Visual Arts Reviews

ART IN THE OCTAGON - High Peak Artists

The range and scale of talent and creativity amongst the High Peak Artist group can be seen and enjoyed in its full glory during this three day event. The 30 or so artist makers, many of whom sell their work in the lovely but limited space of Gallery in the Gardens throughout the year, have been able spread out to show off each of their different ranges and styles in the airy space of the Octagon.

Many of the artists are demonstrating their skills on site throughout the three days, and in some cases even showing visitors how to have a go themselves. Seeing the artworks in creation is both fascinating and inspiring. The artworks for sale range from jewellery and cards, to turned wood, ceramics, photography, paintings and textiles, and are all very reasonably priced. There is something particularly satisfying about buying things from the person who made them and hearing their story.

Jean Ball

POTS, PANS & A SPLASHING MACHINE - Cul-de-sac theatre

Take an intriguing idea – how do you portray, imagine or interpret the story of kidney dialysis and its effects/benefits for those who need(ed) it? Well Cul-de-sac Theatre have had a go.

A quiet space with elements of this history, largely unknown to the general public I suspect, is the setting created here. What else could link a washing machine, tubes, fishtank and a light show straight out of 60’s psychedelia? Well I can’t say too much as that would spoil your experience.

What I can tell you is the space will allow you to reflect on human ingenuity, skill and determination. Of the tension between perseverance or resignation. It gives you the chance to talk to someone who has on-going first-hand experience of the application of science to health/life.

If nothing else I learnt that sausage kins played a role in the development of kidney dialysis. You can experience the space again today (7th) and the 19th-21st July.

Ian Parker Heath

HARMSWORTH'S HOME DOCTOR CUT UP - Hugo Edwardes and Christopher Robinson

Loved it.

So now for the rest of the review. The venue is for starters, off the regular ‘art circuit’ in town. If you’re looking for something arty, a little quirky and left-field which generates interesting discussion and questions about medicine, medical practice, the idea of beauty and how women in particular might chase it then this is the place to go. So how is this achieved?

Well, Hugo Edwardes and Christopher Robinson have dissected ‘The Home Doctor’ a kind of medical encyclopaedia/ instruction book for the general public published by Harmsworth (pre-cursor of Penguin Books) in the 1920s which included 5000 illustrations of procedures/ anatomy/ cures etc. The results are left by volume (there were 4) on a large table for the attendees to leaf through and appear as a slide show with accompanying soundtrack of sounds.

The outcome is the creation of a space and indeed the time, to reflect on medical treatment and our view of it, and what might become of it in another 100 years. Was it barbaric or just a product of it’s time? Is what we do any different now? Was/is it dangerous?

So, Hugo and Christopher have produced a work that is by turn thought-provoking, amusing, questioning, reflective and educational. Thoroughly recommended. You can see it today (7th) and the 19th-21st July.

Ian Parker Heath

MY HEART HAS WINGS AND IT CAN FLY - Babbling Vagabonds - Meet and Makers

This heartfelt exhibition mostly evolved out of a series of ‘Meet & Make’ sessions, ‘Crafternoons’, and workshops in Buxton that involved participants from age 11 to 90 earlier this year. The title was the suggestion of one of the younger participants and is reflected in the images and work on display.

The creative sessions and workshops engaged 69 local people in trying something different, developing new skills, and nurturing their imaginations and creative talents. By providing a safe space to play and have fun the Babbling Vagabonds allowed people who did not describe themselves as ‘creatives’, or ‘artists’ to evolve individual and co-created artworks that in turn inspire others. Unusually, the creative and group process can be seen in some of the pieces in the exhibition.

As Rob Hopkins said in his book From What Is to What If: Unleashing the Power of Imagination “Art is the summoning of attention” and the Babbling Vagabonds and their colleagues Two Left Hands have summoned the attention of nearly 70 people to create the work you can see in this exhibition and hopefully hundreds more when they view the creations that emerged from the imaginations of their neighbours.

One participant said “I love being with everybody else and just how we inspire each other and the freedom to play, that’s what its all about. Isn’t it? Fun!”

Take some time and pop into the Pump Room over the coming days, read the descriptions as well as looking at the images, reflect on the possibilities, and maybe you will be inspired to let your own imagination loose, even just a little bit.

Jean Ball

ART AT THE CRESCENT - PEAK DISTRICT ARTISANS - Peak District Artisans

A strong regular cast in the arts scene at the Fringe, Peak District Artisans return with another great show. Billed as a ‘Showcase’ for some of our finest artists, you can come and see a whole range of media and styles from ceramics to textiles. The added bonus here is that you can chat to the artists themselves and get the lowdown of their work.

I had a long chat with Philip Evans who is a first-timer here at the Fringe, and he describes himself a ‘potter’ which rather suggests mundane, everyday and utilitarian wares, but nothing could be further from what you can see at his display. He employs a fabulous range of textures and colours in his work which you should go and see for yourself. Beautiful.

I also liked Fringe regular Lottie Adams’ work which covered several media but I’m a sucker for Linocut/print in particular. There’s also a number of jewellers at the event which is another favourite of mine, and Amanda Graham’s work certainly caught my eye. Working with recycled materials its certainly a step forward for ‘reduce, re-use, re-cycle’!

