Blue Room at Ten:
Just the Tonic!

A decade is a long time in the art world; styles and tastes change and the all-important zeitgeist moves on as new names emerge, whilst others disappear. More importantly for community-based arts projects, funding opportunities and support are often only offered on a short term basis. Thus in an age of austerity the continued existence of Blue Room is something to celebrate in itself.

This winter, the Bluecoat hosted an exhibition of the work of its Blue Room artists, a group whose contribution to the community at the Bluecoat is evident to anyone who visits the venerable institution.  Their work exhibited in the Vide and on the second floor is a reflection of the project’s ten years and the experiences of the artists. The ceramic pieces on the ground floor of the Vide were created in collaboration with Louise Waller and Alice Odgers of Baltic Clay. The artists considered the work of the ceramicist Julia Carter-Preston (1926-2012) and employed a sgraffito technique to draw on the surface of their work. One’s overwhelming impression was that the forms themselves echoed the space in which they are exhibited, the oversized cavernous space of the Vide. These elongated, vase-like works share similarities, yet the surface details and glazes employed evidence the personal nature of the work and reflect each artist’s interests. Some are geometrically patterned, others allude to more organic forms, whilst a few contain abstract elements.  

On the second floor, prints created in collaboration with The Royal Standard Director and artist Becky Peach, offer accounts of the artists’ experiences as part of the Bluecoat’s community. There is something riotously joyful in these primarily figurative works, reflections of what are clearly fond memories for the artists. The expressive vibrancy of the colours employed and bold lines compel a warm smile, even from this old cynic. 

The work and contribution of artists and makers with learning differences is often labelled ‘outsider art’, (a phrase one employs only because of its illustrative qualities). It highlights the fact that such practitioners are often excluded, ‘outsiders’ whose work is often dismissed by ‘insiders’. It is therefore refreshing that a centre for contemporary art has challenged such conventional thinking and sought to foster (and celebrate) this project. Furthermore, by establishing the Studio Me project and exhibiting the work of Joshua Henderson and Veronica Watson, the Bluecoat are making a commitment to show the work of the Blue Room artists within their own exhibition spaces. Joshua’s architectural 2D models are an ingenious means of cataloguing his interest in the city’s built environment, a passion he is always happy to share with others. Whilst Veronica’s portraits evidence the quiet, pensive, nature of a woman who is interested not in the anatomy of the human face, but in capturing the very essence of her sitters, fellow artists and other member of the Bluecoat community.

Visiting a gallery should, as Lucien Freud claimed, help. Seeing the work of such a talented group of artists is a true revelation, which quickly disabuses any preconceptions. May the Blue Room continue to challenge and inspire for many more years. 

Blue Room at Ten was on display at the Bluecoat from 1 December – 10 March.

Published 12.03.2019 by Sinead Nunes in Reviews

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