(#AD) Middlesbrough Art Weekender; an eclectic mix of creative, festival lushness happening across Middlesbrough until evening of 3rd October // Interview with MAW co-founder Liam Slevin.

I’ve got a pure culture vulturing weekend ahead – it’s time for Middlesbrough Art Weekender, 30th September – evening 3rd October. MAW is the North East’s biggest contemporary art festival and it’s taking over Middlesbrough for the next few days to serve a whole lot of art from homegrown Teesside talent and beyond. Attending a festival like this is a great way to support artists (supporting artists can be as simple as checking out their work!) and galleries and indie venues; alongside enjoying a real eclectic mix of creative lushness.

I’m heading to MAW on Saturday (2nd October) and a feast of more than 50 artists showcasing their work via exhibitions, installations, immersive experiences, performances, workshops and activities inspired by Middlesbrough’s industrial heritage across Middlesbrough awaits.  I will be sharing my experience across the day on my Instagram stories – so feel free to check them out via @theculturevulturene

After Warsama by Dominic from Luton
Image credit – Dawn McNamara

Middlesbrough Art Weekender is free to attend, family-friendly and accessible. The full programme is available at www.middlesbroughartweekender.com so you can get planning your visit – so if you’re in the North East of England, why not join me in some culture vulturing and visit too!? Top tip though, based on my previous year’s visit, I recommend plotting your route pre-visit so you can make the most of your time at MAW.

Ahead of my visit, I’ve had the pleasure of catching up with MAW festival co-founder, Liam Slevin, to get the full low down about it all and for some vulturing suggestions. I wanted to do this interview with Liam in 2019, so I’m thrilled it’s finally happened; so let’s get to it and hear from Liam.

TRANSMIT, TRANSFORM, TRANSLATE by Stephen Hurrel
Image credit – Stephen Hurrel

Hi Liam, can you introduce yourself for my fellow culture vultures, peers and pals?

Hi, my name is Liam Slevin; I am an artist-curator originally from Ireland and living on Teesside for just over 5 years now. In that time, I co-founded the Middlesbrough Art Weekender and am now its Creative Director. I programme and run the festival alongside my partner Anna Byrne and Kypros Kyprianou

Liam Slevin

Tell us about your journey into creative industries/arts?

I studied Sculpture and Combined Media at Limerick School of art & design back in Ireland. I finished my BA just as the recession was kicking off and Ireland was devastated by it. Recession can be opportunistic for artists, and I was lucky enough to be part of a collective that opened up a gallery. That was the start of my journey……

For those, that don’t know or haven’t visited before – what is Middlesbrough Art Weekender (MAW)?

The tag line is a multi-site contemporary arts festival happening across the town of Middlesbrough but it’s a lot more. The creative energy that’s happening in Middlesbrough right now, is amazing and it’s great to see it all explode over one weekend of the year.

We Walked Out of the Wilderness by John Ayscough

Why did you start MAW? What was the inspiration behind it?

I think everything should be a festival! MAW is an opportunity to platform and profile a festival full of artists, creative work and venues.

Quite right too! Tell us about this year’s weekender? What can folx expect?

We have a jam-packed programme of exhibitions, workshops (for all ages) projects that include Virtual reality works and a live lava pour.  This will happen across the following venues, The Auxiliary Project Space, Pineapple Black, The Masham, MIMA, Platform A, Gilkes Street Studios, Basecamp and a number of pop-up spaces along Albert Rd. Make sure to check out our programme page for what’s happening, venues and timings.

Keep Your Distance by Peter Hanmer

Can you tell me your #5 MAW programme highlights?

#1 Working with the estate of Gordon Matta Clark has been an absolute highlight. Jessamyn Fiore (estate co-director) has been so generous with her time and knowledge.

#2 The restaging of artist Russ Walker 1986 Degree show. The process of the re-creating and restaging of the work, alongside all his original documentation has been a really beautiful piece of work to be involved in.

