eduardo Paolozzi, one of Moonstrip Empire news, are present as well as an early David Hockney, My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean. A far cry from his most famous works, I think I liked it more than them as it reminded me of something caught between Spike Milligan and Ralph Steadman.

I thought I was first aware of Richard Hamilton when I used to relentlessly adore the Paladin and Picador carousel in my university bookshop. The cover of What a Man’s Gotta Do, Anthony Easthope’s book on the myth of masculinity in popular culture, was Hamilton’s Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, so Appealing? But now I look back, and it wasn’t at all. A collage of Jane Russell, beefcake men and jolly green giants. The memory is a precarious thing.

I could have spent the rest of the afternoon reading Fiona Banner’s The Desert, a wall covering canvas with her written description of David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia. Just as I like Geoff Dyer’s Zona, a book describing Stalker, I liked this, but I didn’t get to the end, and that might be true of the film, too.

I knew nothing of Jane Urquhart until today, then I saw Britannia.

Her life was short and damned by mental and physical illness, and she is not a Canadian poet and author, so wikipedia was no help and the internet offered no more than the picture I have seen, I might have to resort to asking a human. (is she another of the near forgotten female artists?)

Jeremy Deller’s work, Uses of Literacy, named after Richard Hoggart’s vital book that helped changed our understanding of pop culture, is a collection of fan art and memorabilia based on library celebrants, The Manic Street Preachers.

Below Art is the Word, there is a room of  enchantment, the finalists in for the Cheltenham Illustration Prize.
There was nothing I wouldn’t like to have on my wall here, in particular Helena Perez Garcia’s images of identities built and stripped.

My muddle-handed pencil scribbling means I can no longer read who drew the beautiful anteaters. (Fortunately. the book of the illustration awards has arrived, so I can tell you that the anteaters are the work of Rosanna Tasker. was also taken by Stephen Collins Modern Manners strip cartoons, Zoe Scammell’s The Little Dog Laughed and Jana Walczyk’s Do You Know the Feeling. In fact, pretty much everything in the exhibition. I recommend Tales of Nonsense, the book that compiles it all)

I thought I had finished the museum, just one room of practical and beautiful furniture from the 19th century, and then I found it led into a wide selection of painting, crockery and stories. I particularly liked the display cabinet which looked like art deco, wooden “iron lungs”.
A possible first on my tours of regional galleries, but there was no LS Lowry, but there was a Stanley Spencer (Village Life). Henry Tonks’ Two Girls in a Boat brought up imaginings of a same sex Thérèse Raquin, Zola’s masterpiece of lust, murder and guilt.

And Frank Cadogan Cowper’s The Ugly Duckling was accompanied by a warm story from the model, then a teenage working behind a shop counter, now a pensioner, explaining the importance of the painting and the painter.
“Mr Cadogan Cowper did so much for me in terms of self-confidence, self-worth, and to see myself as a valuable person”.
This story seemed a good place to end my visit, an upbeat finale.

Dead Funny Encore, with ghost stories by Stewart Lee, Alice Lowe, Isy Suttie, Alan Moore and plenty more, is available now.

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1 Response to Hegelian Biscuits in a Rich Port Solitude – a visit to the Wilson Gallery

  1. Pingback: In pastels, oil paints and struck marble, I see hope – favourite exhibitions of 2017 | Robinince's Blog

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