Friday, 24 February 2017

Jack Waddington, Give Me Love, Exhibition Review

A distinct sense of overabundance and frantic playfulness fills the space in Jack Waddington's solo exhibition, Give Me Love. Grouped into 'playset' assemblages, each work portrays its own close-knit dialogue between flurries of colourful objects, androgynous polystyrene figures and familiar forms from a typical 90s childhood. Plastic Duplo, Lego, tufty-haired trolls, umbrella sticks, pompoms, toy cars, and an Early Learning Centre penguin figurine, invite the viewer to reminisce about their own materialistic upbringing. Adorned with primitive, onomatopoeic names such as Duk, Stuk and Stik, the 13 pieces on show are diligently stationed to provide a sense of clarity within chaos. Collectively, the works encourage the viewer to meander their way throughout the gallery, whilst examining each piece and its components' detailed conversations individually.

Give Me Love signals the artist's departure from two-dimensional paintings towards more sculptural works. In extending his practice into the three-dimensional arena, Waddington branches out from tightly-composed illustrations to experiment with a world of found objects and figurative creations. This transition provides a viable link between the work and our everyday realities, enabling the viewer to connect more fully with the theme of child's play and the psychological implications of living in an artificial, over-saturated society. In keeping with his earlier paintings, Waddington uses multiple components to create one whole: each work is an assemblage made up of brightly-coloured interlinking parts.

Give Me Love, Installation View, 2017
Child's Play

These multi-part, mixed media works mimic the act of a child at play. Waddington revels in his ability as an artist to separate items from their original settings and to dissect them, ultimately reassembling things in the way in which a child might do. In experimenting with scale and proportion, colour and materials, the artist is able to build new, seemingly naive worlds from mass-produced and handmade items. It can be said that a youthful aesthetic flows throughout the show: Sik sees neon painted Duplo cascade down from a sky-blue canvas; Larj features a giant 'santa-sack' crammed full of toys; and Dror comprises two polystyrene characters drawing at a child's desk. Nonetheless, while these works appear youthfully composed, they use their colour and playfulness to seduce the viewer into a sinister narrative.

As indicated by their aptly chosen names, the works illustrate distress within an oversaturated, consumer society – a place where many of the artificial colours come from. Sik depicts the regurgitation of plastic blocks from the delights of an optimistic patch of blue, and Larj's bag of toys becomes an ominous beast, lurking in the gallery corner. Elsewhere, Serkl portrays a character's failures and vulnerability in the face of an all-consuming environment. Painted neon orange and appearing naked with underwear slumped around its ankles, a voluptuous and bearded protagonist gazes longingly at a mini-city, which is horizontally attached to the wall. At its feet, is an abacus, an unfortunate green creature sawed in half, and a second, tightly woven mini-city made of toys. Whilst assembled in a highly playful manner, the composition reflects on the being's distress and own disproportion against a fabricated setting. By standing naked and armless, and painted in one stark colour, they are unable to tear themselves away from self-criticism and superficial comparison.

Serkl, 2017

Violence and Vulnerability

This sense of child-like vulnerability, as well as an overbearing anxiety, can be found in Stik and Panik, where objects and clothing appear to suffocate its characters. In Panik, a distressed face presses up against the inside of a bright pink dress; its glove-substituted hands are pinned on the wall and its tight-bound stick legs protrude out into the space. Panik's uncomfortable stance, along with its mass-produced pair of slippers, suggest that the character and its personality are trapped beneath items of budget-bought clothing. Similarly, Stik presents the dark representation of a figure being suffocated by a striped-shirt that is securely pinned to its face by a fierce-looking knife. This eerie undertone of violence is repeated in Leev, which sees a miniature toy soldier shooting at an escapee troll doll - perhaps a comment on the realities of childhood aspirations. At first glance, Waddington cleverly shields his audience from this aggression through colour and toys – mimicking the pleasant facade adopted many commercial and consumer-driven companies. But this anxious unrest does not go undetected: it is ever-present in both the arrangement of objects and the distressed, confused appearance of androgynous figures.

Panik, 2017

Love and Acceptance

As its title suggests, Give Me Love looks at humankind's need for love and acceptance. Running throughout the exhibition is the idea that society today hopes to find these two sentiments within a superficial landscape. Far removed from nature, it exemplifies the consumer world and seamlessly integrates human forms into a slick, shiny world of false promise. Waddington's polystyrene beings adopt exuberant, glossy colours and inadvertently become playthings themselves. Highlighting their humanness and naked vulnerability is the protruding presence of phallic forms: Dror's blue character is adorned with a penis on its head and, sat opposite a pink bare-breasted partner, openly depicts modern society's gender ideals; Lik features a small, four-legged yellow creature licking a labia outline with a phallic-like tongue; and Stif, suspended from the ceiling is also ambiguous in both its title and priapic form. Each character is on the lookout for superficial satisfaction, with the prospect of 'love' portrayed as an unattainable manmade fantasy in Kut: a cutout heart torn in two, its kite-tale dropping to the floor and leading the viewer's eye to a second troll fugitive who gazes longingly into a void. Modern society's perspective on attraction is further examined in Spred, which features a pair of towering tight-bound, open legs teetering on some shiny silver heels – once again ridiculing the way in which humans seek out love and acceptance.

