Only one question for York tragicomic Pop artist Harland Miller…

York artist Harland Miller stands by his York, So Good They Named It Once mock book cover at York Art Gallery on Friday morning. Picture: Charlotte Graham

AS his biggest-ever solo show, Harland Miller: York, So Good They Named It Once, opens in his home city at York Art Gallery, what is Harland saying about York in that picture title on a retro book cover, now replicated on posters, mugs, key rings, fridge magnets and tote bags?

“People have thought ‘York, So Good They Named It Once’ must be satirical, comparing York to New York, whereas I thought I was riffing on York being first; being very important way before New York – and a Roman capital.

“It was also a place of so many firsts for me; where I did my first paper round, and through these streets I can go and remember things that happened to me. Like my first kiss on same old wasteland on Taddy Road [Tadcaster Road], that’s now a Tesco.

Back to front: Harland Miller walks towards his Pelican Books spoof cover York, So Good They Named It Once. Picture: Charlotte Graham

“And just round the corner from here, behind the library, I smoked my first joint. That’s why I got hooked on books…because I was by the library!

“This gallery is where I first saw paintings. Is it a dream to be back here? The answer is ‘No’, because, as a boy, it would have been foolish to dream of such a thing.

“But unless I’m about to wake up back behind the library, I sense this is the moment to thank so many people. I certainly wouldn’t be here without my mum [now 95], who’s travelled all the way from Dringhouses to be here tonight, but I want to thank everyone not once, but twice.”

Harland Miller: York, So Good They Named It Once, featuring his Penguin Book Covers, Pelican Bad Weather Paintings and Letter Paintings and Recent Work, runs at York Art Gallery until May 31.

Sisters are seeing it for themselves on day out at Anita Bowerman’s Dove Tree gallery

Sister Agnes and Sister Julian enjoy a tour of the Dove Tree Art Gallery and working studio with Harrogate artist Anita Bowerman

EVER since Harrogate artist Anita Bowerman held an art class for nuns at a Yorkshire monastery, the Sisters have been vowing to pay a visit to her Dove Tree studio.

The Sisters come from a closed order of Benedictine nuns at Stanbrook Abbey in Wass, near The White Horse at Kilburn.

Rules mean they do not venture out from the monastery in the North York Moors National Park, unless an urgent errand calls, and they are allowed only one day’s holiday a year.

The Sisters spend their time praying and carrying out other religious and household duties within the monastery. 

While visiting one of the Sisters at a care home in Harrogate, the nuns decided to fulfil their promise and call in to Anita’s Dove Tree Art Gallery and studio in Back Granville Road, behind the Cardamom Black restaurant.

Sister Julian beside the “Eiffel Tower” white piano at Anita Bowerman’s Harrogate gallery and studio

Anita was delighted to welcome the excited visitors and show them around. “It’s not every day you get a visit from two nuns. I was delighted to see Sister Julian and Sister Agnes and they loved my artwork.

“Sister Julian played my white mini grand piano, which was said to have been used during the official opening of the Eiffel Tower.”

Anita, artist-in-residence at RHS Garden Harlow Carr in Harrogate, has visited Stanbrook Abbey three times in the past few years. The nuns invited her to teach them how to make paper-cut artworks, so they could revive this ancient art in their spare time.

She is especially close to Sister Julian, who loves art, and the two have been painting together just outside the monastery.

“I love visiting Stanbrook Abbey; it’s so peaceful and fills you with tranquillity and inspiration,” says Anita. “Sister Julian is working on some amazing gold-leaf art illustrations and I’ve been able to gather together some art materials for her.”

Anita Bowerman showing Sister Julian and and Sister Agnes around her Dove Tree gallery and studio

Sister Julian and Sister Agnes were in raptures over this part of their day out beyond the monastery walls. Sister Julian says: “It was a rare opportunity for us to do this and it had to coincide with a visit to one of our Sisters in a care home nearby.

“As soon as we stepped through the door, large and small paintings and marvellously intricate cut-out work adorned the walls and a profusion of colour and variety of scene were a delight to see. Anita welcomed us warmly and told us about her work as artist-in-residence at the RHS Garden Harlow Carr. 

“Anita’s love of nature and gardens was evident in the paintings she had of scenes throughout the year, painted ‘en plein air’ using anything she can find, such as twigs, feathers, pebbles, leaves and grass.

“This gives an unusual quality to her work, not seen elsewhere, and makes her work down to earth and original. It’s a small gallery but bursting with life and I would recommend a visit if at all possible.”

York artist Sharon McDonagh finds beauty in decay in a city where buildings are losing their soul

Shades Of Decay 1, by Sharon McDonagh

SHARON McDonagh cannot recall any past Urban Decay exhibition in the historic city of York.

