Gallery visit: Sequins & Stardust @ RWA

Yesterday, I enjoyed a visit to RWA to see their current exhibition, Sequins and Stardust: The Art of the Circus.

This is part of Circus250, a nationwide celebration of 250 years of the circus, since Philip Astley’s display of horse riding tricks in 1768, with acts such as jugglers, acrobats, tightrope walkers and a clown in between acts.

Above, bottom left: The Shining Guest by Beth Carter & Stuart Mitchell, 2013.  This beautiful diorama contained a rotoscope animation with accompanying music from a fairground pipe organ.  Something about the use of the hands controlling the string drew me in, maybe linking with ideas about fate and destiny or the ringmaster controlling the performers and animals within the circus.

Above, bottom right: Part of Circus Collage Triptych by Peter Blake, 2013

Above, top left: Capturing the Moon, by P J Crook, 2018.  I liked how this piece captured the colourful movement in a busy circus.

Above, top right: The Next Turn, by Stephen Jacobson, 2017, inspired by a visit to the circus on the Downs in Bristol.

Above, bottom left: Abigail Lane?  This is printed on some kind of gold leaf.

Above, bottom right: Miss Kitty in Paradise by David Harrison, 2005.  I like the way that the circus is presented here as a daydream (in this case, drug-induced).

The exhibition featured lots of works by the pop artist Peter Blake, including pieces from his Paris Circus suite and his Circus Collage Triptych.  Downstairs, further works by Peter Blake included images from his Classroom Suite and 1991 Alphabet.  I like his use of collage, blending images from history and popular culture.  

Above, top left: High Wire 1 by Sadie Tierney, 2018.  The use of light creates a sense of danger and drama as well as something spontaneous and temporary.

Above, top right: Thomas W’s Affchen by Fides Becker, 2015.  Interesting contrast between the real and toy monkey, but both being used to provide entertainment for others.

Above, bottom left: Pleasure Dome by Toni Davey, 2018.  The tiny entrance draws the eye in towards the hidden delights within.

Above, bottom right: Performance by Chris Hibbard, 2017.  I like the blending of several small images to create a meaningful whole.

Above, top left: Anna Andryevna by Sophie Lascelles, 2001.  Unfortunately my visit wasn’t well enough timed to see the animation playing on the tent, but I like the idea of the model tent as a screen for a performance.

Above, top right: The Long Way Home by Beth Carter, 2013.  I like the way this blends imagery from circuses and fairy tales.  She describes the personal metaphors behind this piece:

“The masked Foxman should not be trusted, the tiny minstrel in the spotlight is inviting you in to the circus tent full of thrills and excitement, the whole scene is set just at the edge of the shadowy forest, the forest is the wild and unknown, the horse is freedom and is escaping, the woman at the centre symbolises home life and the sad clown is eternally stuck in a hole.”

Above, bottom left: Acrobat 2 by Mo Farquharson, 2007.  I like the sense of movement and balance.

Above, bottom right: Black Magic by Zavier Ellis (AKA Charlie Smith), 2011, part of a series on the occult.  The tarot images drew me to this, linking with ideas about magic and illusion.

Accompanying the exhibition was a display of Peter Lavery‘s circus photos, spanning 50 years.  I like the glitz of the costumes of the circus.  These portraits gave an interesting glimpse into an even more secret world behind the scenes.

A collection of more traditional work included The Grand Parade (1932) by Edward Seago (left) and The Grand Parade: Charivari (1928) by Dame Laura Knight (right) .

It was interesting to read the perspective of the curator, Fiona Robinson, who also curated Strange Worlds: The Vision of Angela Carter, which I went to see at the RWA early last year.  She describes her search for contemporary art showing different aspects and views of the circus, including commisioning some artists to create pieces, and gives a brief commentary on many of the artworks.

Looking online at some of the artworks that I didn’t take photographs of, I’ve been thinking about what draws me to certain pieces of art and not others, particularly modern and contemporary art.  I think I still prefer my art to look somewhat ‘pretty’ and to contain a narrative or a ‘description’ of a location.  Or it has to connect in some way with my experiences or for me to be able to ascribe a particular meaning to it.  I’m also generally more drawn to paintings than sculpture or photographs.

I have recently listened to the audiobook of The Night Circus (by Erin Morgenstern) and watched The Greatest Showman, so this exhibition added to the circus images from those that are percolating around my head.

I’ve only been to the circus once, on a rare outing with my father when I was about seven.  I remember the feeling of excitement more than the visuals of what I saw.

But there are definitely some ideas formulating in my head about magic and mystery.

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