Artists, Galleries, Exhibitions, Reviews

Oriel Scala Opens

Oriel Scala, a new gallery for the visual arts, was officially opened in Prestatyn, North Wales on February 4th 2010 with a stunning exhibition of work by the co-operative of artists involved in this exciting venture.

The 24 artists were extremely proud to welcome Professor Dai Smith chairman of the Arts Council of Wales who performed the opening ceremony. Professor Smith expressed his delight at the high standard of professionalism achieved and the ‘special buzz’ that these local initiatives bring into the heart of the community, remarking ‘was I in Prestatyn or Paris, Padua or Prague, because that’s what it feels like this type of café-art which is integral to our lives’. He went on to say that the Arts Council ‘take venues like this very seriously’ and feel the ‘vibrancy and sense that Wales has brought places like this alive’. Situated on the High Street adjacent to the Scala Cinema and supported by Bodelwyddan Castle Trust, Prestatyn Youth Pop In Centre, Prestatyn Youth Arts Festival and the Scala cinema, this is a gallery at the very heart of the local community. Future plans involve artists studios, workshops and demonstrations that will bring even greater community involvement. Many people do not visit public art galleries but small friendly venues such as Oriel Scala take the visual arts out to the people in their own town centres. Chairman Claire Halliday thanked Professor Smith for his kind words of encouragement and also thanked everyone for joining the group at this special event. The co-operative were delighted to see the Scala café bar packed to the doors for the opening speeches with celebrities from the Welsh art scene such as Martin Barlow, director of the prestigious Oriel Mostyn public gallery and too many renowned artists to name individually. It is this mutually supportive network system in the arts in Wales together with the inspiring scenery that makes North Wales such a vibrant and exciting place for artists to live and work. The February night was warm and dry and the artists and public spilled out onto the street to watch Professor Smith cut the ribbon and declare Oriel Scala officially open.

Initial reactions from the local people have been most encouraging with the general opinion being that the town really needs ventures like Oriel Scala which help to put life back into the town. Like the majority of small seaside resorts which have suffered badly in recent years from shops closing and leaving gaps in the heart of the town. Other feelings expressed were that it was good to have somewhere to go to just look at beautiful things even if one couldn’t always afford to buy. The first few weeks of opening have shown just how important that is for many people have been welcomed into the gallery just for a chat and a browse and interest grows on a daily basis. The artists staff the shop on a shift basis and are always delighted to chat to members of the public about their own and other artist’s work. Interest is so great that a new scheme is being introduced so that guest artists can be invited to join an exhibition. Up to three guests will be invited for each show which will ensure that there will always be new artists represented in each exhibition. Exhibitions run for around 6 weeks and three or four of the artists take turns to be responsible for the choice of submitted works, arrangement of plinths and the hanging of the work. This means that every exhibition is curated by different people and consequently is surprisingly different. In 2010 the group hopes to involve degree students from local colleges and art schools giving them a platform to show their work whilst they also learn and experience the day to day running of all aspects of a small commercial gallery.

Susie Liddle 2010

Professor Dai Smith declares Oriel Scala open

Oriel Scala

Exhibition Review

Jan Gardner is a North Wales artist who works in mixed media incorporating print, textile, drawing into her work. Her signature being the fabulous colours with which she enriches her work. Her exhibition at Colwyn Bay Library is a joy to see.

Jan Gardner

Mythical Marks and Colour Magic

Colwyn Bay Library Gallery 19th October – 13th December 2009.

It’s a cold wet November day and Colwyn Bay like so many small seaside towns has seen better days. The Library lies a short distance up a side street off the main road. Directly opposite is a boarded up church. It’s not an auspicious start but open the library doors and you step straight into Jan Gardner’s exotic and joyous world of colour. This foyer gallery space is not much larger than the hall of a grand country house and the Victorian architecture with it’s curving staircase and dramatic tiled floor could easily overshadow a lesser artist but Jan’s mixed-media work shimmers and sparkles like a tropical garden in the sunshine. In Jan’s own words ‘colour lifts the spirit and gives us hope’

However this exhibition explores and investigates issues far deeper than the colour and beauty of the mixed media surface. It is part of a body of work that documents the voyage of discovery that Jan embarked upon in an extensive research project into her personal colour palette. Due to the restrictions of the exhibition space the works here have had to be a selected glimpse of Jan’s work from ‘My Colour Story’ which took her around the world through India, Italy and North and South America learning not only the historical origins of her beloved pigments but also of the toil and suffering that was often involved in their production.