#3 The Navigator North produced public works are all amazing, for the weekender they are putting on Stuart Langley’s Beating Heart and Dominic From Luton’s massive wall Mural. Two pieces that are impossible to miss!

Beating Heart Middlesbrough by Stuart Langley
Image credit – Ashley Foster

#4 Jo Lathwood’s performance and ladder drawings. Jo did a performance a few weeks back out in Darlington and she was amazing. Speaking passionately and engaging about rocks is quite the skill.

#5 Anna Ridler; a lovely contemplative take on Tulip mania mirrored with current crypto currency obsessions. 

Anna Ridler ‘Myriad (Tulips)’ (2018) Photo credit: Emily Grundon

How did you go about programming /curating the weekend?

The festival is curated by myself and Kypros Kypraniou. We start with a basic word or sentence as a jumping off point.  We then tap into what’s happening nationally and internationally. This year’s theme is Infrastructure. We’ve all been through a wild 18months and the different infrastructures or lack thereof, have been very evident; MAW programme this year is a way for us to make sense of what’s just happened and how we can move forward. 

This Trust Idea by Andrew Wilson

Tell me about the art trail? Can folx do that any time across the weekend?

Of course! The art trail is there is give people the best overview of the festival and what’s on offer. The art trail kicks off at The Auxiliary, from there folks are invited to meander over to Albert Rd, taking in a number of public art commissions along the way. On Albert Rd, we have 5 pop exhibition spaces, and this is where the main festival exhibition is housed.

DYAD

Advice to folx who haven’t attended MAW before? Where should they start?

Head into town, to a participating venue, grab a programme and jump in. Staff and volunteers will be on hand to answer any questions and point you in the right direction.

Tell me about The Dorman Long Tower Reimagined – A Virtual Reality Experience? That’s going to be so surreal as it was recently demolished……

We’ve been planning a project at the Dorman for a while now, so when we got word it was earmarked for demolition we had a lot of groundwork done for this VR project. For MAW, we’ve reimagined the Dorman as a contemporary art gallery and commissioned three very different exhibitions to take place in a virtual reality experience of the Dorman Long Towers interior and invites you to come and explore. The tower has been transformed into a VR contemporary art gallery, created by artist Iain Nicholls with assistance from Ste Bruce and Connor Clements.

Bobby Benjamin

I invited local artists Bobby Benjamin and David Watson to recreate a show that they have done through Dovetail Joints. They present traditional painting with a post-industrial town narrative. US artist Birch Cooper also exhibits hyper-realistic sculptures that can only be experienced in VR worlds, while new arts space WetDoveTail showcase their studio holders through digitally created 2D & 3D works.

Birch Cooper

For folx who want to stay out a little bit later across MAW and have some bevs – where would you recommend going? What’s on?

On Friday and a bit more arty, we’re working with local legends Bobby Benjamin and John James Perangie for a Picasso Baby x MAW collab. That’s on at Disgraceland and Gordon Dalton’s road move, filmed across the A66 is happening at Pineapple Black. On Saturday night, it is to Basecamp where Mouses will be making a racket. Mouses are one of the first bands I saw when I moved to Teesside; I think it was Stockton Calling 2016 and I’ve loved them since.

ESTATE at Platform Arts Centre Easterhouse Glasgow – Image credit Coulson & Tennant

How would you describe Teesside art scene right now?

Something that is coalescing into something beautiful

Boro Through Time by Sofia Barton
Image credit – Dawn McNamara

Any Teesside artists that are up and coming, that you want to tell me about and profile?

Loucey Bain, she’s great and is doing some amazing work.

What’s next for you after MAW?

Back to Auxiliary work; we’re changing how the space runs and are opening it up to other curators etc to run the programme. It is also grant writing time for us so there’s always that excitement!

Oh I hear you…..how can folx keep up to date with you and the festival?