Dror, 2017

Visual Therapy

Waddington's practice and graduate residency show is its own therapy. In disassembling objects and constructing the works, the artist is not only critiquing Western-society's skewed values but also providing a visual therapy for both himself and the viewer. His practice enables him to express a viewpoint on modern life, and whilst the artist also strives for love and acceptance through it, Waddington's frank and candid assemblages face this critique straight on. His tactile way of carving polystyrene and building tangible compositions put forward a nostalgia for both childhood and physical things. The work's therapeutic value for the artist and audience lies in its physical vibrancy – something that both parties crave in the digital era. Still, regardless of its sensory nature, the show is comprised of solely synthetic materials – but perhaps we as audiences yearn for this familiar fabricated setting as technology advances? Give Me Love leaves us questioning our instinctual desire for love and acceptance, and whether our desperation for them is natural or synthetic. Moreover, it prompts us to ask where love and acceptance comes from: does our immediate and consumer-led environment support these things or are we misled to merely self-critique?

Jack Waddington, Give Me Love, February 17th - 25th, AirSpace Gallery.

View Jack's work:

Selina Oakes.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

In Conversation with Jack Waddington, Give Me Love, AirSpace Gallery Graduate Residency

Graduate Resident Jack Waddington urges audiences to confront humankind's weighty rapport with love and acceptance through an abundance of colour and playfully assembled characters. His upcoming exhibition, Give Me Love, showcases a series of new sculptural works created at AirSpace Gallery throughout his six month residency in Stoke-on-Trent. Speaking to the artist ahead of his show, Waddington discusses his inspirations, creative development since completing his studies at Camberwell College of Art, and life as a practicing artist in a polycentric city. Surrounded by towering polystyrene figures and grounded, sculptural collages, he points out the therapeutic value of art and its potential to heal both the artist and the viewer. Whilst his work identifies closely with the idea of 'child's play' and exudes a youthful aesthetic, it maintains a macabre undertone with primitive forms and chaotic compositions reflecting upon sentiments of anxiety and vulnerability forged by society's oversaturated and artificial way of life.

AS: Much of your work examines the aesthetic and psychological traits of Western civilisation. How do these themes, and the world of 'child's play' and self-love, integrate into your practice?
Jack: My work is meant to look innocently made and that's how I see a lot of Western civilisation; that we're innocently absorbed within these constructed settings and seek comfort in them. I see a similarity between this and child's play, and how children immerse themselves in fictional narratives to comfort themselves. My artistic practice is similar to child's play – we absorb ourselves within narratives to understand or escape something. That's where the surreal, artificial aesthetic of the work comes from.

AS: How has your work developed since graduating from Camberwell, from six months ago to this point now? Have you developed elements from your graduate show or has the work changed completely?
Jack: It has changed. I ended the final year doing large-scale square format canvas paintings. They were these congested, site-geographical scenes that were tighter and less messy. I've gone more sculptural in doing the residency. The space and obviously the funding have helped; I've been able to put more effort and money towards the work.
AS: Can you talk more about the transition from two-dimensional to three-dimensional, and the reasons for going more sculptural?
Jack: The canvases felt a little flat, and I had these prototype models of some of the scenes within the paintings. They were a bit more unrefined, so I've embraced that and taken it to a larger scale. I'm unsure why I've gone more sculptural: I've always liked to use different materials in my work and show how we regurgitate elements from different cultures. It's a chaos of content, and that works more with the physical nature of the work.
Packit, 2016.

AS: What first motivated you to participate in the Airspace Gallery graduate residency?
Jack: I was concerned about what I was going to do after university. I wanted to carry on making work and be in a setting where I could do that whilst communicating with others also making art. This residency seemed perfect. It's in Stoke, and I'm already familiar with the city – my Dad's from Stoke, I support Stoke City football club, and it seemed really nice to come here.

AS: You've also spoken about an interest in the polycentric nature of Stoke-on-Trent in your statement. How does this link up and impact your practice? Has your work been inspired by the layout of the city?
Jack: Yes, that was part of my show proposal when applying for the residency. My practice looks at geographical substrates, and so instead of having an imaginary substrate, I proposed to use Stoke-on-Trent and its unique identity as a city of mixed towns. It reflects some of the ideas from my final graduate paintings, which were compositions of different towns. It's enabled me to have a foundation for these sculptures. I thought it might be nice to connect the towns within the residency exhibition; it's one way of composing and curating the show. So, you're walking through the city in the exhibition, hopefully. But that's just a really loose, naive association with the towns. For example this piece (The Walk, 2016) uses a bullseye or dart board to resemble Hanley, because it's the city centre. It's really simple ideas like this that allow me to create.

AS: What can audiences expect to see in your upcoming exhibition? You mentioned certain pieces being loose representations of places like Hanley. Do you envisage the show being lots of representations of the different towns, or will it take on a different format?
Jack: Initially I wanted it to be strictly geographical. Now, I think that whilst it's a part of the work, the pieces aren't about any specific town. It's rather an idea of the space and people's relationship with their immediate environment. I want the show to be really anxious looking, and hopefully viewers will be able to sense anxiety through the immediacy of the work.