Long Ago and Far Away’ is perhaps the best starting point for the Colwyn Bay exhibition for Jan describes it as the work that marks the beginning of her journey. The background is a vibrant combination of loose colour worked into and upon. Significantly there sits centrally a ‘magic carpet waiting to whisk us off on a dreamlike voyage of discovery for Jan’s work is always a combination of imagination with a dash of reality. Look carefully at each of the works. The initial impact is of purity and vibrancy of colour but closer investigation reveals a complex language of hidden layers and symbols embedded within. ‘Homage to Indian Yellow’ tells the story in symbolic imagery of the origin of that pigment whilst at the same time glowing with the colour itself. The cow fed only on mango leaves in order to produce bright yellow urine from which the pigment could be produced stares sadly out at us from his glorious golden ‘prison’. The ‘magic carpet’ sits waiting for us to finish our visit and carry us off to the next destination. In ‘Omar Khayyam and Paradise Garden’ Jan embeds a stitched fabric ‘magic carpet’ representational of the colourful carpets on which the Persians would sit in the winter to await the coming of Spring. We travel to Afghanistan to walk among the producers of Rose Madder, fly off to South America where Cochineal was produced from ground up beetles, visit the biblical lands where Tyrian Purple was extracted from molluscs and explore the issues raised by the thousands of Indians who died in the production of sufficient Indigo pigment to satisfy voracious Western demand.

Always hidden within each picture lie clues as to the myriad of social and economic issues raised by the historical production of these pigments and Jan’s exhibition leads us on a journey that raises important ethical questions about the origins of many colours whilst at the same time we cannot help but respond to their beauty. Of course many pigments are today either produced synthetically or the production is carefully regulated but one can only wonder at what may be still happening in undeveloped parts of the world where life remains a cheap commodity.

Coming almost back to our starting point we reach a work in which the colours whilst rich are much softer and reminiscent of the landscape and gentler climate of Wales. This work is executed entirely in inks produced from pigments that the Welsh felt artist Helen Melvin has extracted from plants she grows in her own garden. Significantly the picture portrays Helen’s garden.

So like in all great ‘magic journeys’ we have arrived back safely at our starting point enriched by the knowledge gained and sights seen. It’s an exhibition that demands you come back again and again and each time there is something new to discover.

Susie Liddle

If you missed it at Colwyn Bay there is another chance to see it in Nantwich

Mythical Marks and Colour Magic will be showing at

Nantwich Millenium Gallery and Museum :

18th December – 27th February 2010

contact for opening times

Look Jan up on


Here are a few general views of the Regional Print Centre stand at the Fair.

Steffan Jones-Hughes wearing his waistcoat of badges for sale

Oriel Scala Invites Recent Graduates to Join them for August

A bold new initiative by Oriel Scala’s co-operative of artists in inviting recent North Wales graduates to join them as guest members during August is proving to be a fantastic success. The Scala Artists’ Co-operative comprises a group of 27 professional artists whose ages range from early twenties through to eighty and who exhibit and run Oriel Scala in Prestatyn on the North Wales coast. Knowing from experience how tough it can be to break into the professional art world after finishing college, the Scala artists decided to offer a group of the years’ local graduates much more than an exhibition opportunity. Throughout August the graduates would become guest members submitting their own work alongside that of the members, curating and hanging the exhibition, helping to staff the gallery and attending meetings of the co-operative on exactly the same terms as the professional member artists. Oriel Scala being a small commercial gallery is a very different environment to that of the university degree show or public gallery ‘open’ exhibitions that these emerging artists might have previously experienced. Small commercial galleries such as Oriel Scala are however for vast numbers of professional artists an important platform on which they rely to exhibit and sell their work. As always at Oriel Scala there is work in a great variety of styles and media and enormous care is taken by the volunteer hanging team, which changes for each exhibition, in the selection and hanging of work to ensure a harmonious and professional exhibition. The addition of graduate work provided an even greater variety of media but the 14 emerging artists who curated and hung the August Exhibition with the aid of members Wayne Clark and Barry (BadgeMakesArt) Morris more than rose to the challenge and it is proving to be a great success with the public whilst the are co-operative artists and the graduates are all absolutely delighted with how the project is going.