@middlesbroughartweekender

Build Bridges by Teresa Poulton

Thank you Liam – you’ve really whet my appetite and I’m really looking forward to the weekend ahead. Check out my Instagram Stories (@theculturevulturene) across the day to follow my MAW Saturday visit or better still, why not join me and VISIT!? Get plotting and planning your route via: www.middlesbroughartweekender.com/programme and you can download the programme via: https://buff.ly/39ciuaq

(#AD) The Hancock Gallery – a beaut Newcastle commercial gallery – a MUST visit and a gem!

Culture Vulture visit to The Hancock Gallery

The Hancock Gallery – Mark Demsteader’s work – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

I recently, had the pleasure of being invited along to The Hancock Gallery in central Newcastle a few weeks ago, to take in their figurative exhibition ‘Between  Distance and Desire’ featuring headline artist Mark Demsteader, Billy Childish, Ron Hicks, Milt Kobayashi, John Smyth, Chris Gambrell and many more.

If you haven’t heard of or aren’t aware of The Hancock Gallery, well you need to add it to your *must* visit list – it is a beaut commercial gallery space in a converted terrace Georgian House on Jesmond Road West in central Newcastle. It is nestled right next door to Newcastle University’s Robinson Library. Their opening times are Thursday – Saturday 10am-5pm and they sometimes host events in connection to their exhibition programme; their exhibition programme tends to change approx. twice a year. They are a fully COVID-19 secure venue and adhering to all social distancing measures. Ahead of your visit, I would check out their website, just in case anything has changed (i.e. a local lockdown or change in opening times). All the art displayed in the gallery space is for sale and they also offer the Own Art scheme, enabling you to purchase work via a flexible payment plan.

The Hancock Gallery – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

I was first invited to visit a year or so ago when The Hancock Gallery first opened and it was quickly added to my fave galleries to visit in Newcastle list. The exhibition then, was headlined by Alexander Millar with his wonderful industrial working and football loving Gadgie portraits and other collections of his work. I’ve always been a big fan of Alex’s work so as you can imagine, that was a dream exhibition to view. During that visit, I experienced a warm, friendly welcome, very knowledgeable, relaxed gallery staff and a beaut open, light space which was just a delight to inhabit whilst taking in the exhibition.

The Hancock Gallery – Mark Demsteader’s work – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

Moving on to my most recent visit, well I was excited about this visit to The Hancock Gallery for four reasons – 1. This was my FIRST gallery visit since lockdown. So, I had pre-Eurovision excitement level butterflies (what can I say? I’m a big Eurovision fan!). I was so excited to get back into a gallery space and take in some art. 2. The exhibition featured artists that I knew but had never seen their work in real life, like Mark Demsteader AND 3. It featured artists that were new to me, like Ron Hicks.  It is fair to say, I was hyped and spent my pre-visit, reading up on the different artists and checking out their Instagram. 4. This exhibition was a figurative one (i.e. depicting figures)! Whilst, I’m much more abstract and conceptual in my art preference, through lock down, I’ve found myself drawn to hyper realistic art of people….. maybe I’m craving human connection in a socially distanced world or may be my taste has broadened, either way, I was looking forward to this exhibition.

The Hancock Gallery Manager Chris – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

For this visit, I had a socially distanced gallery tour (check me out!) with Chris, the Hancock Gallery Manager who took me around the two floors and allowed me to ask him all the questions under the sun – which was brilliant for someone like me who is ever curious. I started my visit with getting some hand sanitizer from one of their hand washing stations and getting comfortable. We launched into conversation about the provocation “Is paint dead?” – like with many things, art goes in trends and things come in and out of fashion. Painting and work using paint, has for the last decade been considered a bit old fashioned…….moreover a few years ago, if you told me, that I was going to see a figurative exhibition of paintings, the images that come to my mind are indeed conventional and a bit……. well dull and not to my taste. The exhibition ‘Between Distance and Desire’ is so much more than that- it was so vibrant, beautiful and for me, really proved that paint is back *in* and how artists use paint SO differently. I was really blown away, how different artists approach figurative work and hats off to Chris and his selection of artists for this group exhibition, because it really worked.