The Walk, 2016.

AS: Have you enjoyed your residency experience as a whole? What have you learnt both in and out of the studio? Can you mention any highlights?
Jack: It was really quite tough to move city having lived and studied in London for three years. Luckily Tom (fellow graduate resident) was also from my course, and so I had someone to socialise with from day one. I've learnt how to be resourceful with materials and objects. It's different from being at university where you take things for granted. It's been tricky, but I've learnt how to have a part-time job whilst making artwork, and putting on a show. Also, in terms of exhibition logistics, I've learnt how to negotiate and communicate more with others, and how to be more professional when assembling shows. At university, exhibitions were created in a relaxed, slap-dash way. Here, it's more of a formal environment, and something that I've not really experienced before, apart from my degree show. It's been really exciting thinking about the composition of the work – it's not simply making pieces in the studio to shove in a show. The residency is geared towards a final exhibition, and that's really good. It's been helpful to envisage the work outside the room that it's created in – I've been thinking about that a lot more. There's been lots of highlights, including being able to work so often, and being proud of the lifestyle that I'm living.

AS: Supporting yourself as an artist and being able to make work in the studio can be difficult to balance. Staying on the topic of exhibitions, how did you find the interim show? Was it helpful, and did it enable you to think about what the final presentation might look like?
Jack: Yeah, I got a bit carried away with the interim show. It was the first time that I'd had a whole room to myself, and I painted it in red and white stripes. It was a productive experience, because whilst I had control of the space, it was important to learn how to negotiate with the gallery directors. There was a minor miscommunication with some of the logistics about painting the whole space. In terms of the actual interim show, some of the works were half finished, so it was interesting to see what needed to be improved or added. I think only one of the works from that show is going into the new exhibition – so yeah, it felt like a different entity.

AS: You mentioned painting the walls for the interim show, and I noticed that colour as well as found materials feature predominantly in your work. Are you drawn to any particular colours or shades, or is it all at random?
Jack: It's random, yeah, very random. I don't wear or have these colours around in my life; they just belong in the studio. I don't know why I use these intense colours, maybe it's a portrayal of a congested, anxious mind where lots of content is happening – that's my idea of what a studio is, or that it's a portrait of a mind. My work also looks at wellbeing, and to me bright colours have a positive impact on your mind, so that remedial quality of the work comes through with the brightness. And it just makes black look really good, it makes it look really black. I've always been interested in artists that look at children's art, like Karel Appel and Dubuffet. They use bright colours and I've always been drawn to the playful side of art.

Install shot of Want, 2016 (interim show).

AS: I'd like to learn more about your creative process. A lot of your sculptures feature found objects. Do you go out and seek a particular object for a particular purpose? Do you have a premeditated thing in your head or is it assembled in the space?
Jack: There's not just a one-dimensional act that I go about. If I'm resembling something, then I'll go and find materials that I can reappropriate in a certain way. For example, I was trying to make a bottle kiln, which I found was really hard to make as I was working with foam at the time. So I thought about using a bowling pin, and subsequently went out to find a bowling pin. But other times I'll just stumble across items. Recently, I've been working with polystyrene to form my own shapes.

AS: You talk about the studio being a place where you find colour, and that it's maybe not in your everyday life. Do you see your practice as being therapeutic for either yourself or others, or is it rather just a commentary on modern society, or is it both?
Jack: I think it's both. People should embrace the fact that art is very therapeutic, or that it has the intention of being so. We often come into the studio to create work that we can proudly display on the wall, and seek satisfaction from others and reassure ourselves. I think that in that sense, art is a very personal thing. You do it because you want people to relate to your viewpoint. It's sweet really, that's why I try to make my work quite innocently. With regards to it being a commentary on modern society, I guess we're often numbed or entangled within our own environment, but we're not really content to do so. Similarly, in the studio, we're told that we're lacking in stuff or that we have to improve.

AS: Which aspects of the residency have been the most supportive? Has it been through the meetings that you've had with the directors or elsewhere from the community living in Stoke-on-Trent?
Jack: Both really. I think there's a really solid arts community in the city. It's not that large, but the people within it that I've been privileged enough to meet are really determined to give Stoke-on-Trent more of an artistic reputation. It seems that in London, people can be in it for themselves, but here people collaborate together, and I really like that. Yeah, Glen (AirSpace Director) has been helpful with more than just logistical things, and he also introduced me to my mentor, Mally Mallinson. I've had regular constructive chats with him through meetings and emails. He also gave me some polystyrene, so that was nice.

Jack installing Give Me Love, 2017.
AS: Can you provide any tips for emerging creatives fresh out of art school or university?
Jack: Apply to stuff. We're privileged enough to have the internet, and online forms that you can fill out, so why not try and look for them. I found the AirSpace Gallery Graduate Residency on Keep ahead of the game, notice a track and just stick to that track. You don't even need to know where it's going, but as long as you know that you're on a track, you'll get somewhere.

AS: What advice can you offer people applying to the residency here? How did you find the interview process, finding a job, and settling in?