“So, this show will be quite unique and probably a tad controversial for York,” she says, introducing her Fragments artwork as lead artist in the Urban Decay winter show at Blossom Street Gallery, in the shadow of Micklegate Bar, York.

“With the new development plans being released late last year for Piccadilly and the public view on the design of the new hotel, especially the Banana Warehouse façade, I’m exhibiting my paintings of these buildings, as well as a new one of the lovely derelict ‘Malthouse’ building in The Crescent that was, up until recently, taken over by Space Invaders as a pop-up arts, craft, food and drink space until its demolition.”  

Sharon is drawn to painting the “darker side” to York, in particular to its derelict buildings, against the backdrop of her high-profile past career as a police forensic artist. That work required her to draw dead bodies, creating artist’s impressions of unidentified fatalities from mortuary photographs and crime-scene information, and you can make the psychologist’s leap between death and decay if that is your Freudian wont.

“It might seem mad going from being a forensic artist depicting bodies to doing paintings of decay, but I suppose it’s all an organic path of death and destruction,” she says.

Driven by a passion for a nostalgia and a fascination with urban decay, the Holgate artist sees both dereliction in York and now dereliction of duty among the city’s architects and developers.

Switched on but empty: one of Sharon McDonagh’s Fragments at Blossom Street Gallery

“Redevelopment, if it’s done in the right way, is fine, but I don’t think they’re empathetic with what the building was originally. They’re too consumed by money, not by aesthetics, which is ironic when we’re living in a beautiful city like York.”

Sharon took part in York Open Studios for the first time last spring – and will do so again at Venue 57 in April – when her exhibition of derelict buildings had the title of Transition. “What’s been lost in York’s buildings is soul,” she says.

“Like when Space Invaders took over the ‘Malthouse’, different organic communities came together and gave it soul – it was always busy, it had such a good vibe, and because it was off the beaten track, you didn’t get stag and hen party groups going there – and it makes me mad that other places in York are not doing the same.

“So, when I saw the plans for Piccadilly, I thought ‘here we go again’. It’s not about being radical; it’s about being in tune with how York was.

“I think of all of York’s forgotten buildings that people walk past but don’t give a thought to, but people worked in those buildings, lived in those buildings, had businesses in them, and we need to utilise what’s been left derelict. But, as I said before, it seems to be York is becoming soulless.

The Front Elevation, The Malthouse, by Sharon McDonagh, the latest addition to her Transitions series of derelict York buildings

“The opportunity to make something of York’s old buildings is wasted by lack of creativity and empathy for what was there before, and I just don’t know what designers, planners and architects are going to do with the city next.”

You will not be surprised that Sharon is a supporter of the somewhat contentious Spark:York small business enterprise in 23 “upcycled” shipping containers in Piccadilly. “I love it! People who don’t go there are the ones who criticise it, saying it’s an eyesore, but there was nothing there before, and yes, four of the businesses that started there have moved to bigger premises,” she says.

Sharon has another reason for “always loving” derelict buildings, she reveals. “I enjoyed the rave scene of the late Eighties and early Nineties that took over derelict places, though I was more intent on looking around the buildings than dancing!” she says. “I know it was illegal, but you could walk around these amazing old buildings, which was fantastic.”

For her Fragments show, she has complemented her 2019 Transition buildings with new paintings inspired by her work in end-of-life care, personal experience and working with dementia patients.

“The Fragments series is an exploration into the fragility of life,” she says of her tactile paintings that evoke emotion, nostalgia and intrigue. “The vintage light switches and sockets symbolise the person, while their last moments and memories are represented by the fragments of wallpaper and tiles. The last glimpses of life, the last remaining fragments before they die.

“I thought of light switches and sockets, because of the act of switching on and off lights and then life finally being switched off.”

In her artwork, she creates highly textured acrylic and multi-media paintings that examine “the beauty that nature makes through decay”. Basing her Fragments designs on vintage wallpaper, she makes and hand paints all the pieces of wallpaper and tiles separately. She then distresses them to look old and decayed before adding them to her paintings.

“When you see a derelict house, there are so many levels of paint and wallpaper, so many different lives have been lived there, so many layers to those lives, that it’s akin to your own life, which has many layers,” she says

Analysing her subject matter, Sharon notes: “I always have a bit of a dark side, don’t I? People think I must have a broom and cauldron at home and fly around at night! But I love how natural decay can cause beauty.

“It’s about change; urban decay is about natural change, but we don’t like change, or people or things dying, but we can’t shy away from it.

Miss You, by Sharon McDonagh, dedicated to her late father. Note the receiver, dislodged off the hook

“It’s that simple. We’re here and then we’re gone, but people don’t like to talk about death – but it’s been in my working life for a long time, first as a police forensic artist and then at the hospital.”