The Preview night on Tuesday August 3rd saw established artists, friends, colleagues and collectors from across North Wales and beyond pack Oriel Scala to see what members and graduates had to offer as this small gallery which only opened in December 2009 is rapidly gaining a big reputation in the North Wales art world. Respected and highly successful artist Sonja Benskin-Mescher RCA the opening speaker commented that the gallery ‘is a testament to all those that started it, run it and show here’ and that the ‘standard is high, worthy of any big city’. Directing her talk primarily to the graduates she explained that their chosen path would no doubt contain setbacks and difficulties but also successes to cherish. Each would be another step in their education to be learned from and above all enjoyed. She also remarked that on leaving University the graduates were leaving behind the support system that had nurtured them and that the Oriel Scala initiative provided the graduates with a unique opportunity to build a new support network amongst established local professional artists. Councillor John Bellis then told the audience of his poor working class childhood in an industrialised coastal town and that the road to success came not just from talent but also from hard work, determination and enthusiasm. The graduates at Oriel Scala are certainly showing they fulfil all these requirements.

With work from 27 co-operative artists and also 14 graduates there is plenty to see but unfortunately too many to review individually in this article and so I will largely confine myself to reviewing the graduate work.

Ten applied artists from Glyndwr University in Wrexham are represented. All their work shows a high level of craftsmanship together with exciting and innovative design ideas. Sara Piper-Heap’s silver jewellery designs are reflected in her beautiful silver on gilding metal table sculpture Arc. Arc is somehow reminiscent of a centrepiece from a medieval royal table and yet at the same time totally contemporary. On the adjacent plinth and in complete contrast sit Karis Tomlin’s eccentric large scale felt pieces. Feather light and yet with links as large as an ocean liner’s anchor chain, Tomlin’s ‘necklaces’ tumble down the plinth in tones of reds, golds and greens Are these wearable sculpture or are they jewellery? Jeweller Roz Mellor clearly derives her inspiration from her previous career as a florist and her passion for the world of nature. Delicate organic silver forms curl around driftwood or twigs which are then set inside glass display domes. Mellor attempts to bridge the gap between the old and the new by presenting her beautiful modern jewellery pieces as if from a natural history museum collection. Five graduates in the exhibition specialise in glass but that it is where the similarities end. Helen Davies uses glass fusion, kiln forming and painting techniques to create her ethereal panels which are deeply influenced by her coastal location and reminiscent of Turner watercolour sketches captured in glass. Laura O’Driscoll works with paté de verre. Her delicate little vessels double layered in pale pink and white float like ghostly crystallised boats on their slate base. In total contrast Jack McClafferty water-jet cuts, screen-print and then fire polishes the flat glass faces of his contemporary architectural vessels before linking and anchoring them together with curved oak side sections. The chandelier and ornate vessels produced by Katy Frost at first glance seem to belong in a bygone age of carriages, crinolines and ballrooms but inspection reveals that these iconic shapes are firmly rooted in the twenty first century by her use of bold modern colours and high technology production techniques. Kim Disley’s current work has developed from glimpses of refracted and reflected sunlight playing on surfaces. Disley has attempted to capture the complex shifts of colour and pattern in her beautifully constructed and finished geometric glass forms. Two ceramicists show clearly how clay can be used in very different ways. Helen Gittens refers back to her literary background with large hand built textural forms which she then uses as surfaces on which to scribe and paint her tributes ‘For the Poets’ Amy Hultum however makes delicate tableware from slip cast porcelain. The subtle white crackle glaze is occasionally relieved by delicate botanical impressions highlighted with soft touches of pastel colour. Her clever ‘easy to stow away’ cake stand is both pretty and functional comprising a stacked tower of upside down cup shapes between graded sized plates.

