Tuesday, 10 March 2015

The lure of the local and the curse of the parochial

 Every now and again I send out information to my many contacts in the gallery, museum, publishing, education and media world about my latest work and projects. In this way, they can be kept abreast of what I am doing and it's also a way of allowing them to re-connect with me if we haven't been in contact for a while. Responses are overwhelmingly positive and can lead to fruitful, mutual collaborations, exhibitions, projects or publications. Occasionally however, I can be rocked by a bizarre response that displays a staggering, blinkered attitude to the world of the visual arts. The key word here I think is 'world'. 
Barbagia, Sardinia, 2000 From the exhibition 'Sardinia' 

 One of the great qualities of visual art and photography is that it allows people to connect with a world that they never knew, or possibly might never experience. I have never been surprised, but always gratified by the ability of worldwide audiences to understand and appreciate work I may have made in places other than where I might reside. I remember many visitors to my numerous exhibitions in other countries being absorbed and intrigued by work I may have made in places they have never, or may never visit. I also remember and am grateful for, the enlightened attitude of those galleries and publishers both here and in other countries that have had the vision and open minded attitude to support my work and to allow it to be seen by a wider audience. After all, isn't this just what visual art should be about? Work I have made in Wales has been seen in many European countries, the USA, Canada, etc. Likewise major institutions have acquired prints for their public collections. Ditto work I have made abroad has been seen and purchased in and by institutions here. 
'In Wildwood', published by Lars Muller, Switzerland

A major Swiss book publisher produced a book which did not contain one image of Switzerland. A prestigious photography gallery in Belgium hosted a show of my work which contained only photographs of Wales and the USA. I remember the interest and pleasure the local population in a remote village in Sardinia derived from seeing images I had made of the Welsh landscape during the period I was photographing theirs. I could go on but you get the idea.

So I was surprised to receive an e mail from the editor of one of the local newspapers here expressing their confusion and puzzlement at being sent images not made in the immediate locality and unable to understand why I would do such a thing. In retrospect however, maybe I shouldn't have been too startled by that attitude as it is in this locality I heard something similar many years ago. It was in a gallery that I was told, for the first and only time ever, by any gallery anywhere in the world, (and I have dealt with many), that; 
Connemara, Co.Galway, Ireland 1977 From the exhibition 'Celtic Light'
"Welsh galleries should only show Welsh work". "Oh", I said, "on that basis then, English galleries should only show English work, French, USA, galleries etc. etc. ditto?" "How would any artist from here get an exhibition elsewhere then and how would people from any other country see other work?" "Ah, well, hmmm". They didn't really have an answer but were quite adamant. What a sad attitude and such a parochial view. This wasn't a small private gallery but one that purported to showcase a broad spectrum of work. 

'Vermont, USA, 2002. From the exhibition 'Wildwood' 
Luckily for me I have never been refused publication or exhibition anywhere abroad on the basis that the work wasn't made in the country, let alone in the immediate locality. Just now and again though you hit a blind spot I suppose. While a lot of my work has focussed on places other than my own homeland, I have, and continue to make work here which is seen locally and worldwide. I would have thought that this would be something to celebrate, that a 'local' person, makes work within their home region that is seen abroad and also makes work internationally that can be enjoyed by the local population. It seems to me to be a rather patronising attitude that assumes any publication's readership might only be interested in anything that happens within a tiny radius of the editorial offices. 
'Victory Hall and Cinema', Llanybydder, Carmarthenshire 2004

My experience, worldwide, is happily vastly different. I am grateful for the open minds of all the galleries and publications that have published my Welsh work there and ditto to all those Welsh institutions who have had the foresight to showcase my work from abroad. In other words I am lured by the landscape of the 'local' and enjoy the work I make here but am sometimes cursed by parochial attitudes. 

No comments:

Post a Comment