Jack: It seems so long ago. Literally you get here, and you just create the work and then the show's around the corner. But the interview wasn't that daunting, just be really passionate about what you're doing, that's the most important thing. Settling in was pretty hard because there's not a lot of accommodation in Stoke-on-Trent, but it's really cheap. We got somewhere in the end. We did have to stay at the gallery for a few nights whilst we were trying to find somewhere.
AS: A bit cold then..
Jack: (laughs) Yeah so not ideal, but it is a welcoming place. Have a solid proposal, don't stick to it but know what you want to look into. Have a specific task that you want to be working on, but rather than changing your whole practice, know what your practice is after leaving university and then hone in on one area that you want to expand. I think that you will find new influences through that process too.

AS: Do you think that you'll continue to develop the work that you've created here after the show, or are there new thematic avenues that you want to pursue and perhaps integrate into it afterwards?
Jack: I definitely don't want to abandon this thing that I'm working on. I like where I'm going to be leaving this. It depends on what space you have really, or how importantly you see the work to carry on. There's different areas that I would like to look at: I'm interested in the traditional idea of carving and forming shape, and I'd like to quite literally expand that just to make it bigger. I'd like to try working with some large-scale industrial blocks of foam.

AS: Has your time in Stoke-on-Trent opened up new opportunities? And what will you take with you, after you leave the city, if you intend to leave, maybe moving onto something else?
Jack: Yeah, I think I'm going to move back home for a bit, to work and to think about new work that I can create when I hopefully go back to London. It's a great place here, and I'm definitely going to come back and apply for some of the residencies and shows. What will I take with me.. I've realised that I am really committed to my work and hopefully I can carry that on without the security of a residency or the university. It would be nice to have a studio and carry on with this momentum. I feel as though I've got a good momentum and it's good to acknowledge that once you've finished the residency. And, I've learnt social skills and how to be more communicative. I'm looking forward to putting on more exhibitions, and having more interviews. I feel as though this has really helped me with communicating with people.

Why Can't I Be You, 2016.

AS: Is there anything else that you want to add or talk about your work? Would you like to describe one of your pieces in more depth to me?
Jack: Yes I could, so at the moment things are in different parts, that's how I install things. There's no finished work here, and because of the space you have to dismantle works and tuck things away.
AS: It's interesting that you can do that with your work, not everyone could disassemble and reassemble pieces.
Jack: Yeah, and I really enjoy that aspect of it. It reminds me of how you sort out your room or sort out your toys, it's very therapeutic and obsessive. This piece (Why Can't I Be You, 2016), is kind of a statement piece and I'm looking at the taboo issue of suicide. I'm looking at the theme of wellbeing and I thought about the idea of when you can't accept yourself or you feel like a failure or something. As a completed piece, this figure would be propped on a chair, and have a ceiling-hung snake-shaped noose around his neck. It reflects upon feelings of physical entrapment between the floor and the ceiling. This taboo subject is something that's not really acknowledged in the visual arts, and it's quite a serious topic.

AS: I think that art and mental health is starting to development a lot more these days. It is an interesting theme to approach, especially within your own practice, independent of something like art therapy. The piece seems to be one solid entity, whereas the others are typically assembled. Is this a new progression, or the start of a new way of making?
Jack: This is actually the second version I made. I made a really small one, then a big one, but I like how the larger one is looking. I'm interested in an alternation of scale, so I'm unsure if it is a progression. Maybe I could dissect these larger figures and perhaps they don't need to be so tight. They are created by attaching different limbs together. I'm thinking why not emphasise the process of making each separate limb. Perhaps in the future I could have these figures where the head or arms aren't attached, or they're attached by a rope, or some sort of skewer. The assemblage of different layers is visible in my other works, and so this could be reflected more in the figures too. A thing I could improve is the hanging of the work. At the moment it's a bit immediate and not too considered. For example, this piece (The Walk) is just nailed to the wall and it will tug at the work. But I do enjoy the immediacy of it.

Jack Waddington is a Graduate of Camberwell College of Arts. His practice centres around experimentations with found materials and handmade objects. He is propelled by art as a form of escapism and explores this concern through sculptural and painterly works, echoing the innocence of child’s play.

The AirSpace Gallery Graduate Residency Scheme, running since 2012, seeks to tackle graduate retention in Stoke-on-Trent and offers new arts graduates an opportunity to bridge the gap between education and a professional arts career. Residents receive a studio space for 6 months, monthly mentoring meetings and full access to the Gallery's facilities.

Jack Waddington, Give Me Love, February 17th - 25th, AirSpace Gallery.

See more of Jack's work:

Interview by Selina Oakes.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Tom Verity, The Weight of Things, Exhibition Review

Exploring the positioning and culturally assigned value of objects throughout his six-month residency, artist Tom Verity invites audiences to spend time with a selection of everyday, mundane items and materials in his first major solo show. A plastic cutlery set, six gherkin jars, well-rounded pebbles, bags of lemons and glassware, all pander their way throughout the gallery space. Curiously, these familiar household objects are animated by a series of rope mechanisms and hastily tied knots, often made taut by faux-ceramic clay weights. Closely mirroring the exhibition's apt title, The Weight of Things, many of the works assess the heavy expectations and associations that humans have historically placed on objects and materials. In removing items from their everyday environ and engaging them in a menagerie of playful balancing acts, Verity demonstrates a secondary use for both ornamental and functional objects. Alongside the reassembly of an object hierarchy, the tactile differences of machine-made, hand-crafted and natural items are also addressed.

