Today I had some time to kill while waiting for my daughter who was having a university interview. What to do in Chichester on a wet and cold January day? How about looking at some ART?
First stop was the small but perfectly formed Oxmarket Centre of Arts in Little London, behind East Street. The gallery has just reopened after the Christmas break and was sadly almost empty! The large John Rank Gallery (a deconsecrated 13th century church, previously known as St Andrew in Oxmarket and also how the gallery got its current name) was hosting a show by the Chichester High School Combined 6th Form who were showing AS level photography and art work on a theme of surreal insects and Damien Hirst Spot Paintings. I think that giving students the opportunity to exhibit their work in a professional gallery space is an excellent idea, what I am not so sure about is the deeply unimaginative and ‘schoolroom’ way student work is often displayed, and sadly this show does not disappoint. The John Rank gallery is a large space and more than capable of taking work on an immense scale. Being a ‘white cube’ space housed in a very traditional and attractive church building offers plenty of opportunities for creative hanging of exhibitions. I fully appreciate that students at school may not be able to afford professionally made frames, but I do feel that simply white-tacking cut-out shapes (why do schools insist on cutting out students work?) on to a white wall doesn’t really ‘cut it’. Having said that, I am not altogether sure what the answer to the hang of lots of circular backed imagery is, but I am sure that with some serious thought thrown at it, the problem could be solved more imaginatively than it has been. The other issue with this show is that there is simply not enough work to fill the space adequately, and the most interesting work for some strange reason had been relegated to the back wall at the far end of the gallery.
The John Rank Gallery exhibition of work by Chichester High School 6th Form students
Above left : Photography work inspired by Damien Hirst Spot Paintings
Above right: ‘Old Master’ style inspired photographic still life
The smaller, but very popular Wilson Gallery was closed to visitors despite the gallery being open to the public as the new exhibitor was still hanging their show. This was surprising, as the Gallery have strict rules about set up and take down of exhibitions, which should take place on the Monday when the Gallery is not open to the public. I did however have a sneaky peek through the window and was stunned by what I saw! As a complete contrast to the sparse hanging in the John Rank gallery, the Wilson Studio was almost covered wall-to-wall in a mixture of photographs, drawings and small paintings, mainly figurative with two glass display cabinets containing small animal sculptures. The exhibitor is Patricia O’Connell who according the Gallery information sheet studies at Carmarthen College of Art and has spent her life making an eclectic mix of painting, sculpture, wood carvings, drawings and photography, and continues to create art using all kinds of media, the most recent being through the cultivation of beautiful gardens.
Two exhibitions in direct contrast with one another, one where less is definitely less and needs more; the other where the maxim ‘less is more’ could not be more apt. But of course this is always the problem when a space is available for public hire without selection criteria.
Having said that, the Oxmarket Centre of Arts hosts over 100 exhibitions each year in its 5 hire spaces and the work varies in standard from being outstanding to amateur, with mediums ranging from oil painting, watercolour, photography, sculpture, textiles and print. The Centre has a delightful gift cabinet which features lovely small affordable items ranging from decorative glass and ceramics to textile pieces and jewellery. More recently the Centre has opened a Print Shop where limited edition and original prints can be purchased at reasonable cost.
The Centre is a little jewel hidden away behind the main shopping area, yet it attracts a continuous stream of visitors and is very popular especially during the summer months. The building itself is Grade 2 Listed and of architectural interest. It suffered collateral bomb damage in 1943 and was not used again for services. Deconsecrated in the 1950s and subsequently derelict, it was not until 1971 that Chichester Centre of Arts was formed and work began on restoring the building. This restoration included the installation of new windows which were designed and engraved by the noted glass engraver Majella Taylor. The north window depicts St Cecilia, the patron saint of music while the window on the south side shows a figure reading a book – a memorial to the poet William Collins who is buried here. The Centre finally opened in 1976.
Engraved windows at the Oxmarket Centre of Arts by Majella Taylor
If you find yourself at a loose end in Chichester you could do worse than visit the Oxmarket. The Gallery is open Tuesday to Saturday 10.00am to 4.30pm and you will be assured of a warm welcome and the opportunity to get up close and personal with a variety of artistic styles created by local people. (www.oxmarket.com and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1604721769&ref=ts&fref=ts)