Her artistic outpourings have helped Sharon deal with her own grief. “When a parent goes – my dad had cancer – that grief changes you forever, you feel it every day, but you grasp at what keeps them alive in your thoughts, you grasp at what reminds you of them. That’s why there’s nostalgia in my paintings,” she says.

“I’ve dedicated the painting of a telephone in the Fragments series to my father, so I’ve called it Miss You, and symbolically the receiver is off the hook to signify the last missed call.”

Sharon always paints “from the heart, not from the bank balance”. “That’s the right way. If someone stands in front of one of my paintings and gets an emotional response, that means more to me than money in the bank,” she says.

Shades Of Decay 2, by Sharon McDonagh, at Blossom Street Gallery

“When I’m painting, it has to mean something to me, or it won’t mean something to someone else when they look at it.

“I also like my paintings to be tactile. If you can touch something, it evokes memories, and that’s why I like doing 3D pieces and collages, so you can touch them and all your senses are working at once. I love touching paintings, though I once got chucked out of a gallery for doing that!”

From paintings, to prints and cards, Sharon’s Fragments are in touching distance at Blossom Street Gallery until the end of February. “It’s great to be invited to do an exhibition on Urban Decay, which I don’t think has been done in York before, and it’s been really good to get  feedback on it,” she says.

What would York’s planners, designers and architects make of it, you wonder.

York artist Sharon McDonagh, standing by her Fragments artwork at Blossom Street Gallery’s Urban Decay exhibition in York

Did you know?

FOR many years, Sharon McDonagh created artist’s impressions of unidentified fatalities from mortuary photographs and crime-scene information.

She gained recognition for her work within this field on television, as well as in the media, on account of her unusual work and experiences.

She was commissioned as an artist by the BBC to produce the drawing of a late relative of footballer-turned-television-presenter Gary Lineker for BBC1’s Who Do You Think You Are?. 

She has been involved in community art projects with disadvantaged young people and now works with teenagers from challenging backgrounds, promoting art as a way to express themselves. 

At York Hospital, she is delivering a unique project on the dementia ward, using art as a way to encourage patient interaction and alleviate anxiety. 

The Banana Warehouse, Piccadilly, one of Sharon McDonagh’s Transitions series, to be exhibited at City Screen, York, in May and June

Sharon McDonagh’s exhibitions

Urban Decay, Blossom Street Gallery, Blossom Street Gallery, York, until February 29. Joint show with Fran Brammer, Linda Harvey, Simon Sugden and Jill Tattersall.

York Open Studios “Taster” Exhibition, Central Methodist Church, St Saviourgate, York, April 3 (private virew), 4 and 5.

York Open Studios, Venue 57, Holgate, York, April 17, preview evening 7pm to 9pm; April 18, 19, 25 and 26, 10am to 5pm.

City Screen café bar, Coney Street, York, May 19 to June 15, featuring six Piccadilly paintings. “The café has soul,” she says. “The wall is exposed brickwork, which is a perfect backdrop for my work.”

Resonate solo exhibition, Basement Arts Project, Beeston, Leeds, June 22 to July 21. “It really will be in a basement,” she says.

Linda Combi’s garden exhibition finds the power in flowers in the face of war

Artist Linda Combi at work in her York studio

YORK artist Linda Combi was so struck by a Channel 4 News story on The Last Gardener Of Aleppo that she has responded with an exhibition of the same title.

“This work is a new departure for me and it’s taken some time to complete, but at last it’s nearly ready,” she says.

Linda’s artwork will be on show from February 25 to April 6 at The Angel on the Green café bar – “where the footfall is huge,” she says – in Bishopthorpe Road, York.

“The news story featured Abu Waad, who ran a garden centre in the besieged city Syrian city of Aleppo, assisted by his 12-year-old son Ibrahim,” she recalls.

“Throughout the film, Abu Waad – his name means ‘Father of the Flowers’ – described his love and admiration for flowers and plants. This last remaining garden centre was an oasis of calm and beauty for the citizens of Aleppo, who were experiencing death and destruction all around them.”

Not long after the film was made in 2016, Abu Waad was tragically killed by a bomb that fell nearby.

Father Of The Flowers, in memory of Abu Waad, The Last Gardener of Aleppo, by Linda Combi

“His garden centre was closed and his son Ibrahim was left fatherless.  I wanted to commemorate Abu Waad’s life and work through art and decided to hold an exhibition where 80 per cent of any proceeds from the exhibition and card sales would be divided between the charities UNHCR and The Lemon Tree Trust,” says Linda. 

“Because of the continuing horrors being endured by the Syrian people, it feels important to celebrate life and beauty at this time.”

