THE GALLERY: SPRING 2016 SHOW
“I think there is something very raw about Spanish creativity and design,” says Rita Britton as she considers Florit Nin’s enormous, stretched canvasses and teeny-tiny, framed artworks that dominate the top floor gallery. “I can remember, years ago, when Franco’s rule ended — it was as if somebody had pulled a plug, and all that raw Spanish creativity just flowed out.”
With their rusty markings, industrial colour palette and bold use of the human head as a leitmotif, that unmistakable Spanish energy is evident in Nin’s paintings. “I think that he captures that sense of bleak romance that is there in all great Spanish art,” says Britton. “Think about Goya’s The Third of May, 1808 in Madrid where the guy is getting executed by a French rifle squad, and Picasso’s Guernica. It’s all powerful stuff.”
And so here, Nin’s heads have a military helmet-shaped mass of jumbled letters (blindness to the politicised system of media brainwashing or the confusion of stressful overload?) or a Lord Voldemort-esque visage, the neck cracked and creeping with something vaguely sinister.
But there is also a sensuality to Nin’s work that makes you want to reach out and stroke his bald headed subject matter or to touch the natural forms (leaves, flowers, buds) that recur in his smaller works. “He obviously loves drawing faces,” says Britton of the artist who has become an icon of the Menorcan and Mallorcan culture scene and whose work is part of official Balearic art collections. “Florit Nin himself is handsome with a really smiley face; and his studio is surrounded by farmland where there are pigs and chickens running around.”
For a split second, Britton drifts off to this rural Spanish idyll like some wannabe Shirley Valentine before suddenly landing back in the here-and-now of Barnsley: “I like the Spanish men. You know I could fall in love with a Spaniard but never an Italian.”
Like all successful art, the work of internationally acclaimed ceramicist Ashraf Hanna fires up the belly of the imagination. Within his pots — organic-shaped vessels that have both precise edges and pregnant bulges — you can see collapsed plastic-bag forms, laundry liquid-bottle shapes, and the colours of a bleak winter giving way to the acidic yellow-greens of Spring.
“I first fell in love with Ashraf’s work about 7 or 8 years ago when he was part of a Crafts Council exhibition,” says David Sinclair, Exhibitions Curator at Barnsley’s Civic Gallery, who has introduced Hanna to The Tobacco Warehouse. “I love the shapes, the textures, the simplicity. I think his work is exquisite.”
Born in Egypt and now based in Pembrokeshire, Hanna’s recent body of work focusses on creating objects with changing profiles; the interaction between sharp and fluid lines creating subtle and sometimes pronounced curves that make you look twice. “I think his style is out there on its own but he is part of a strong group of ceramic artists and potters who are very innovative and who are producing exciting work,” continues Sinclair. “It’s wonderful to have him show here in Barnsley. Why should people have to travel to London to see great ceramic art of an international quality?”
Hanna’s own journey to ceramist stardom started when he began experimenting with clay after graduating from Central St Martin’s College in 1991 with a degree in Theatre Design. Seven years later, Hanna set up his own ceramics studio and went on to complete his MA at the Royal College of Art. “Ashraf’s ceramics look very fragile but they are robust vessels,” says Sinclair of the pieces which range from £150 to £6000 in price. “I think it’s about time people started investing in art such as Ashraf’s because no only is it beautiful but it’s also a pension.”
Okay, so the pieces on offer from the Dyehouse collective are not art per se but they certainly pack an artistic punch when it comes to design and craftsmanship. This small range of wooden furniture, metal garden accoutrements and decorative objects for the home is the brainchild of Mark Lee and his team at ONE17, the innovative architectural and interior design practice located just outside of Huddersfield.
“I’ve been keeping an eye on ONE17’s residential and commercial projects for some time now, and this introduction of a homeware range is exciting news” says ONE17 fan and design aficionado Samuel Clark. “If you can’t afford one of their signature light-filled spaces with golden oak flooring and warm stone exterior, then you just might be able to treat yourself to a table or a hanging wooden ornament from their Dyehouse range.”
And who wouldn’t want to treat themselves to Dyehouse’s FOS coffee table-cum-domestic sculpture, its blackened steel folded frame encasing an air-dried oak box which appears to float; or one of their STOR, TALUS or KLINT stools hewn from a single block of oak, and with optional bronze handles?
“When interior design has fallen victim to fashion trends and the IKEA phenomenon, the Dyehouse collection feels solid and timeless but totally contemporary,” says Clark who confesses to having scrapped his garden design plans in order to be able to accommodate one of their steel SCOWLE fire pits (£725). “Bugger the decking and box topiary! I’m going to grow a beard and sit around the fire pit in my garden. Bear Grylls, eat your heart out!”