The show is on over the weekend of the 6th/7th in the Assembly Rooms – Philip thought it a fabulous venue – and there’s a rotating list of artists and their works on show so you may not see exactly what I saw, but hey, get down there!

Ian Parker Heath

PAULA'S ART PAD - Paula Hobdey

Paula Hobdey is a respected local artist and writer who has exhibited at the Fringe in the past and had works accepted for the much missed Derbyshire Open at Buxton Museum.

It is a treat to be able to appreciate her art in her own home and to be able to talk to her about it. This year’s show also features predominantly new work so there is no sense of this artist slowing down.

Paula has a love of animals and landscapes but her choice of subject matter is far from hackneyed. We see a rubbish tip gleaming in jewel-like colours against an orange sky, and a resplendently crested purple bird - purple because the source photo was only black and white, so why not? Lively figures crop up but often dwarfed by their surroundings. There is even a landscape entitled The Aliens Have Landed in which molten metal creatures explore a piece of barren but beautifully textured countryside.

Her materials also lend great interest to her work. She uses acrylic with full appreciation of its textural potential but also incorporates collage to striking effect. One ridiculously cheaply priced scene features figures against a moonlit sky created using beautifully spangled fabric. Her birds are also wonderfully 3-D; I particularly liked the peacock with its glittering tail featuring gold eye-spots, all set against an abstract background of shades of orange and purple.

Paula's pad is clearly marked with balloons and is off Macclesfield Road just after the almshouses on the right if you are coming from the centre of town. Note it is 9 Wye Head not Wye Head Close. Enjoy a cup of tea and a biscuit with her and tell your friends about this lovely opportunity to learn more about her approach and feel inspired to have a go yourself.

Stephanie Billen

THE FREEDOM TRAIL - The Green Man Gallery Resident Artists

The 10 Resident Artists at the Green Man Gallery were asked to produce works and personal statements in answer to the question: ‘What does freedom mean to you?’ in order to provide a response to the John Bull exhibition produced by Michael Rosen, Jeff Perks and the children of Litton Primary School.

Each artist has their own areas within the gallery and the lovely Freedom Trail logo signposts the individual items that are being highlighted.

Needless to say, there is a huge range of techniques on display – mixed media, pen/ink/coloured pencil, chalk and pastel, linocuts, collage on wood and good old oil on canvas as well as photography!

Along the Freedom Trail there are many opportunities to pause for thought to consider, as a viewer, your own feelings on the subject.

Some of the artists find solace/freedom in nature and why shouldn’t they in the beautiful Peak District or on a windswept beach? Some look for peace within, others need to imagine peace and freedom for others in places like Gaza and Ukraine. For artists, there is also the freedom of expression or, as one artist phrased it: ‘you can go anywhere on a piece of paper’. Eight of the ten artists are women – this is another expression of freedom.

Don’t be too surprised if you spend longer on your own Freedom Trail than you imagined when you began the journey – take a packed lunch and a sleeping bag!

Kevin McQuaid

JOHN BULL: ILLUSTRATIONS FOR MICHAEL ROSEN'S POEM - Jeff Perks (in collaboration with Michael Rosen)

Fancy opening the day before our current General Election! And who would have thought that this project was created in the year of another general election,1979, when artist Jeff Perks originally asked Michael Rosen if he could provide linocuts to illustrate his political poem, John Bull? Fancy that happening in the year I first got to vote!

This show was originally destined for Buxton Museum & Art Gallery but, because of the museum’s closure due to dry rot, the Green Man Gallery, which is part of the same architectural structure, stepped in to exhibit one of the most unusually politically charged presentations that you are likely to see for a very long time.

Mike Rosen describes himself as a socialist, children’s author, broadcaster, performer and poet. His poetry, he says, is designed to ‘make us think about why the world is the way it is, how it might be different and the part we can play in changing it.’ He was the Children’s Laureate for 2007-2009 and this Green Man exhibition includes work created by the children of Litton Primary School in response to Rosen’s John Bull poem.

Jeff Perks defines himself as a socialist, film-maker, artist, print-maker and sculptor. His original linocuts encircle new sculptural pieces. There is a stark, sarcastic brutalism about his art that is reminiscent of communist era propaganda posters. Interestingly, although there is a comical John Bull sculpture to welcome us, this patriotic figure representing England and Englishness (our past equivalent of Uncle Sam) never appears in the linocuts. Instead, he is replaced by other characters: politicians, landowners, factory owners, slave owners and clergymen. We see how the wealth of stately homes has been built on the shoulders of others and factory ‘white’ slavery.

While Jeff’s images in black depict what is really going on in each of the verses of John Bull, there are also historical notes to enlighten us further. The artwork also includes the text of Rosen’s John Bull poem reproduced in (sometimes distorted lines) of red and blue on a white background - the patriotic colours of the Union Jack.

Verse 6 of Rosen’s John Bull poem reads as follows:

He went among these people

He picked them for their size

Then he shipped them across the Atlantic

Letting them die like flies.