Many of Linda’s pieces in the exhibition are illustrations inspired by the words of Abu Waad and based on Syrian carpet designs found in her research. All the work is mixed media, incorporating painted papers, drawing, and stencil.  

As well as work directly relating to the story of Abu Waad, further pieces take the theme of The Oasis in celebration of secure and beautiful places, such as gardens, set in harsh environments.

“The Lemon Tree Trust is involved in helping refugees create gardens in their strange new surroundings, and so I’ve included an artwork about the journeys made by refugees who often travel carrying seeds from home,” says Linda.

“Both the UNHCR and The Lemon Tree Trust have responded positively to this exhibition, offering materials for display and distribution. I’m grateful for the good work that they do.”

Linda’s The Last Gardener Of Aleppo will be launched on February 25 from 8.30pm.

Hazelnut, by Linda Combi

Here, Charles Hutchinson interviews Linda Combi ahead of The Last Gardener Of Aleppo opening.

What form did your research take, Linda?

“I watched the Channel 4 News story The Last Gardener Of Aleppo over and over again on YouTube, drawing Abu Waad and his son Ibrahim, and taking down the words of Abu Waad about his love of flowers and plants.

“I then found images of Syrian carpets on the net, but also visited the Islamic Room of the British Museum to draw from their decorative tiles.

“I needed images of drones, of bombers, and of destruction from bombing, sadly too often available on the news.

“Finally, I downloaded a map of Aleppo, which I then used for my collages.  York Central MP Rachael Maskell’s talk at a public meeting a few years ago, about how events in Syria have unfolded, was really informative, and I thank her for that.

If the pen is mightier than the sword, can art be mightier than the bomb (in the long run)? 

“I’ve been very inspired by the works of Banksy, particularly his public art on The Wall in Palestine, and his Bethlehem ‘Walled Off Hotel’.

Desert Flower, by Linda Combi

“Political cartoons are powerful instruments for highlighting hypocrisy and dictatorship.  Picasso’s Guernica is horribly relevant today.

“OK, these art forms haven’t stopped the bombing, but they have shone a light on the atrocities. As well as enriching our lives and reminding us of joy, art can be critical and informative and have the power to undermine those in power.  

“I’ve been hugely impressed by the creativity shown in the placards seen on the streets during protests during the past few years.” 

Poppies are so evocative of the First World War. Your art is embracing flower power too. What makes them such a potent symbol in the face of human atrocities?

“As a San Francisco hippie who discovered the joys of gardening on arriving in the UK, I do believe in flower power.

“Abu Waad’s flowers brought moments of joy to the citizens of Aleppo during the destruction of that city, and who saw death all around them. He believed that flowers could ‘nourish the soul’.

Despite Everything, by Linda Combi

“I’ve always been impressed by how flowers and their ’seasons’ are so important to the British. The arrival of snowdrops, then the daffodils, followed by bluebells and tulips: all herald the end of a long and dark winter. So, in an extreme situation like war, flowers bring a sense of the life force even more powerfully.”

What work do the charities UNHCR and The Lemon Tree Trust do?

“The UNHCR is the global United Nations Refugee Agency, which aims to save lives, protect rights and help refugees to work for a peaceful and productive future.

“They also help displaced communities and stateless people, and they believe everybody has the right to seek asylum from violence and persecution, war or disaster. “Their work is varied, involving education, providing shelter, protecting migrants at risk, and highlighting the desperate plight of migrants around the world.

“The Lemon Tree Trust believe that ‘gardening has the power to positively address issues of isolation and mental health’.

“They help to create community gardens in refugee camps by working with those refugees who are so very far from home.

The Flower Is The Essence Of The World, by Linda Combi

“The Refugee Garden at the Chelsea Flower Show was a moving example of how important this can be for refugees. One woman said, ‘We had so many flowers in Syria. This garden makes me happy’.”

What materials have the two charities offered for display and distribution?

“They’ve been very enthusiastic about the exhibition and have offered posters, leaflets, T-shirts and stickers, as well as publicising the exhibition on their social media.”

What are you working on next?

“The next project will be work with Refugee Action York on some teaching materials. I’d also love to do more T-shirt designs for the Good Organisation, who work with the homeless in York.

“As for personal work, I’ll be continuing the theme of migration, but this time the emphasis will be on borders.

“I’ve lived in San Diego for a time and have witnessed migrants being sent back over the border to Mexico after attempts trying to get into the USA.

“We walked along part of The Wall dividing Mexico and the USA and talked to border patrol officers there.

This Tree Will Live – Despite Everything, by Linda Combi

“My time in Israel also fed into my preoccupation with walls and divisiveness. My Sicilian ancestors came to the USA not knowing what the future held for them, but they were made welcome and did create a good life and a large family.