The Hancock Gallery – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

As we moved into the main space, Chris told me more about his role, his ambition for The Hancock Gallery and we also debated the North East arts scene. Chris explained that he is responsible for the curation of the work and selecting artists to exhibition in the gallery space and managing those relationships whilst having the ambition for the gallery to present Internationally renowned artists in the North. As the Culture Vulture, I’m all about championing Northerness and Northern artists but actually, I can get too focused in on that bubble and completely forget about the International art scene, so I really relish having a gallery like The Hancock Gallery  in Newcastle to remind me of the bigger wide world out there; introducing me to new artists and reminding me to dip into the International scene!

The Hancock Gallery – Mark Demsteader’s work – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

Chris and I started my tour of the exhibition ‘Between Distance and Desire’ by naturally starting with the work of headline artist Mark Demsteader. Like with many artists, Mark’s creative journey to become one of the top figurative painters in the UK, was not conventional. Born into the 60s, whilst passionate about art and gaining two foundation courses to enable him to pursue a creative career, due to lack of opportunity he ended up working in the family whole sale butchery business, before eventually in the 1990s taking a school art technician, where he worked for just over a decade. During this period, he kept building his portfolio, but during a time when figurative work was not of interest to many galleries or the art market, he made little progress but kept chasing that dream; eventually he got his lucky break and was selected to exhibit at a Greenwich gallery alongside other artists and sold several pieces. From that moment, he’s never looked back and is a very successful commercial artist today!

The Hancock Gallery – Mark Demsteader’s work – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

I first became aware of Mark’s work, when he was drawing his Emma Watson (actress) collection – she initially approached him for a commission and he asked if he could paint and draw her. This eventually turned into a beautiful collection of work which I remember being in the press in 2011. Beyond that, I’ve been aware of Mark’s work as it’s popped up in other exhibitions or in the news. It was wonderful to take in a showing of his work right here in Newcastle.

The Hancock Gallery – Mark Demsteader’s work – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

Mark’s pieces often feature women with 90s fashion model proportions; the work was beautiful to see up close and to me, it depicts a conventional and idealised version of femininity. Chris talked through the work and I was interested to find out that Mark often paints with his hands, a knife, uses sand-paper alongside “painting by accident” using different layers to build elements of the work. Mark’s pieces seem so precise and neat, so I was surprised to hear this. It was also interesting to learn that Mark has a rotation of 6 models, he uses for his work AND that he thinks about what work might sell, before painting; his best sellers are his figurative works of women, so of course, it makes sense that this is what he paints most of. I found his work really special, atmospheric, beautiful with a hint of comforting sadness – I can’t really describe what I felt was sad about them; may be the facial expressions of each woman connected to the weird sadness I am feeling at the moment in my life, but I felt connected to them. My favourite pieces were the yellow ones – love bold yellow!

The Hancock Gallery – Mark Demsteader’s work – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

We then moved upstairs to take in the rest of Mark’s work AND the other artists exhibiting. First up was Billy Childish. Billy is a painter, author, poet, photographer, film maker, singer and guitarist. Since the late 1970s, Billy has been prolific in creating music, writing and visual art. I’ve always considered Billy to be an unapologetic rebel and free spirit, therefore my interest has often been in him as a person, as opposed to his work. He is just one of those glorious humans that creativity and uniqueness flows through their veins and pulsates into everything they touch and do.