It was this image that Jeff, with the support of the teachers at Litton Primary School, explained to the children. He then asked them to mould their own interpretations of how they felt about what they had learned. Jeff built the sardine tin and fired it – the children have created clay models of the tiny figures crammed inside it.

In many ways this General Election has been about small sardine boats and immigration.

I wonder whether this exhibition is a Party Political Party Broadcast on behalf of the Children of Litton School and I wonder what they will make of it in 10 years’ time when they are able to vote?

Kevin McQuaid

MY BUXTON FRINGE - Sam Slide

Trombone player Sam Slide made his Fringe debut with his show Trombone Tune, Trombone Talk in 2014. Now, a decade on, he has put together a photo book of Fringe memories.

This is a poignant story covering 10 years of Buxton Fringe experiences including ‘behind the scenes’ images as well as general experiences. He captures the nerves of the first-time performer - how does the music begin, what support do I need, where’s the sick bucket?! The book is also about camaraderie, sentimentality, poignancy and a shed-load of beer, representing 30 pages of friends, past, present and departed. We meet other performers and Fringe staff, with the message coming through that it is about having the confidence to do it and be supported now and tomorrow.

There is something incredibly touching about this. Even the display is moving; there’s this little book beautifully presented on a hand-built stand placed in front of an empty stage. I watched a new Fringe performer also looking through this with joy and we chatted about the experience of reading a past performer’s history and how important it was for her. I shared with her the notes that I had already written and we smiled over the ending of Sam’s book - which I won’t spoil by revealing.

Sam Slide won ‘The Spirit of the Fringe Award’ in 2016. Now he is reliving his Fringe experiences. Have a look, leave a comment….

Kevin McQuaid

BUXTON FLOWERPOT TRAIL - Funny Wonders

Every year, Funny Wonders, Buxton’s own, highly inclusive puppet theatre company, spearheads the Buxton Flowerpot Trail. Households and businesses around the town are encouraged to create simple puppet figures from recycled flowerpots and these are displayed in scenes and tableaux around the town. The locations of these engaging characters can be found on a map which can be obtained from the Pump Room, Poole’s Cavern or the Green Man Gallery, giving a fun opportunity to stretch your legs and take in the creativity of Buxton residents.

Every year there’s a theme for the trail, and this year it’s based around the Olympics, leading to lots of sporty-themed creations. It’s always great to see businesses joining in and we enjoyed the diversity of the WH Smith entry (lots of detailed work on Adam Peaty’s tattoos) and especially the Regatta equestrian on her greyhound horse. We were also taken with the action poses of the javelin thrower outside the Opera House and the diver in the Pump Rooms.

In all there are 55 flowerpot figures dotted around the town and we look forward to discovering them all on walks over the coming weeks. Every year, we think that we must take part and create our own flowerpot figures. Having enjoyed yet another year of the trail, maybe the inspiration will be enough for us to take part in 2025! Watch this space!

Robbie & Maria Carnegie

STITCHED UP! (AGAIN) - Tracey Coverley

Last year’s Fringe Artist award-winner, Tracey Coverley, is back at the Pavilion Gardens with a stimulating exhibition celebrating strong independent characters. They are mostly female and all of them luminaries who have inspired her as an artist and in life generally. Tellingly, they are so iconic that we don’t need, and aren’t given, their last names.

It is a fascinating paradox that this textile artist really 'shows her workings', to use a maths phrase, yet her portraits always seem to escape their moorings, bursting into life. One minute we are appreciating the number of fabric layers involved, the textures of those fabrics and the work’s runaway threads, the next we are being out-stared by the characterful personality in front of us, whether it is a slightly bleary-eyed Bette Davis or the artist herself looking over her glasses in a forbidding selfie. There is a ghostly Quentin Crisp with a hint of the Miss Havishams, a soulful Marlene Dietrich, and an indomitable Ena Sharples on a mock-up of The TV Times - all of them compelling.

There are no inks or paints used but though much of the work is black and white, there is some judicious use of colour ranging from Dame Edna’s pink and purple hair to Billerette Bill Weston’s very necessary orange uniform.

Tracey is completely transparent about her process which involves reused/donated fabrics, quilt wadding and a sewing machine that wants to draw. Based in Whaley Bridge, she is a member of High Peak Artists and her work is available for sale downstairs in the gallery - something to consider as you enjoy her art and a coffee or two in this comfortable Art Café.

Stephanie Billen

SIP, SIT AND SKETCH - Buxton Crescent Heritage Trust

Following their extensive refurbishment over recent years, the Crescent Hotel and Pump Room are now firmly established as Buxton’s architectural centre and are seen by all our visitors. Now the Pump Room has joined the Fringe.

A cafe has been created in the Visitor Centre and this is now encouraging visitors to create their own sketches. There is no limit as to theme, and art materials are provided free upon purchase of a drink.

The surroundings and atmosphere are unique and offer many subjects for sketching within the Pump Room itself. There is also outdoor seating which gives a perfect view of the splendid Crescent.

Operated by Buxton Heritage Trust, the Pump Room is open every day of the Fringe from 10am to 4pm. No booking is required.

Brian Kirman