“I was welcomed to the UK many years ago, and so the issue of immigration has been central to my life.”

Will you be creating one of your humorous York calendars for 2021?

“It’s too late for a 2021 calendar but I’d love to create one for a charity.  

“As for the York calendars, I feel that though the tourist boom in York might have boosted the economy, luxury flats and new cafes and restaurants aren’t inspiring to draw!

“However, I can imagine being enticed by the prospect of a calendar that would celebrate quirky, lesser-known pubs hidden away in York.”

Linda Combi’s poster for her Angel on the Green exhibition

Linda Combi: The Last Gardener Of Aleppo exhibition, Angel on the Green, Bishopthorpe Road, York, February 25 to April 6.

Lesley Birch marks the moment with Musical Abstract show at Partisan

Flurry, mixed media on canvas, one of the pieces from Lesley Birch’s new Musical Abstract Collection at Partisan, York

LESLEY Birch’s exhibition Marks & Moments at Partisan, the boho restaurant, café and arts space in Micklegate, York, is a feast of colour and imagination. 

Filling two floors, more than 50 paintings are on view, from Lesley’s  Musical Abstract Collection – large canvases expressing music and movement in nature – to little gouache gems created en plein air in the remote village of Farindola in Abruzzo, Italy.

Reverie, mixed media, by Lesley Birch, who says: “Ethereal energy in expressive brush marks – another from the Musical Abstract Collection”

Lesley’s paintings capture an atmosphere of place and moment with her own personal language of mark-making, whether on paper or on canvas, and this newly opened display showcases it all.

“When Florencia Clifford at Partisan invited me to have a show, I thought it was a grand opportunity to bring a lot of paintings into a buzzy space, where food and art are key,” says Lesley, who works out of PICA Studios, an artist collective space in Grape Lane, York.

The Old Town, oil on canvas, by Lesley Birch: scratches and atmosphere from Lesley’s Italian Collection

“Partisan is a sort of emporium full of collectable stuff, such as vintage lamps and the like, and it’s so exciting to see my paintings in this bohemian setting, reflected off the old French mirrors and hung high and low.”

Divided into colour and spring moods upstairs and dramatic landscapes downstairs, the marks and moments of Lesley’s artistic journey can be seen at Partisan until March 31. All paintings are for sale.

For more details, go to lesleybirchart.com.

From Essex house to Nunnington Hall country pile for Grayson Perry’s tapestries

The Essex Tapestries: The Life of Julie Cope (2015) , by Grayson Perry, on the drawing room wall of Nunnington Hall from February 8

GRAYSON Perry will be Stitching The Past Together with his tapestries at Nunnington Hall, near Helmsley, from February 8.

Out go the National Trust country house’s 17th century Verdure tapestries for conservation work; in come the Essex transvestite artist, potter, broadcaster and writer’s typically colourful and thought-provoking pair of Essex House Tapestries: The Life of Julie Cope (2015).

Hanging in an historic setting for the first time in the drawing room, this brace of large-scale, striking works tells the story of Julie Cope, a fictitious Essex “everywoman” created by the irreverent Chelmsford-born 2003 Turner Prize winner.

The tapestries illustrate the key events in the heroine’s journey from her birth during the Canvey Island floods of 1953 to her untimely death in a tragic accident on a Colchester street.

Rich in cultural and architectural details, the tapestries contain a social history of Essex and modern Britain that “everyone can relate to”. 

These artworks represent, in Perry’s words, ‘the trials, tribulations, celebrations and mistakes of an average life’.

In Its Familiarity Golden: a close-up of one of Grayson Perry’s Essex House Tapestries: The Life of Julie Cope (2015)

Historically, large-scale tapestry provided insulation for grand domestic interiors. Perry, by contrast, however, has juxtaposed its associations of status, wealth and heritage with contemporary concerns of class, social aspiration and taste.

To write Julie’s biography, he looked to the English ballad and folktale tradition, narrating a life that conveys the beauty, vibrancy and contradictions of the ordinary individual. 

Laura Kennedy, Nunnington Hall’s visitor experience manager, says: “It’s extremely exciting to have The Essex House Tapestries: The Life of Julie Cope Tapestries on the walls that would usually display the hall’s Verdure tapestries.

“The tapestries will hang in the drawing room amongst the historic collection, and nearby to the hall’s remaining 17th century Flemish tapestries telling the story of Achilles.”

Laura continues: “The genuine and relatable stories told through Grayson Perry’s artworks are a rich contrast to the demonstration of wealth and status reflected through many historic tapestries, including our own at Nunnington Hall.

