A selection of nature-based photographs by Liverpool photographers Colin Serjent and Jane Groves
The Egg Café, 16-18 Newington, Liverpool
4th December 2015 – 10th January 2016
Reviewed by Sandra Gibson
The Power of Place
There is a movement to relocate works of art away from custom-built cultural temples into spaces not conventionally used for exhibitions.* I have seen works by Picasso and Miro on display at the charming railway station at Soller, in Majorca; I have seen wonderful street art in Barcelona, having the vibrant immediacy of graffiti, though destined for impermanence; I have seen paintings in a Nantwich pub, lit by candles, perched lower than eye level on plush chairs. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. An exhibition I attended in a casino could not compete with the roulette wheels, the flashing lights and the view of the dock outside, though it made a strong comment about appetite and spirituality for those who listened.
The Nature’s Way photographs are displayed in the Egg Café, a very interesting space with natural light, and excellent food. Because of the nature of the venue they have to compete with multifarious environmental stimuli and this is fine in that it says something about integrating art and living, of giving artists an opportunity to exhibit that is within their means, and extending the viewing spectrum. However, like my extreme example – Lady Luck’s abode of excited greed – there is going to be some diminishment of artistic impact. There are solid reasons for the white walls, uncluttered rooms and careful lighting in galleries.
Having said this, the photographs provide pools of tranquil beauty for contemplation and I liked looking at them. Colin Serjent’s photographs approach two-dimensional abstraction in their close observations. I particularly liked the one with the dark tracery of branch and twigs: bare against a bright sky so that there is a resemblance to stained glass windows. And there was an extra surprise because although at first it looks monochromatic, there are some delicate patches of green. The photograph paired with this, of texture and shadow, nicely balanced between black and white, moves further towards abstraction, as if to make a point. Sky as back-drop is a prevalent theme in Colin’s work and he experiments with the proportion of background sky to whatever is in the foreground. In a jewel-like development of the stained glass motif is a photograph where the pattern of dark branches is placed against a bright blue sky, with lime green leaves. The blue’s the thing here whereas in another photograph with illuminated lime and orange leaves, the blue is minimised, though it is there to enhance the warm orange tones. So its power is still strong though it is less impactful in itself. My favourite – and it’s hard to choose – is powerful through its oriental-style minimalism: bare, perpendicular branches against a blue, blue, sky.
If Colin Serjent’s selections echo sky, then Jane Groves gives us water’s edge as well as a variety of other elements. Mirror, Mirror , taken at Crosby Beach Sefton, nicely duplicates the pewter greys and pinks of sunset in the liquidity of the beach. Developing the theme of foreground textural interest we see in Mirror, Mirror’s ridged sand, we have the spiked drama of cool, green sea holly and bowed grasses through which to view the clamorous breakers and ice blue sky. Sea Holly’s colour palette creates a real experience of a chilly northern climate – you can feel the spiky air. Sticks and Stones is another beach scene, combining the texture of stones with the decorative punctuation of vertical breaks. Jane does have a feeling for drama. Clocks presents a contrast between the gauzy delicacy of seed heads and the sturdy materiality of stalks in silhouette, whilst Autumn Sunrise shows striking light orangeing the ground through the darkness of trees and the perpendicular rhythm of tree trunks. Swirl has a different feeling. Taken in Essauoira, Morocco, it captures the heat of thermal air in deep blue sky, and a sense of distance enhanced by the diminishing sizes of floating birds.?
Although displaying art in unconventional places has some validity: environmental and conceptual, I think it should be done in such a way that the focus is, as much as possible, on the work. You don’t need a fancy gallery for that; I have seen an exhibition of portraits in a carefully lit, white-washed stable converted into a temporary dormitory. It was convincingly balanced between function and drama.
*At the same time that art is thus made accessible to a different type of audience, a statement is being made about the commodification of art works by the capitalist market place of buying and selling, which has little to do with creative self- expression and everything to do with profiteering. How many artefacts have been consigned to bank vault to make money in the dark?