- Tuesday, 30 October 2012
Opposites Attract features works by two very different Barnsley-born phenomena revered worldwide, watercolour artist Ashley Jackson and sculptor Graham Ibbeson.
This worthy collection is on display until next June at Cusworth Hall, Doncaster, a beautifully renovated Grade 1 listed house perched in green splendour above its lake and already boasting fascinating museum displays, a fully equipped 'below stairs' kitchen and a breathtaking chapel.
That the works of these two artists stand side by side in this grand setting is an inspired arrangement. First, the striking contrast of media: Ibbeson's solid creations in bronze, resin, or fibreglass with wood complement wonderfully Jackson's expansive, brooding watercolours, their all-important bursts of light achieved not via pigment but from the white purity of the paper itself.
Welcome, even essential, is the contrast in moods, from Jackson's serious, spiritual qualities and delicate beauty to Ibbeson's chunky, humorous, sometimes monstrous creations. And each piece is thought-provoking in its own right.
The works of both artists are bolstered with heaps of large-print information, and quotations that express the thoughts and philosophies of the men. Photos and publications feature further works, while artefacts from Jackson's life (bespattered boots, smock, brushes etc) are also on display.
People's Artist, Ashley Jackson, famed for his obsessive, lifelong 'love affair' with his 'mistress' - the Yorkshire Moors, set up his studio in Holmfirth in the heart of Summer-Wine-land in 1963.
His works have graced the collections of the likes of Harold Wilson, John Major, Bill Clinton, friend and confidant, the late L.S. Lowrie, and Corrie's Liz Dawn, while Life's Pathway, a work that features in this exciting exhibition, was used on a Yorkshire Bank debit card! It's his strong belief that both art and Nature's beauty are dependent on our protection.
Pick your spot carefully when contemplating the drama of Jackson's sweeping, sparse landscapes with their heavy, brooding, grey skies and insistent bursts of heavenly light. From metres back, you might more fully appreciate the 'beauty that never dies' and share, perhaps, the spiritual uplift of light and landscape, especially in The Lion at Blakey, Hade Edge Moor or Life's Pathway.
Stand close, though, to Nature's Moving Light or When God Moves, West Nab and feelings of emptiness, loss, grim desolation, lonely desperation and chill menace might well overwhelm.
We see how small and vulnerable we are in Nature's bigger scheme, huddled in our tiny refuges in the hugeness of the landscape, on our journey into the unknown.
Maybe you'll be one of the few who don't see just the spirit of Yorkshire but 'see and feel its very soul' - or Jackson's soul, perhaps.
Jackson has been called the 'Turner of the 21st Century'. Life's Pathway and the bright, smoky swirls in Fire on Saddleworth Moor most blatantly reinforce such a title. But the fire is destructive and Nature wins again, reminding us that mankind is living on a knife-edge.
In Jackson's works, the changing moody light of the moors springs, unrelenting, from bleak scenes and chill snows, and from the gritty, grey rains that appear in a series of smaller studies. It's Ibbeson who provides the sunshine.
Graham Ibbeson, the People's Sculptor, is best known for his large, bronze celebrity sculptures and other public works: the dancing Eric Morecambe, Laurel and Hardy, Cary Grant, Benny Hill's Fred Scuttle, Barnsley's Dicky Bird, The Jarrow March, The Leeds Millennium sculpture, and many poignant bronzes featuring miners.
In this exhibition we have large and small works alike, some straightforward like fiery Fred Trueman in bronze or the bust of a relaxed, benevolent Ashley Jackson, but mostly it's the absurdities of life and people that have inspired the works on display. 'Humour opens a path to the truth,' Ibbeson says, while he also believes that from tiny details big pictures emerge.
This is certainly true of my favourite at Cusworth, The Great Escape (fibreglass, 2006), in which a comical, pie-faced lad in clumpy boots, pullover and snake-belt, a plaster on his tatty knee, sports a flying-hat, goggles and homemade wings. His dog sports goggles too. It's when you look at the detail of the fibreglass drawing beside the boy's feet that the message becomes clear.
On the sketch, the boy and his dog soar into the sunny skies of a lofty area marked Freedum above the pithead at Grimeforp down below, which threatens not just to bring the boy back down to earth, but take him under it. Comic-book laughter is the obvious order of the day, but doses of melancholy punctuate the joy, seen again in the plump, pouting bronze cherub weighed down with earthly baggage, who is Down To Earth (1998).
The pieces tend to favour big, butch-looking brutes. Confronting us as we enter, the imposing Scales of Justice bronze dangles two chunky, wriggling brats with clenched fists before us. Further on, the baby in the pram in Uphill Struggle (coloured fibreglass and wood, 1977), being shoved along by a cross, brutish mum, is every bit as scary as she is!
Ibbeson's weird and wonderful fishy, aquatic world fills an entire section, the plump, comic post-card-style Dippy Doris (1993) swimming across her wooden tower above us, while a toothy, horrified Fishcake Jock (fibreglass/wood 1993) stares into the toothy, horrified face of a comedy fish.
In other rooms, a colourful George and Eric,Toymakers (1996) construct a trolley go-cart, boat and train from wood and tin cans as kids used to, and bright Dustbin Lid Kids (1995) wreak havoc.
And there's lots more - the begoggled Barnsley Buddha (2006)bronze, the puzzling Vending Venus (2006), the mind-boggling Self-Employed (1998) and Portrait of the Artist and Mother - with a Portrait of the Mother by The Artist in Blue - to name but a few!
This is a magnificent exhibition, enjoyable and accessible to one and all.
by Eileen Caiger Gray
Opposites Attract runs from Oct 2012 until 2nd June 2013