“We’ve worked closely with the Crafts Council to bring the hangings to Nunnington and observe how these contrasting sets of tapestries are a beautiful contradiction in design, colour palette, storytelling and manufacture, illustrating the evolution of tapestries over the past four hundred years. It will also be the first time that The Essex House Tapestries have been hung in a historic setting.” 

One of the Essex House Tapestries: The Life of Julie Cope (2015), by Grayson Perry

Nunnington’s three Verdure tapestries were brought to Nunnington Hall more than 350 years ago by the 1st  Viscount Preston, Richard Graham, following his time as Charles II’s ambassador at the Court of Versailles.

Graham was appointed by King James II as the Master of the Royal Wardrobe because of his style and knowledge of Parisian fashions. He would have used these tapestries to demonstrate his good taste, wealth and status in society.

Welcoming Perry’s works to Nunnington Hall, Jonathan Wallis, curator for the National Trust, says: “It’s great to be able to show these wonderful tapestries at Nunnington. It continues our aim of bringing thought-provoking art to rural Yorkshire.

“The Life of Julie Cope is a story that we can all relate to and one which will delight, surprise and engage people. Digital devises accompany the tapestries exploring Julie’s life experiences and the reveal much of Perry’s inspirations.”

This is the first of two opportunities to see work by Grayson Perry in North Yorkshire in 2020. His earliest works and “lost pots” will be showcased in Grayson Perry: The Pre-Therapy Years from June 12 to September 20 at York Art Gallery’s Centre of Ceramic Art (CoCA).

The touring exhibition, developed by the Holburne Museum in Bath, is the first to celebrate Perry’s early forays into the art world and will re-introduce the explosive and creative works he made between 1982 and 1994.

The 70 works have been crowd-sourced through a national public appeal, leading to the “lost pots” being on display together for the first time since they were made.

Cocktail Party, 1989, by Grayson Perry, on show in Grayson Perry: The Pre-Therapy Years at CoCA, York Art Gallery, from June 12

The Pre-Therapy Years exhibition begins with Perry’s early collaged sketchbooks, experimental films and sculptures, capturing his move into using ceramics as his primary medium.

From his first plate, Kinky Sex (1983), to his early vases made in the mid-1980s, Perry riffed on British vernacular traditions to create a language of his own.

The themes of his later work – fetishism, gender, class, his home county of Essex, and the vagaries of the art world – appear in works of kinetic energy.

Although the majority of his output consisted of vases and plates, Perry’s early experiments with form demonstrate the variety of shapes he produced: Toby jugs, perfume bottles, porringers, funeral urns and gargoyle heads.

Perry says: “This show has been such a joy to put together. I am really looking forward to seeing these early works again, many of which I have not seen since the Eighties. It is as near as I will ever get to meeting myself as a young man, an angrier, priapic me with huge energy but a much smaller wardrobe.”

Grayson Perry’s The Essex House Tapestries: Life of Julie Cope (2015) will be on display at Nunnington Hall, Nunnington, Helmsley, from February 8 to December 20. Opening hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 10.30am to 4pm.

Nunnington Hall’s Verdure Tapestries: away for conservation work; back on display from January 2021

What’s happening to the Nunnington Hall Verdure tapestries? 

ALL three tapestries at Nunnington Hall have been taken off the walls. At various times they were sent to Belgium to be cleaned and each is being worked on by a selected conservator.

At each studio, the tapestries have been placed on to a frame with a linen scrim. The conservators are working across each tapestry, undertaking conservation stitching.

This includes closing the gaps that have appeared and replacing worn historic threads and previous conservation repairs. These stiches are placed through both the tapestry and the linen to provide extra support.

One of the conservators has estimated this work will take 740 hours. The work should be completed in the middle of 2020 to be placed back on the drawing room wall in January 2021.

Grayson Perry’s Essex House Tapestries: The Life of Julie Cope (2015) at Nunnington Hall

The story behind Grayson Perry’s Essex House Tapestries

THE Essex House Tapestries were made for A House for Essex, designed by Grayson Perry and FAT Architecture, as featured on the Channel 4 programme Grayson Perry’s Dream House.

The house was conceived as a mausoleum to Julie Cope, a fictitious Essex “everywoman”, who was inspired by the people Perry grew up among.

The tapestries are the only pair in a public collection, acquired by the Craft Council.

How did the York Dungeon celebrate notching up five million visitors?

York Town Crier Ben Fry hails the York Dungeon’s five millionth visitor, Denise Pitts, and her mother, Jeanette

THE York Dungeon is celebrating its five millionth visitor since opening its doors in Clifford Street, York, in 1986.

Denise Pitts hit the jackpot as the landmark intrepid visitor when she took her mother, Jeanette, to York for her birthday celebrations and accusations of naked dancing!

