I made a flying visit to Grimsby at the end of this week to see the 62 Group's latest exhibition. A 400 mile round trip from one end of the North Sea coast to the other. This was in fact rather appropriate as a significant number of Grimsby fishermen apparently migrated there from the Thames Estuary in the late nineteenth century, when the town was developing as a fishing port.
"Ebb & Flow" is a response to Grimsby's history as a major fishing port and to the excellent museum collection at the Fishing Heritage Centre in particular. The exhibition is divided between the latter and Grimsby Minster. It was interesting to see how different artists responded to the theme. Some made direct reference to the fishing industry or the port while others made more indirect reference to the theme of tides, flow or change.
The work of five artists caught my attention in particular. The first was Hannah Lamb. Her piece Baptism explored the experience of cold water swimming. It consisted of a triptych of organza panels printed using the cyanotype process. The imagery, on separate panels, showed the head, hands and feet of a woman and succeeded in conveying the idea of someone in water. But what I loved was the way Hannah also conveyed the sensual aspect of being in water. With the most minimal, delicate stitching she suggested the touch of water against a finger or a swirl of water across the toes. For me this lifted the work from being a simple image on cloth to something altogether more tactile and sensual. Hannah's blogpost about this piece is here.
Sue Stone is based in Grimsby and her pieces - two in the museum, one in the Minster - told a story about people in the town. The colour palette and format remind me of the colours of old photographs. Here too though the detail of the stitching and appliqué add to the image, so that when you look, there is far more information than in the picture alone. In Portrait of a Grimsby Girl the bricks are covered with stitched writing telling you details about the woman's life. In The Unknown Statistic, which is about the children left behind by fathers who went to war and never came back, the man is not in the picture but, across the wall is a fluid line of embroidery tracing the sense of the tune he whistles as he walks away. Close up, I was fascinated too by the stitched patterns used so effectively to show the textures of the figures' clothing.
Jane McKeating's piece consisted of five large panels titled "Red - a sampler". At first I thought these were painted but they are digitally printed from Jane's own drawings. Inspired by samplers, paintings and symbols in the museum, the panels trace the "ebb and flow of a red mark through the passage of time." Each panel shows a sewing machine - a progressively more modern one - stitching a length of bright yellow cloth. Apart from some white stitching, which adds texture to some of the panels, the only stitching is the red "stitched" line. As the sewing machines evolve, so does the mark, from a basic straight stitch in the first panel to a more complex computerised design in the fifth. What struck me, however, was the juxtaposition of the domestic sewing machines with the "high vis" yellow cloth, suggesting protective or waterproof clothing. So many thoughts here about the connection between the lives of fishermen on the sea and their wives, mothers, sisters at home.
In a completely different vein, I loved the work by Ann Goddard. Discarded consisted of five bundles of driftwood, twigs and rusted metal "tangled" together by shreds of vintage fishing net and wire. There is a reference to "ghost nets" - lost nets which continue to trap debris, fish and other organisms. To me each bundle was like a three dimensional drawing. There was a larger, related work in the Minster, constructed of willow and wire which had a similar effect.
Finally, I loved the ikat weaving of Christine Gornowicz, particularly the way the receding verticals emphasise the sense of movement in the horizontal flow patterns in the one below. I recommend a visit to her web site to see more of her beautiful work.