Tilt, 2017

Balance & Trappings

Beckoning the viewer into the gallery space is a vibrant cassis-coloured clay boulder. It stands proudly in the street-level window and pulls tightly on a black rope that rears a sturdy wooden chair onto its hind-legs. Meanwhile, a roughly-cut concrete slab rests on the chair and an egg-timer shaped vase mimics the boulder's actions at a closer proximity. Reminiscent of a suspended section of Fischli & Weiss's The Way Things Go, this assemblage entitled Tilt fervently presents an alternative activity for everyday and ornamental objects. As though to play with themes of motion and halted time, Verity presents a moment in which each object counter-balances the other – something that is indicative of equality and signals the potential to create an equilibrium within chaos. Similarly Trapped Glass, found at the opposite end of the gallery, provides audiences with the precarious scenario of fragile glassware horizontally held between a wall and a taut piece of rope: it is a contemplative scene that has the potential to be chaotic and yet is far from it. Notably, its title highlights the fact that many objects, like the glassware, appear to be trapped under the 'weight' of their new configurations. The theme of balance is ever-present in Pickle Juice and Hanging Garden where items are temporarily placed, not secured, together. The latter's 'balance scale' composition of bagged-up lemons opposite a pastel-blue clay mass also mimics the weighing out of items and the comparative valuing (buying and selling) of raw materials.

Trapped Glass, 2017
Hanging Garden, 2017.

Imitative Ceramics

The Weight of Things provides a bountiful offering of both playfulness and poise. There is a wonderfully humorous quality to the artist's handmade clay objects, none of which are traditionally fired. Instead, they are air-dried and coated with gleaming enamel paint – an imitation of freshly glazed ceramic-ware that is familiar in the region of Stoke-on-Trent. In deciding not to carry out common finishing processes, Verity distances his items from the city's weighty heritage and offers an alternative life for a readily-available material. From a distance, the coral painted clay handle found in Line Hanger, as well as Tilt's plum mound, reminds the viewer of high-quality, ornate items. It is only on closer inspection, together with the clay's positioning as structural instead of aesthetic, that the viewer reevaluates its worth. In turn, however, whilst distancing itself from ornamental valuation in its new configuration, it is part of an artwork: something that is more commonly aesthetic than functional. The clay's newly adopted structural guise could be contradicted by the fact that it forms a part of an exhibited artwork: a thing to observe and contemplate.

Line Hanger, 2017.

Readymade & Minimalist

A brief reflection upon the long history of the readymade can be made when experiencing these works: the everyday repurposed as art; speckles of Duchamp's Bicycle Wheel shining through in the incorporation of minimalist furniture as plinths for items. Verity's work sits within an ever-expanding readymade dialogue. However, what sets the artist apart is an interest in presenting items as democratic things: to have them humbly reconsidered on equal grounds within sequential, almost collaborative set-ups. A perfect example of this is Line Hanger. Its short flight of stool steps and stern-looking black rope lead the viewer's eye on a linear journey up from the ground, along to the white wall, towards a clay wall fixing, and back down to a weighty household jug piled high with smoothly, rounded pebbles. Each sculptural element plays a vital role in the assemblage, working together with no item more important than any other. Again, clay adopts a structural role in the work and a household jug becomes an aesthetic vitrine in which to display discarded stones. We are reminded of the artist's playful interest in object and material languages, particularly the specific connotations attached to materials due to their origin and subsequent uses. Notable in both Line Hanger and Trapped Glass is the relationship between machine objects (e.g. glassware) and raw materials (sedimentary rock). Verity hints at the earthly origins and interwoven histories of things such as rocks, clay and glass

Present throughout his practice is the use of black rope, which can be seen as a tool for drawing, as well as an instrument for bridging the gap between two- and three-dimensionality. This, alongside the curated zig-zagging of artworks down the gallery space, reiterates a sense of tension between two counterparts. Line Hanger and Trapped Glass actively guide the viewer's gaze between the gallery's two- and three-dimensional spaces through the use of black rope that resembles the graphic lines of 20th century minimalist painters (Stella or LeWitt perhaps). However, whilst these artists relied on the edge of the canvas to halt a drawn line, Verity places a heavy object to punctuate its end.

Pickle Juice, 2017.
Souvenirs from a Picnic, 2017.

Personified Humour

Standing adjacent to Line Hanger is Pickle Juice and its six gherkin barrels which mediate the inverted meeting of two sets of table legs: the display set-up for a miniature, perfectly rolled, ball of clay. Alongside the humorous and almost personable quality of each object, the clay, and it's typically ornamental and 'high-interest' status, is undermined and its value appears reduced – this time due to its scale rather than where it is positioned. It is curious to observe that in other works, the ornamental value of clay is withdrawn through its repurposing as a structural item. Here, its value shifts due to its purposefully raw (no bright, enamel paint) and minute appearance. Again, a commentary on materials and their value is questioned through the meeting of the hand-made (clay), the mass-produced (table legs and jars) and the naturally formed (gherkins). In works such as Wall Mount, this comparison is exaggerated: a bright yellow, hand-molded clay wall mount displays a machine-made drinking glass containing a pebble. It reverses the expected display sequence, whilst also highlighting the idea of time: a pebble has taken decades to be formed, whereas a machine-cut glass took minutes.