Their trip to the theatrical dungeon attraction made that day extra special when they were given VIP treatment: coffee and cake while they waited for their tour to begin, free pictures and goody bags.

“The experience was great,” said Denise. “We loved that the show was informative with a dash of terror and a hint of humour; also some unexpected surprises along the way! Thoroughly enjoyable.

“My mum was put into a cage for pleading insanity when accused of naked dancing and she found this absolutely hilarious. The actors were great and really got into their characters.

“We would highly recommend this attraction when visiting York and would like to thank everyone for making us feel so special.”

Dungeon manager Stuart Jarman said: “The York Dungeon has been a must-see since opening in 1986 and over the past 34 years we have welcomed, scared and provided amazing immersive experiences to five million visitors.

“This is a significant milestone in the history of the York Dungeon and it was great to surprise Denise and Jeanette as the visitors that hit the milestone, particularly with the help of York Town Crier Ben Fry.”

Looking ahead to 2020’s attractions, Stuart said: “2020 is another exciting year for the York Dungeon with a new show for the February half-term, War Of The Roses: The Bloody Battle, Guy Fawkes in May and Séance in October for Halloween.”

The Printmakers Council to exhibit at Scarborough Art Gallery for second time

A Walk In The Snow, by Tim Southall

THE second selection from a nationally important collection of new prints will go on show at Scarborough Art Gallery next month.

Running from February 8 to April 26, the Printmakers Council 1992-2019 exhibition will feature work by leading printmakers, including prize winners from the council’s biannual competition.

Beach Bodies by Theresa Pateman

The new show follows on last summer’s PmC Mini Prints display. Once more, all the work has been donated to Scarborough Art Gallery by the prestigious Printmakers Council, marking the start of an ongoing relationship between the gallery and the PmC.

This will involve regular donations of work to create an important national archive of fine art printmaking in Scarborough.

Meteor Storm Over St Ives by Graham Cooke

The PmC, a national association for the promotion and encouragement of printmaking in all its forms, was founded in 1965. One of its founding objectives was the creation of a comprehensive national print archive of contemporary printmaking.

The work for The Printmakers Council 1992-2019 has been selected from PmC members, with one print from each participating member. No restrictions were placed on subject matter, method or date, except that the artist must have been a member of the PmC when the print was produced.

The Ancestral Heritage Emporium by Trevor Dance

Simon Hedges, head of curation, collections and exhibitions at Scarborough Museums Trust, says: “The exhibition will include a wide and rich variety of contemporary prints showcasing many different print processes.”

The Printmakers Council 1992-2019, Scarborough Art Gallery, February 8 to April 26. Opening hours: Tuesdays to Sundays, 10am to 5pm. Entry is free with an Annual Pass, which costs £3 and gives the bearer unlimited access to both Scarborough Art Gallery and the Rotunda Museum for a year.

Be good to see Jonny Hannah’s Valentine artwork in York, wouldn’t it? Now you can in his Songs For Darktown Lovers shows at FortyFive Vinyl Cafe and Lotte Inch Gallery. UPDATED

Dead Men’s Suits, 2019, by Jonny Hannah

CULTURE vulture artist Jonny Hannah is teaming up with Lotte Inch Gallery and FortyFive Vinyl Café to bring “a unique Valentine” bond of music and love to York.

Songs For Darktown Lovers, his exhibition of Double A-sides, will be split between the two independent York businesses, on show from February 8 to March 7.

Having exhibited with Lotte Inch Gallery, in Bootham, over the years, one-of-a-kind Scottish artist, designer, illustrator and all-round creative spark Hannah is returning to York for his music-inspired collaboration with gallery curator Lotte Inch and her friends Dan Kentley and Dom White at FortyFive Vinyl Café in Micklegate.

Shoe by Jonny Hannah

“Songs For Darktown Lovers roots itself in all things music, and of course, love,” says Lotte. “With Sinatra’s Songs For Swinging Lovers playing in the background, this exhibition is an alternative Valentine for the creatively minded.

“It’s also a love letter to ‘Darktown’, a fictional place that Jonny refers to when modern life becomes too much, a place with countless retreats, all revealed in his book Greetings From Darktown, published by Merrell Publishers in 2014.”

The exhibition in two places will combine newly reinterpreted vinyl sleeves on display at FortyFive Vinyl Café with prints and hand-painted wooden cut-outs at both venues.

Harmonium by Jonny Hannah

“This will be a rich double-exhibition of work by a highly respected and totally unique artist,” says Lotte, curator of both displays. “It will definitely not be your usual Valentine’s cliché,” she promises.

BAFTA award-winning Jonny Hannah was born and raised in Dunfermline, Scotland, and studied at the Cowdenbeath College of Knowledge, Liverpool Art School and then the Royal College of Art in London. 

