John Hurrell – 20 November, 2018
Surprisingly when you read the gallery blurb and often sarcastic work titles, you discover that Leonard had a terrible motorcycle accident when in her early twenties, and spent two years in hospital, and that she still suffers pain on a daily level. The exhibition itself (I think) exudes joyful celebration—I'm sure most visitors would ‘decode' its properties that way—and though the artist sees her ceramics as a trope for her own fractured, pain-wracked body, these resin-coated works take on an exuberant life independent of their maker, and encourage a different interpretation.
Virginia Leonard with Gretchen Albrecht
I come out of surgery looking golden
26 October - 24 November 2018
This gorgeously tactile and colourful installation is a very successful pairing of Gretchen Albrecht and Virginia Leonard: two rectangular paintings (Belladonna, and Deep and Dark Blue Ocean) of the former with eleven ceramics of the latter. It is wildly, ecstatically, sumptuous: putting the swirling, mistily stained, squashed horizontal ovals on canvas as points of focus for the sticky, polyp-dense, ink-painted mark and gunk-covered, often glistening, clay jars. Technically Leonard’s labours may be ceramics, but you can savour them as three dimensional oozy paintings (because of their seductive, stalactite, globular surfaces) or innovative stringy stela-like floor sculpture - brilliantly positioned to converse with Albrecht’s crimson and deep blue spiralling swathes.
The presence of gold lustre and delicate airy gold-leaf bring a religiosity to the show, and Leonard’s organic buckled surfaces are packed with engrossing detail, some of it including small transfers of paisley or flowers surrounded by dribby, runny, creamy hues. Gravity, descending syruplike colour and packed texture seem to be her preoccupation. Confidently slopped or trowelled on, the chromatic or metallic colours interact with clusters of multiple handles, seashell cavities and knobby bits that allude teasingly to functionality. Most of these gorgeous containers have holes and cracks, for like Frankenstein’s monster, many are composites where different pieces of different ‘broken’ urns are wonkingly melded together.
Surprisingly when you read the gallery blurb and often sarcastic work titles, you discover that Leonard had a terrible motorcycle accident when in her early twenties, and spent two years in hospital, and that she still suffers pain on a daily level. The exhibition itself (I think) exudes joyful celebration—I’m sure most visitors would ‘decode’ its properties that way—and though the artist sees her ceramics as a trope for her own fractured, pain-wracked body (and parts could be interpreted as depicting sores or rashes), these resin-coated works seem to have so much humour, inventive innovation and sensuality they take on an exuberant life independent of their maker, and encourage a different interpretation.
Artists wishing to over-determine the meaning of their practice is an old chestnut, as is writers trying to counter-argue. Whatever the reasons that these wonderful sculptures (often placed on intriguingly spindly or reflective plinths) came to be created, that Leonard was originally trained as a painter is very obvious. The funny thing is that if these were paintings placed flat on a wall they’d be a bit trite—their manual applicatory gestures, dribbled inky skeins and wrist-flicks a bit corny—but because they are ceramic, can be walked around, looked into from above or below, and are so sculpturally dense in texture, they take on another more thrilling level.
You could spend a lot of time in this space, Leonard’s work is so richly organic, unpredictable and intricate. It is full on. Albrecht on the other hand is understated and her ‘restrained’ contribution works well as a foil. The two together: a brilliant synthesis.