Shelagh Wakely at Camden Arts Centre

Filed in Reviews by on August 7, 2014

Shelagh Wakely: A View from a Window

Camden Arts Centre

Until 28 September 2014

shelaghwakelymahal

A View from a Window at the Camden Arts Centre shows a broad selection of Shelagh Wakely’s work including ceramics, video’s, floor pieces, drawings and paintings. These are displayed on low plinths, in glass cases, on the floor, or hung on the wall. In the garden ‘conversation pieces’ by Richard Deacon, Tunga, Susan Hiller and other artists are shown.

At first her work looks like a research in to the formal qualities of different materials. For example, the different ways of portraying a bowl. Learning more about her working method, it becomes clear that each artwork functions as a vessel for immaterial things such as loss, memory, ephemerality and desire. The origin of the bowl-works was in fact a very personal encounter Wakely had in a garden. Of this encounter she only had a picture of an urn left. She then made a cast of a bowl’s inside and outside, and discarded the bowl itself. What was left was not the original bowl but the absence of the bowl made visible. She was also interested in the way some things seem to overflow its edges into a different space, like perfume, or when looking through a piece of glass. The title of the exhibition refers to this idea of overflowing edges. In A View from a Window the world according to Shelagh Wakely is shown.

Wakely’s work is most of all an intimate exploration of the world directly around her. She grew up in the Lake District, studied agriculture and travelled to Brazil, Pakistan and Ghana. Throughout her career nature was an important source of inspiration. She had also worked as a textile designer of which the cut-out works are a reminder. In her art she often used all sorts of readily to hand materials including kitchen utensils, wine glasses, leaves and fruit. The exhibition even shows a work made of ringlets of hair. She also used precious and luxurious materials such as gold leaf, silk and turmeric. The latter being beautifully displayed in one of the galleries as the recreated Curcuma sul Travertino (1991). The spice is, by use of stencils, laid out on the floor in a baroque, floral pattern. The work feels luscious and exotic and perhaps a little cold on the wooden floor as it was made for a travertine stone floor in Rome.

Each work in the exhibition shows refinement, intentionality and the delicate touch of the artist. From the thin pinch-bowls to the gold leaf covered fruit (a beautiful metaphor for her own ageing) and from the exploratory drawings to the little metal wire sculptures. Some can be experienced as sensual which has mostly to do with touch and smell. The bowls are so carefully pinched, the silk is so soft. The turmeric’s smell invading, the locks of hair so intimate. The works are presented in different ways, sometimes inside a glass case, sometimes outside. Three rooms are focused on a single theme and the other rooms are more of an exploration. With the wide variety of works that are shown, I can imagine it is very difficult to make a coherent exhibition. Camden Arts Centre did just so, without taking away any of the strength of the individual pieces.

A View from a Window is a great overview of the body of work of the artist. Through the intimacy and honesty of the work, I got a view into the world of Shelagh Wakely the artist and person.

She passed away in 2011.

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Mahal De Man

About the Author ()

Mahal de Man is a Dutch artist and graduated at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague. In November 2013 she moved to London.

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