Bringing the pieces into a collective show is an underlying awareness of the personification of each item. Drawing the objects away from their traditional purpose stimulates a peculiar notion that they have alternative characters that we, as users and manufacturers of these objects, should get to know. Souvenirs from a Picnic does exactly this: it invites audiences to pay attention to throw-away items such as plastic cutlery. Whilst its title hints at the sentimental worth and memories often attached to items by humans, it also reiterates the switching of object and material positioning: clay becomes the support structure for cheap, disposable things.

Stacks Daniel, 2017.

A more obvious nod to humankind's relationship to these sculptures is made in Stacks Daniel, where a disowned pair of trainers is crushed beneath the weight of packeted clay blocks which support the display of a single, green bottle – an item that is machine-made and freely disposable. It poses the question, where do we place ourselves within the hierarchy? Have we become trapped beneath our own expectations and ideals of what objects mean to us? Or perhaps, it is merely a set-up to disassociate footwear with their allocated purpose: they become structural rather than functional. Regardless, any attempt to withdraw the shoes would result in the collapse of the sculpture; another theme running throughout the show. The idea that these items are linked to our habitual ways of living is reiterated in the artist's hand-molded clay forms that are littered with fingerprints, which also exude nostalgia for forgotten tactility in an era of mass-production.

Weaving a complex series of themes and expectations of what object, materials and everyday things mean to us today, Verity's graduate residency show subtly breaks down and regroups historical display etiquettes. The exhibition alerts audiences to the restrictive valuations that humankind assigns to objects, and in turn presents an opportunity for the viewer to delve into the alternative life these materials could lead. It enables a reflection upon different valuation systems favouring time over material, and structural instead of ornamental. A cohesive showcase that gracefully leads the viewer through the gallery space, The Weight of Things excels in its ability to configure disparate things into poised sequences that illustrate a new aesthetic and functional purpose for disposable entities.

Tom Verity, The Weight of Things. February 3rd to 11th, AirSpace Gallery.

Review by Selina Oakes.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Interview with Tom Verity, The Weight of Things, AirSpace Gallery Graduate Residency

Preparing for his first major solo show, Graduate Resident Tom Verity took time out from his install schedule to speak about his time living and working as an artist in Stoke-on-Trent. After completing his studies at Camberwell College of Art in 2016, Tom relocated to the West Midlands to begin his six month residency. Bringing with him a plethora of ideas fresh from his graduate show, Tom set about developing his interest in the value and positioning of objects and materials through an experimental period, where he explored the structural and tactile worth of found items alongside the malleability of locally sourced clay. His upcoming show, The Weight of Things, places a selection of works produced during his residency in a whitewall context, enabling pieces of all sizes to interact with the exhibition space whilst celebrating their own individual worth. Pickled gherkins, angular ropes and handmade clay forms all encourage the viewer to question the stereotypical uses and sequential assemblage of everyday things.

The Weight of Things, 2017.

: I'd like to start by asking what first drew you to apply to the residency at AirSpace Gallery?
Tom: Both AirSpace and Stoke-on-Trent were new to me when I applied to the residency through Artquest. I was applying for lots of things after graduation, saw this, and thought it would be a good opportunity. It's ideal because it's specifically for graduates so you know that you're not going to be competing against more established artists. I thought I'd just go for it, so I sent off an application, participated in the interview, and moved to Stoke. Sometimes you've just got to take a chance. At the beginning, I didn't know anyone in the city or how it would all work out.

AS: How did you find adjusting to a new city, away from your home in Bristol and university city, London? How did you find the process of finding a place, and carrying on with your practice after art school in a new environment?
Tom: Moving to the city was pretty easy. It's quite hard to find a furnished house here, but we (Tom and fellow resident Jack) managed to find one near the university. After Camberwell, I had a brief stopover in Bristol, so by the time I got here I was ready to start making again. It's great to have a studio where I get to work, and to also have the support of the AirSpace directors, who we meet with once a month. An elected mentor also comes in once every three months and talks to you about your work. It's quite different to university: when you're studying there are people around everyday and you have frequent discussions about your practice. Here, it's much less, and you end up following a set path in your own head rather than lots of people offering you little bits of feedback – which can be both good and bad.

AS: Staying on the subject of having a studio space and supervisory meetings, how did you find the level of support, for example, were the meetings with your mentor Kevin Hunt useful?
Tom: I had really great experience with Kevin, and it was a much better relationship than I've had with any tutor. It felt as though he put in a lot of effort to come to Stoke and to provide me with some constructive feedback – this motivated me to take his suggestions on board. The mentoring has definitely improved the work; each session rebooting it in some way. I just had another meeting on Sunday, and now I'm feeling more confident about the show. It would have looked completely different, I think, if he hadn't helped me, specifically with the curation. I've learnt a lot about creating tension in the space and using it in a way that is beneficial to both the space and the artwork. The gallery at AirSpace is a difficult space to work with in some respects because it has a central pillar as well as a few nooks and crannies. Kevin was good in saying that you don't have to use these situational quirks in a really obvious way. We've created, I think, a really contemporary looking show – perhaps one that you don't see very often in Stoke.