Pepe Le Moko by Jonny Hannah

Since graduation in 1998, he has worked both as a commercial designer and an illustrator and printmaker. He lives by the sea in Southampton, where he is a senior lecturer in illustration at Southampton Solent University.

Hannah boasts an impressive list of exhibitions, advertising projects and clients, such as Royal Mail, the New York Times, the Guardian and Conde Nast, and he has published a series of “undeniably Hannah-esque” books with Merrell Publishers, Mainstone Press and Design For Today.

“Many local visitors to next month’s York shows will recall Jonny’s Darktown Turbo Taxi solo exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, near Wakefield, in 2018,” says Lotte.

Shoe by Jonny Hannah

“For those curious to find out more, we recommend looking out for the Darktown Turbo Taxi  – a must see, even if only in retrospect, through the website for his London and New York illustration agency, Heart Agency.”

A preview evening to launch Songs For Darktown Lovers will be held from 6pm to 9pm on February 7 at FortyFive Vinyl Café. “You can join Jonny, who will perform an acoustic set with friend, artist and illustrator Jonathan Gibbs before taking to the decks to celebrate our exciting collaboration,” says Lotte.

“It’s a chance to get lost in a world filled with art, music and just plain lovely people, with tickets available at jonnyhannahpreview.eventbrite.com.”

Confederacy Of Dunces by Jonny Hannah

The exhibition’s Double A-side opens on February 8 at Lotte Inch Gallery, now moved to the first floor at 14 Bootham. “With coffee for those with sore heads, and art to further soothe the soul, the gallery will be offering up a selection of new and recently produced work from Jonny’s abounding studio in Southampton,” says Lotte.

“Coffee by FortyFive will be available that morning from 10am at the gallery for those needing some solace from the previous night’s escapades! Jonny Hannah will be in residence for the morning too, so be sure to drop by.”

Lotte Inch Gallery is open Thursday to Saturday, 10am to 5pm, or by appointment on 01904 848660. FortyFive Vinyl Café’s opening hours are Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm; Saturday, 10am to 6pm; Sunday, 10am to 5pm.

The world’s first Tourette’s superhero to spend half term at Scarborough Art Gallery

Jess Thomas: artist, play worker and comedian , hosting Heroes Of The Imagination

THE world’s first Tourette’s superhero lands in Scarborough Art Gallery this February half-term with a free “interactive, inclusive and incredible” superhero-themed experience.

Heroes Of The Imagination, from 10am to 1pm on Saturday, February 22, invites disabled and non-disabled children to discover their own powers, create a superhero identity and use their imagination to change the world. 

Touretteshero herself will be there with her team to help children make masks, create capes, perfect their moves and launch their new superheroes in a magical photo studio.

Touretteshero was founded by Matthew Pountney and Jess Thom, an artist, play worker and comedian who has Tourette’s syndrome and finds her tics are a source of imaginative creativity. She has never been seen in the same room as Touretteshero, by the way!

Children taking part in a previous Touretteshero event

“Touretteshero needs you!” says Jess. “Bring your ideas, excitement and energy to celebrate difference and save the world from dullness.”

Scarborough Museums Trust chief executive Andrew Clay says: “We’re excited to host internationally acclaimed company Touretteshero to inspire and energise us in our journey towards becoming more accessible and inclusive.

“We have some way to go but we’re committed to radically improving access over the next few years, particularly at Scarborough Art Gallery, including installing a lift.”

Taking place on the ground floor of the gallery, in The Crescent, this celebration of creativity, imagination and neurodiversity will allow children to choose and move between activities.

Another Touretteshero event in Scarborough

There will be a chill-out area, quiet and busy spaces and plenty of staff and helpers on hand, plus a Mobiloo outside the gallery on The Crescent: a Changing Places accessible loo with an adult-size changing bed and ceiling hoist.

The fully accessible, multi-sensory drop-in activities for disabled and non-disabled children and their grown-up sidekicks are free, but places are limited and booking is essential. The event is recommended particularly for children aged five to 13.

Further free half-term events being run by Scarborough Museums Trust include:

  • Fabulous Fossils, Rotunda Museum, Tuesday, February 18, 10.30am to 12 noon and 1.30pm to 3pm;
  • Superheroes of Science, Rotunda Museum, Thursday, February 20, 10am to 12 noon and 1pm to 3pm;
  • Explorer Backpacks and Trails, Rotunda Museum, Scarborough Art Gallery and Woodend, available every day.

To book for Heroes Of The Imagination, and for more information on all the half-term events, call 01723 374753 (Scarborough Art Gallery) or 01723 353665 (Rotunda) or visit scarboroughmuseumstrust.com/whats-on/.