Art as an identity

I have been reviewing art and craft for the Artists Open Houses as part of the Brighton Festival and Fringe Festival. There are quite a few of us volunteer reviewers who were allocated certain trails. This was great because it meant we would encounter a variety of houses, without having self-selected the places, which would have been subject to our taste(s).

In one of the houses, ceramic butterflies and birds were displayed on a wall as part of an initiative for those with learning disabilities. The brief read that the artists are aiming for a ‘collective identity’ – the works are rustic, with lots of colour. When I say ‘rustic’, I mean rough around the edges. The question of is it art or craft and how are we to review this came to my mind.

The same occurred in a venue with many more items made by people with learning difficulties. The two venues couldn’t be more different, yet carried a similar message: See beauty in places where you may not expect it. I found that the pieces made by artists with cognitive challenges are a) incredibly varied and b) surprisingly beautiful.

The Montefiore Artists’ Collective are part of the Grace Eyre charity, who help people with learning disabilities. I was welcomed by Anne who sat by still life photography, who asked me if I wanted a cup of tea. It was cold outside, so I did (£1) at the indoor Angel Cake Café. The people involved with the charity also organise plays with their group Grace Enders. As I sipped tea, I checked the displays. There were two spectacular painted mosaics of Brighton and of a dragon by Maurice Wilson, prints on linen, framed abstract art (stencil print and colograph print) and papier mâché puppets.

The church was light and the exhibition colourful.  I was especially taken by the mosaic ceramic tiles, each sold separately. There were plant pots and other items with mosaic detail for sale too. I also spotted a story book “A caterpillar called girlfriend and other stories” with limericks, stories and poems. The team were very friendly and evidently committed.

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So, did my surprise show I had made some assumptions? No, I didn’t have any before I came to this venue. But yes, once there, I could recognise works that were simply lovely and then there was art that was genuinely beautiful. I want to highlight this because the church was empty and when I went to the next house, two streets further, with, if you like, ‘proper’ art, it was full. That is unfortunate for any visitor to the Seven Dials trail who decided to skip house 9 and go to house 8, almost next door. The Sunday experience of the 3 venues was exactly so inspiring and memorable because they were so different. ‘Proper’ craft after proper craft the brain couldn’t cope with, but this made an impact to all the senses.

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