The Mancunion

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Review: Art on Paper

Three studio spaces come together to challenge the assumed role and medium of paper


At the cutting edge of commercial art in Manchester, there are three gallery spaces on Mirabel Street exhibiting works based almost exclusively on paper: PS Mirabel, the Sloe Gallery and the Paper Gallery.

The possibilities of art on paper have largely been ignored until recently. Matisse was probably the first artist to really recognise its potential in the 1950s. It had always been a more informal support, reserved for preliminary sketches and print reproductions. But its meaning has changed since the rise of tech in the twenty-first century. The act of printing a document onto paper is more formal now. Offices send out emails saying “please consider the environment and don’t print this email unless you really need to.”

In reality, however, paper is even more recyclable than it was before. Half of the letters we receive are disposable spam mail which we never read. And you can easily lose a piece of paper. Compared to the stability and security of the computer hard drive, it seems unreliable. This is an odd, contradictory meaning which has made art on paper more interesting. Are we supposed to keep it safe, or are we supposed to throw it away?

The most exciting show on display is Mural at PS Mirabel. It is a series of paintings, drawings and illustrations created on imposingly large pieces of paper. There is a tactile freedom to these floor-to-ceiling artworks, which is reflected in the general styles that the 16 artists have used. The informality is what makes this work engaging.

Mural offers an unusual way to experience artworks on paper. Normally they are a manageable, A4-size or slightly larger. And normally they have to be framed, because they are more vulnerable to damage. The loud colours in some of the pieces in Mural compete with one another, but despite their overwhelming presence, the paper puts them on an unremarkable equal footing which allows you to take them all in individually.

Eventually, the work which stands out (for the right reasons) is Mark Eden’s simplistic pencil sketch, of a Goya-like Pope being impaled by something. The work which stands out for the wrong reasons is Christine Lawley’s jarringly kitsch cardboard-cut-out memorial to the victims of the Manchester terror attack, titled ‘VICtorious’ after Ariana Grade’s Nickelodeon TV show.

The most mature work currently being shown on Mirabel Street is undoubtedly Northern Chronicle: A Live Drawing Exhibition by Robert Sukatorn. The artist has a five-week residency, which he will use to create work from life in the Sloe Gallery every Saturday. Sukatorn’s drawings are an intelligent interpretation on the style of courtroom sketches. Old fashioned pen-to-paper, is still the only legal way to visually record courtroom proceedings.

Although the live element isn’t as convincing as it sounds, it does provide a nice focus to the exhibition which is made up mostly of small impromptu sketches. Among them are empty spaces on the walls, where new drawings will gradually appear.

In Cut/Copy/Paste at the Paper Gallery, Sarah Eyre draws on a tradition of surrealist collage, recalling the use of photography by feminist artists in the 1980’s-90’s. She generates manipulated images of an empty wig, a bob hairstyle taken out of context. Her images do not offer much new to collage itself, but if you look closer you can see the edges of the superimposed images peeling away from the surface, behind the frame. This gives her paper-based mediums a three-dimensional movement which resonates with the vibrancy and activity of the other exhibitions.

Also on display at the Paper Gallery, this time displayed in a gloomy and gothic studio setting, is Ilona Kiss’ series entitled Visitors. Kiss adopts a more traditional shaded-pencil technique but gives it a cosmic, refractory update. Like enlarged tarot cards hung on the walls, her drawings romantically re-mystify the Bristol Board, which is the paper medium she works on

You can flick through racks of artworks for sale by an array of artists in this room, but you feel like an intruder as the eyes of Kiss’ creations follow you around the room. All three galleries are based in the same intimate complex of studios and artists’ spaces, so if you head down on a Saturday you can see them all in one go.

Mural, Northern Chronicle, Cut/Copy/Paste and Visitors are exhibiting every Saturday until November 11th.