Beneath The Surface

Yesterday was the opening of a new exhibition, Beneath The Surface, at the Gallery at St Georges House in Bolton. Earlier this year they had five artists showing landscapes in Harmony of the Land, followed by Vantage Point which featured Gerry Halpin’s aerial landscapes.

So Emma decided it was time for a few portraits. Now, regular readers will know that I’m not usually a fan of portraits, particularly those in the National Portrait Gallery, as the subject is often more important than the artist. I’m just not into current celebrity culture, and I’ll stretch that to include historical figures too. However, this exhibition is very much about the artists with the subjects almost irrelevant.


I know Zoe Keenan from my Bolton College course. She had three delightful pencil drawings in the show, based on well known oil paintings, or “pencil replications [which] deconstruct famous portraits … mimicking the sculpted look of paintings without using the medium of paint.” While her work was the most conventional, of the four artists, I liked Zoe’s the best.


‘Lucien Freud’s Mother by Lucien Freud’ by Zoe Keenan


‘Rembrandt’s Mother by Rembrandt’ by Zoe Keenan

Karen King’s portraits, mostly based on photographs of women ‘labelled’ mad, wayward or just plain bad,  were far more brutal. ‘Through a series of studies of the human head, she conveys psychological states, emotions buried beneath the surface, and the fragility of the human condition.’


‘Neither Alcoholic Nor Whore’ by Karen King


‘Miss Stelazine‘ by Karen King

The name of Francis Bacon was mentioned during discussions of Karen’s work as was the quote ‘Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable’.



Zoe (left) enjoying a drink with Karen

Susan Plover’s work dealt with ‘the conflicted roles of post-war female identity’. Her current work ‘crosses boundaries erected around collage, drawing, painting and sculpture to create new hybrid “Combines” with a female voice at its heart. Susan deliberately employs the discarded and overlooked, re-working them with fresh tension.’


Susan Plover (left) discusses her work with visitors


‘Once Upon A Time’, by Susan Plover


A visitor studies Susan Plover’s assemblages

The only artist I had problems with was Steven Walker, and this was largely due to his artistic statement: “The message conveyed in the artist’s work can be obvious, sometimes not so. “I have something to say, even if you don’t want to listen.”” I’m sorry but this sounds like presumptious arrogance to me. If a viewer is unable to understand what I am trying to say with a piece, then the fault is mine for not saying it well enough. It is not the viewer’s problem for ‘not listening’.


Emma Kelly, the curator of the exhibition, looking at Steven’s work with the artist



About notes to the milkman

I'm a printmaker based in the North West of England, living in Bolton and printing at Hot Bed Press in Salford. Please visit my website
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10 Responses to Beneath The Surface

  1. Red Hen says:

    I am frequently amazed by what the humble pencil can do-and that`s shown to great effect here in Zoe Keenan`s work.

  2. Nancy Farmer says:

    with you on ‘presumptuous arrogance’!! THe trouble I have – and this is partly my background as a goldsmith, partly my personal preference – is that the pieces in question do not look very well crafted, and then to back them up with an arrogant statement like that really would give me the impression that the artist is a bit… like you said, only I might use a shorter word 😉 ‘course, I didn’t see the pieces myself and it might be arrogant of me to assume 😉 😉
    Love the one of Rembrant’s Mum.

    • The final paragraph of Steven Walker’s artist statement read: “By offering fragments, Steven relies on the viewer to complete his portraits. Whether through visual stimulus, or the title, what the viewer takes from the work is their own choice.” The works were made from Plaster of Paris with the facial details painted on. The last photograph is not particularly good (taken with available light at the back of the gallery) but certainly the top two of the four are pretty much as they appear there.

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  4. kestrelart says:

    Thanks for posting this illuminating piece.
    Its a problem though knowing whether our work is impressionistic, abstract, incomplete or poorly crafted. We just have to believe and see how our work grabs people. That statement sounds like insecurity not arrogance though.

  5. I think we are ok to say our work is impressionistic or abstract. The problem is are we the ones who should be deciding if we have something to say, or should that task rest with the viewer? And if they decide in the negative, are we entitled to put the blame on them for not listening to what we have to say?

  6. Emma says:

    Great varied work exploring identity. What I love about this exhibition is how each artist stands strongly represented on their own, but all join together as if the portraits come alive and speak to each other once the shutters are down.

    There is great depth to Stevens work with featured portraits belonging to those who have faced miscarriages of justice. His vague statement is his intent for the viewer to either want to find more about who they are, or to just appreciate the work for the craft. – There is much debate on how much interpretation an artist should give about their work but the decision does effect at what level the audience can engage with the work. Coffees on me if you and Steven want to discuss this further!

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