The Last Gang in Town

Arena Gallery, Duke Street
13th - 18th July 2006

Reviewed by Amanda DeAngeles

I attended a preview of visual arts show ‘The Last Gang in Town’, for which the artists predominantly hailed from No 50 Parr Street group - an affable bunch of artists with fine credentials and talent.

I discovered that their workshop-studios have been bought by a non-scouser for redevelopment. Fine, except the artists will be evicted from the premises soon. Maybe they are the last gang in town, at least for a collective of independent artists. Where will they go? If you have any viable suggestions please let them know before they are bin-bagged and put out onto the streets like a bad lover.

I hope the loss of yet another art space doesn't affect their projects and ambitions for the forthcoming Liverpool Arts Biennial (assuming they stick around for it).

The Walker Art Gallery and Tate Liverpool should consider the unthinkable and exhibit works to honour artists based here now who are struggling financially. Is it ludicrous to suggest that locally based artists receive a cut of various budgets? Maybe some of the recently accumulated wealth from generous funding bodies and many commercial sponsors of arts in and around Liverpool? Maybe there is an empty building with lots of light and space, which has been redeveloped and isn't being used? Are there any philanthropists who want to play a part in improving the fortunes of homegrown and growing talent?

It seems to me that the stepping-stones to creative acclaim are slowly being whipped out from beneath those who are tiptoeing on them, especially for scousers and new scousers. Oh dear, I offer sincere apologies to all who think I was not politically correct in saying that, what I mean to say is scousers, you know, as in those who were born and raised here or those who consider Liverpool to be their home and support not only its glorious heritage, but embrace what is the true generous spirit, love of life, humour, music and art of its people past and present. Do property developers and funding bodies forget that the majority of scousers are generous, warm-hearted, fun-loving, hard-working souls, with a sense of humour and love for life, music and arts?

Tell me, MR BIG SHOT PROPERTY DEVELOPER, won't it be a sad waste of your money if there is nothing but a whisper of creative presence of ghosts of the past after you have all your perfectly aligned new building work complete? If there isn't a party atmosphere in our city centre it will become dull, and your buildings will be barren. I'm sure you dread the day when you will hear some kid say aloud "Who were the Beatles?"

I have some exciting news for you: we still have the party people (just about), so why not give them some space like a nice BIG SHOT PROPERTY DEVELOPER?

Would new residents of city centre dwellings accept that it is noisy and not waste time by complaining? Imagine living close to Times Square, New York and complaining about the hubbub?

We need our affordable galleries, theatres, restaurants, bars, comedy clubs and stages for our bands not only for our indigenous talent, but also to open a channel for other talent to come here, so that we have an affordable way to go there. Not everyone can afford to be creative; we make friends with our guests and broaden opportunities for all. What brings guests to Liverpool is its heritage, what entices them to stay is its character and warmth.

It lifted my spirits to see the art on display at Arena Gallery; it was such a diverse exhibition of many artists’ work in one large, light room.

Local band Antbear joined the party too…music is meeting visual arts more frequently. They were a great band for the private view party.

Art and music are so closely linked (look at band flyers, CD covers, DVDs and internet website images). It's imperative that music is chosen with care or else it becomes a distraction at visual arts events. For this exhibition there was plenty of time to view all art, up-close before the band started. Antbear were great for the opening party and I hope to see them at another gig. I do feel acoustic guitar soloists rather than a band is more appropriate to accompany a varied art exhibition. In my opinion the music and art viewing should happen simultaneously, unfortunately when the band struck up most people sat down and the art was obstructed for people who had come to view.

My only negative criticism of The Last Gang in Town was a puzzle to find out which artists were responsible for which works. Numbered markers are a consistent gripe of mine. Is it really so difficult to add a name to a piece of card and stick it by the side of the work? You people are intelligent. COME ON! I hope you don't lie awake at night wondering why you don't sell more. However . . .

What an array of visuals! This gallery exhibition had something for everyone, abstract modern blocks of colour, highly glazed finishes, combinations of mediums used on a single canvass, textures, colours, portraiture and a highlight of a large canvass: a study of human form pieced together in an active display of pinks and blues: effectively proving flat 2-D can race. Blocks and numbers assisted with the power of movement here, in pieces by Ben Egerton.

Birds with words (the feathered species) is inspired by Thorburns Birds and illustrated in a book about our British flyers, by James Fisher. Not only are these poster-like images beautiful and colourful, but they are of the quality of birds illustrated in Audubon’s Birds of America tome, which was recently displayed in Central Libraries, William Brown Street, Liverpool. I'd love to see these published in a similar fashion. I wish you best of luck with your forthcoming exhibition in London, Tim Ellis.

Marianne Whitehorn presents a religious stance of Madonna and child with a difference. The figure of a woman wears a full black bathing suit and carries an infant with an old face. The formation of limbs was overly angular, adding to my interest in this painting of perfect light and colour. The vibrancy of the sea she stands in and the backdrop of sky is a highlight of this breathtaking piece.

I will never forget Frank Moore’s ‘Elephants’, which is of a hazy jungle herd coming at you with suspicious eyes. The focus of this piece is curious use of colour on two of the elephant trunks - one green, one orange. I wasn't sure of the significance but was nevertheless mesmerised.

Debbie Ryan creates beautiful mosaic art, which should be an integral part of life for the many new buildings in the city or its cold plazas.

Peter Cameron provides images of people. Pictures paint a thousand words. Caricature style portraits, which express a real spare of the moment disdain. I loved them. An argumentative couple are shown in one picture, and a sneering butler in the other.

I was lucky enough to speak with many of the artists, and I hope I will again. ’The Last Gang in Town’ deserve a reprieve.

Please spare a moment of respect for now closed galleries or studios: THE KIF, 50 PARR ST, ARTSPEQ AT QUIGGINS, ARENA, HANOVER GALLERY, VIEW ONE, MET ART, THE DOOR, KTISIS GALLERY....R.I.P.

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