The Crowded Room in question is a hay barn at Shatwell Farm in Somerset, and is the latest unusual venture by Matchett & Page. Here is what they say about their inspiration for this exhibition:
“Matchett & Page’s first exhibition A Crowded Room responds to the new status of the crowd in the time of COVID-19. Nationwide and local lockdowns, social isolation and physical distancing have all contributed to the transformation of crowds into uneasy bodies. The desired coming together that these gatherings represent is tempered by the risk that too much too soon will force us back into isolation.
A Crowded Room brings together the work of four artists: Bronwen Bradshaw, Nell Brookfield, Sophie Willoughby and Maddalena Zadra. Scenes recalled from memory and intimately observed touch portraits sit alongside carnivalesque chimeras and bird-head masks. Together this odd company of real and imagined figures creates a surrogate crowd in the space of the gallery.”
The etchings which were chosen for this exhibition stem from a time in my life when theatre was a huge inspiration. All the etchings have a story behind them, which the viewer is invited to imagine; however, I’ll give a few clues here.
The Three Brighdes may not be a theatre piece, but the manner of their making was. A group of women gathered in a small chapel in Glastonbury on St Bridget’s Day, February 1st, to make that year’s Brighde, or Bridget doll (it was the middle one, with a cork for a nose). This ritual was accompanied by wine – hence the cork – and much laughter, as well as serious intent to celebrate Imbolc, the Celtic first day of Spring, and thereby to honour the Irish Saint Bridget, whose chapel it was, and who spent many years at Glastonbury. I drew these three dolls as they later lolled together in Diana Griffith’s caravan at the Dove. This is an etching on copper, and incorporates lift ground, soft ground, open bite and aquatint.
This little etching, or drypoint, was scratched, sandpapered and scraped onto an acrylic sheet, inked up and printed through an etching press. The wedding party was one of many winding up a steep road to a monastery in the Caucasus mountains. The bride and groom were given a rapid blessing, and then the next party would arrive. Georgia has a strong religious tradition, but during the Soviet era weddings were only performed in civic ceremonies. This is how the Georgians got round this.
‘Remembered’ is just that: an image that came from memory. I don’t know who she is or was, but she was very definite, and I enjoyed making the print out of cardboard and various textures stuck together and printed as an etching plate. This technique is known as Collograph.
Tamburlaine the Great was played by Antony Sher at the Globe Theatre in Stratford on Avon some time in the ‘nineties. My daughter Robin and I had queued all night in bitter January weather to get two of the best 100 seats in the house for just £5 each. We were rewarded with middle of the front row seats, and the prowling figure of the tyrant at the front of the apron stage threatened to land in our laps. I dreamed of this image all the following night and quickly jotted it down in the morning. The resulting etching is on zinc, and is a combination of lift ground, aquatint and open bite. A year or two after completing this etching, I saw Antony Sher in a radically different character in an Alan Ayckbourn play at the Savoy, and afterwards went backstage to give him number one of the edition. He is an artist as well as an actor, and his thankyou card said he liked it very much. That pleased me, not because I was flattered (though I was), but because in it he had recognised something of the character he created.
Last, but not least, The Messenger. This was made from a rapid sketch of a lovely carved stone head in the Glastonbury Abbey Museum. It played a leading role in a solo exhibition I had at the Rural Life Museum in Glastonbury, based on a 6 month residency at the Abbey. It is a monoprint, which means each print, though similar, has differences, as it is redrawn each time I print it. This is a fast and often powerful technique that I will be teaching this weekend at a workshop organised by the curators of the exhibition, Kendra Matchett and Matt Page. My huge thanks to them for inviting me to exhibit, and for finding works of mine that I had long forgotten about, and which might well set me off in a new direction.
The exhibition continues this weekend 26/27 September, and the following weekend 3/4 October, or by appointment with the organisers. Please see their website for further details at http://www.matchett.page