The Hancock Gallery – Mark Demsteader’s work – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

In this exhibition, Billy’s work was a beautiful and brilliant contrast to Mark’s; it really highlighted how broad “figurative art” actually is. His work was colourful, playful, unapologetically Billy and nods to the fact, he’s known as being a “pop culture outlier”. I wasn’t surprised to hear from Hancock Gallery Manager Chris, that Billy has often rejects the mainstream art scene and yet, finds himself drawn back in time and time again due to his popularity and folx curiosity. Chris also told me, that Billy Childish used to be involved with Tracey Emin – that info I treated like art world gossip and I’m hoping it, may help me in a pub quiz in the future!

The Hancock Gallery’s Chris – Billy Childish’s work – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

Next up was Bristol based artist Chris Gambrell and his work – his pieces were stunning, colourful and crayon seemed to be the material used. His work caught my eye as soon as I walked into this room – I loved the colour, the angles, the layers, their unfinished nature and just a hint of *diva* in them. Hancock Gallery Manager Chris shared with me, that Chris had a background in fashion illustration and you can really tell – his work is SO fashion and that is what makes it special!

The Hancock Gallery – Chris Gambrell’s work – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

Then we moved on to a new artist discovery for me and a personal favourite from the whole exhibition, American artist Ron Hicks. Ron is a brilliant black artist and his recent work often depicts people of colour in his work – “Static series” (not on view at The Hancock Gallery) represents his feelings about being racially profiled and black representation. Ron is a fascinating artist to read about and to look back at his back catalogue of work – as you will see he used to paint rather traditional and romantic depictions of people, before really flipping his style into something more impressionist and much more to my personal taste. I could certainly see a Hicks hanging up in my house and his work, reminds me a little bit of my fave muralist Dan Cimmermann which is probably why I love it so much!

The Hancock Gallery – Ron Hicks’ work – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

I next took in John Smyth and Milt Kobayashi pieces! Scottish artist John was another new artist for me! His beautiful figurative paintings at The Hancock Gallery, use decorative patterns to make them feel a bit more abstract. They felt so Instagrammable and perfect for a particular styling of interiors. American artist Milt, was also a new artist discovery (honestly, what a morning, full of new artists!) and I LOVED their work; it’s sophisticated, ethereal, sometimes playful and brought a big smile to my face.

The Hancock Gallery – John Smyth’s work – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

My tour with Hancock Gallery Manager Chris came to a close with me finding out about what the next exhibition is and potential future exhibiting artists – I was sworn to secrecy not to tell, so my lips are sealed but I’m MEGA excited for it and thrilled it’s happening in Newcastle. I’m sure I will be posting all about it on Vulture, so keep your eyes peeled!

The Hancock Gallery’s Chris – (Image Credit Coffee Design)

Post tour, I went back round the whole gallery space taking my time, taking it all in on my own and doing Instagram Lives (you may have seen them if you follow me on Insta – @theculturevulturene). I made a wish list of pieces I’d love to buy – I’ve collected so many pieces of art and I can’t wait to fill my forever home with it all. I also spent some time in The Hancock Gallery Art market which is a beautiful space full of cards and art books to purchase – my two favourite things. Art books are such a weakness of mine and they had an amazing book for sale all about womxn artists – which of course was my vibe. They have the most amazing comfy seating in this area, so I chilled whilst checking out a book or two.

The Hancock Gallery (Image Credit Coffee Design)

On the way out, I stumbled onto Elizabeth Power’s work (not officially part of the exhibition but on sale) and it was textbook Culture Vulture – so much so, she’s hopefully the subject of a future Culture Vulture interview.

I left The Hancock Gallery with a huge smile on my face- I had a wonderful time. Social distancing was very well managed whilst feeling really welcoming and it was a lush experience. You can find out more about the gallery, the artists exhibiting there and have a deeks at their online exhibition via the website. Their opening times are Thursday – Saturday 10am-5pm; so, go on and plan a visit to The Hancock Gallery soon and keep an eye out on their socials for future exhibitions and future events.

And thank you The Hancock Gallery and Chris for such a lovely time!

Until next time Culture Vultures.

The Hancock Gallery – (Image Credit Coffee Design)