AS: Earlier today, we were talking about how filling a whole space on your own can be a little bit daunting, and to have pieces in development that really use the gallery can be challenging. What was your approach to this?
Tom: Yes, Kevin was really good in telling me to be more confident in the work, because if you're not that confident with it, you can end up filling the space with all of your work. Kevin and I talked about paring it back and not putting everything in. The idea is to let the artwork have space around it and to be confident that it can hold the wall. For example, there's a really small 10cm clay piece in the show that is displayed on about eight metres of wall. It's about saying that this piece is good enough to warrant this wall.

AS: It sounds as though this experience has given you the confidence to curate things in new and experimental ways. This leads into my next question: how has your practice developed since graduating from Camberwell, particularly in these last six months?
Tom: Important changes have occurred concerning my use of clay – it was a material that I wanted to use but didn't know how to work with it. Earlier, I was using clay too much and now, I've learnt how to use it sparingly so that it has more of an impact. Prior to this I was composing found objects together, and so there was no hand crafting involved like there is with clay. A block of clay can become anything and you have to form it – it has infinite possibilities, whereas something like rope goes from point A to B, and you just decide what happens in the middle.

The Weight of Things, 2017.

AS: Clay, like you say, is something very malleable and you have the final say over its shape whereas, for example, a glass bottle is already formed. A lot of your work uses readymade and found items to address the value and positioning of objects. I'm interested to hear how clay combined with these readymade objects continues this thematic pursuit?
Tom: This theme is the core of the work, but it's not overly obvious in the show. In earlier pieces, where I was making clay plinths for items, it was almost too literal. The main idea behind this is that clay – a typically ornamental thing – can been used as a structural item. By placing clay beneath a manmade or machine-made object, I seek to play with the audience's expectation of seeing a handmade item at the top of a pile. It's also about touch: the clay is molded by hand and contains traces of my handprints (something that the machine-made object does not have). In later works, I've tried to experiment with these differences in more subtle ways.
AS: It's questioning the value that people place on ornamental objects, and flipping the norm.
Tom: Yes, for example glass is a material often used to display something else (as a glass vitrine or shelf). In my work it's being displayed on something like a handmade clay shelf. I'm putting more artistic effort into making the support material than the thing that is going to be on display. It's meant to confuse the viewer who becomes more interested in the support structure than the item on show. Whilst the show itself moves away from this, the prominent theme of the difference of touch between clay and the item that the clay supports remains.

AS: Not to stay on the subject of clay for too long, but I wanted to ask about its connection to Stoke-on-Trent's heritage. Was the use of clay a conscious decision when you came to Stoke; did you feel drawn to the city's ceramic history, or was it something that you were interested in before?
Tom: The reason why I used, or continued to use clay in Stoke was because of its availability in the city. There's Potclays down the road, where you can get hundreds of bits of clay, so it's an easy material to get, but I wasn't drawn to the history of it really. I knew that it was a very conscious material of the city 
 it's in everyone's minds – so I knew to be a little bit careful with it. That's why there are much fewer clay or ceramic pieces in the final show.
AS: It's interesting how the work is removed from the city's heritage due to its usage, but then again it's always going to have certain connotations with it, perhaps.
Tom: Yes it will, I think if it's made in the city, it will do, but maybe it's good that I can offer an alternative use for the material. It might get people to think about it in a different way. The majority of artists in the city are ceramic artists, and it might be interesting to have a fine artist giving an opinion on how the material can be used, as a material, away from more traditional processes.

AS: We've spoken about readymade and found objects. Is there anywhere in particular that you look for these items? How do you select your objects?
Tom: A lot of it comes from our house – it's a furnished place filled with things from past tenants – and more comes from the gallery and it's garden, like the rocks. Generally, I try to combine an everyday household object with the malleable clay and a raw material, like stones or wood, so that you have a variety of different materials that can be judged against each other. I select mundane materials that everyone is aware of, but isn't scrutinised in day-to-day life; cups, mugs and little glassware things that aren't highly valued.
AS: In a way, you're elevating these objects.
Tom: Yes, and using them in a secondary way that they're not meant to be used in. So, this glass vase (points to work) has become a structural element rather than an ornamental thing. And there's some pickle jars in the show that I use in a supportive way too, to hold it together – so again, they're being asked to do a different thing to what they're intended to do, which forces you to look at them in a different light.

Pickle Juice, 2017. Trestle Tables, Pickle Jars and Raw Clay.

AS: You've mentioned some of your work in development, but what do you anticipate for your upcoming show? What can audiences expect to see or experience in The Weight of Things?
Tom: I think people should come with an open mind. They're going to see what I've made in the last six months in Stoke-on-Trent, and whilst it may not be directly connected to the city, there are things that have been made during my time here. I've not even been thinking about the end product really.
AS: Well, there isn't always an end product, the work is often in development. Can you describe some of the pieces that are going to be in the show?
Tom: There's a really small piece made out of clay. It's intended to be a specific display holder for disposable cutlery: a knife, fork and spoon. The piece is about spending time doing something for objects that aren't normally held in a high regard; creating a structure for them to be displayed and observed in a new way. It's also humorous as the audience is spending time with objects that don't normally have time spent on them. Another piece in the show features a little clay box filled with stones. The work was experimental when I made it, but on reflection it highlights the touch of both materials: the stone has been worn away over thousands of years to become a pebble, and it's being held inside a box that I've made in half an hour from loosely molded clay. The interplay between a slowly formed object and a very fast, quickly formed object is something that I've found quite interesting.

Packed House, 2017. Painted Clay, Stones.
Souvenir From A Picnic, 2017. Painted Clay, Plastic Cutlery.

AS: Prior to this exhibition, you had an interim show in December. Was the interim helpful and how did you develop the transition from one show to the other?
Tom: It was helpful to hang the work and see what it looks like. From the interim show there are two slightly altered pieces that are going to move into the new show. The interim helped me to see what the work looked like in an exhibition context, and to figure out the parts that I was most interested in. It helped to have a test show, which included making a poster and writing an exhibition text. The mid-term deadline was useful as I had to have pieces finished rather than have them floating about the studio. It's also an opportunity for people to see what you're doing during the residency and open some communication between the public and you. It keeps everyone up to date, including yourself.

AS: Can you describe some of the challenges that you've encountered during the residency, and how you've overcome these?
Tom: I think a lot of the challenges are just general ones, like moving to a new city, not really knowing anybody and meeting new people. The good thing about the residency is that you have the studio, so whatever happens, you've got a place where you can work. Other challenges.. in London, there are thousands of shows that you can go to every weekend, but here, you're a little bit on your own in terms of context. On the other hand, its good that Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester are so close, and you can take day trips to neighboring cities. But there are a lot of people here, and they're all really welcoming.

AS: Having lived in the city for the last six months, what will you take away with you? Do you think you'll stay in Stoke, and what will you take away with you from the residency?
Tom: A lot of it will come from the mentoring that I received from Kevin, that's where I've gained the most during the residency, but I know that I've learnt lots more from just being able to make work. I've definitely developed a lot more as an artist, which is really great to have the opportunity to get the ground running and to stabilise my practice into something that I can be confident in. I've made a few friends, and I'll be staying until March. Then, in June, I'm going to Iceland.

AS: That leads me onto my next question: how do see your work progressing and what do have planned on the horizon next, Iceland sounds exciting?
Tom: In terms of progressing with the work, I'm looking forward to some decompression time, because on the residency I've just been producing as much as I can. I'm looking forward to not having a deadline and to have time to think about the work at a slower pace. I'll take a little break, but not for too long. I'm happy with the work and I've just got to figure out what aspects of it I'm most interested in and how to keep doing it. In June, I'm going to Iceland on a one month residency, something that I've had planned since last summer. From my time at AirSpace, I've definitely learnt about being on a residency and how to be natural with it. You've got to just take it as it comes and try not to overthink the work. Then after that, I don't know what's going to happen, back to England and then, I could live in Bristol or I could move to Liverpool. It feels a little as though I've moved the scary part of graduation to now.

AS: Perhaps, but it has given you the time to continue with your practice and to build a certain confidence that now you feel more prepared to pursue it. What advice can you offer to future graduate residents?
Tom: Similar to what I was saying, don't think too much about it, just come in and let the work happen naturally, don't try to make work that's specifically for the city just because you're here. It's good to live with the other resident, because then you've got one person that you know, and you can move outwards from there. It's great that everyone is interested to meet the annual residents – they know the situation you're in and they're happy to hang out. Hopefully I can come back and talk to the residents to give them advice in person.

AS: Any last words, where does your work go from here, do you think you''ll carry on using clay?
Tom: I will, because I've found a way of using the dry clay with enamel paint that has a nice finish, and I've found the level at which it should be in my work. My practice before the residency was a little bit colder: I was into minimalism, constructivism and strong forms. This is why I brought clay into my work – it acts as a handmade counter element to that harsh minimalist language. It's good to have an element of something that creates a more tension, so that it's not just all strong form, and there is something a little more interesting there.

Tom Verity, The Weight of Things, February 3rd to 11th, AirSpace Gallery.

Tom Verity was born in Bristol and graduated from Camberwell College of Art in 2016. His works have been shortlisted for three major awards (Bloomberg New Contemporaries, Woon Art Prize and the SOLO award) and this, his first solo exhibition, has been supported by a successful GFA Arts Council Application.

The AirSpace Gallery Graduate Residency Scheme, running since 2012, seeks to tackle graduate retention in Stoke-on-Trent and offers new arts graduates an opportunity to bridge the gap between education and a professional arts career. Residents receive a studio space for 6 months, monthly mentoring meetings and full access to the Gallery's facilities.

See more of Tom's work:

Interview conducted by Selina Oakes.