The four FdA graduates from Coleg Llandrillo are painters. Chad Cooper uses both stencil and traditional painting techniques to create his architecturally inspired panels and his use of a restricted palette intentionally directs the attention of the viewer towards the linear and spatial elements of his work. Kristian Rees-Dykes has created an atmospheric interpretation of the London skyline which almost appears to float across the canvas. Entitled ‘My London’ Rees-Dykes distorts scale, perspective, colour and tone to create an illusion of London as seen through the artist’s eyes. Lauren Ward and Samantha Friston’s paintings centre on colour. Ward’s controlled application of short vertical strokes of colour laid side by side and row upon row investigate complimentary colour and repetition. Friston’s spontaneous floating ‘kisses’ of multicoloured fluorescent acrylic paint on a black background were designed to be hung in a UV lit blacked out environment but nevertheless work well on the gallery walls. All four Llandrillo FdA graduates continue their studies on to BA(Hons) in the following year and it will be fascinating to watch as the work of these promising young painters develops and matures.

Having reviewed the graduates it remains only to comment on a few of the co-operative members’ work. Llinos Lanini shows the photograph ‘Siop y Pentre’ which won her the Welsh Photographer of the Year prize in June. This photograph of a Welsh village shopkeeper in her late seventies at her till is not just technically superb but eloquently captures a time and place that has largely passed into history. Award winning photographer Margaret Salisbury’s ‘Happiness’ received a Highly Commended Certificate at the Edinburgh International Exhibition and was accepted in the Royal Photographic Society International Exhibition. Jan Miller’s sculpture background is evident in her large close up photographs where the elements of shape and structure predominate. Frequently cheeky, sometimes risqué and always thought provoking Gary Sheridan carefully stages his photographs. His photograph ‘Cat crap and all’ should ensure viewers look quite differently at their lawns.

Potters are well represented. Simon Shaw’s dishes and amphorae with their beautiful blue barium glazes are reminiscent of tropical seas and skies whilst Willie Carter’s Noah’s Ark with a motley assortment of cartoon animals clinging valiantly to the Ark sides provokes smiles. Wayne Clark’s huge flattened wood fired jugs sitting on their chunky black clay bases become sculptural pieces and ‘Miner’ by portrait sculpture Judy Pemberton speaks eloquently of the mining history of Wales.

Painters Claire Halliday, Judith Samuel, Keith Millward, Lynda Waggett and Don Whalley describe the beautiful coast, mountains and country that surround them in oils, pastels or watercolour whilst Jan Gardner’s mixed media paintings of magical places glow with intense vibrant colours which are then carefully worked onto in layers of finely detailed drawing and print. There is something for everybody in this exhibition from John Davies’s exquisitely carved life size birds perched on twisted and tangled bleached twigs of driftwood to the dolls that ‘Badge’ turns into anatomical text book versions of their former selves. There’s ‘Barbie’ type ‘Jennifer’ a skeleton but still wearing her ‘bling’ and gold platform sandals or porcelain collectable doll ‘Precious’ in her flowered lace trimmed dress but now a skeleton all be it one with rosy cheeks. Michael McKevitt’s superbly executed paintings are both fascinating and disturbing. There is a narrative to be discovered but perhaps one that we would rather not uncover. In ‘Isolation’ a comfortable armchair is set against a deeply distressed backdrop which is so well painted that it takes close inspection to check that it isn’t actually three dimensional. On the floor in front of the armchair lies a knife. It’s quite small and one might miss it on first glance but once seen it begins to dominate the viewer with unanswered questions. McKevitt paints solely in muted dark tones for colour has no place here to detract from the underlying sense of menace that ‘Isolation’ leaves us with.

We move from the abstract art of Ali Jackson to traditional portraiture by Bernard Willems and then across to the contemporary jewellery of Cerys Alonso and Sarah Wilkie and the delicate textiles and felt of Megs Owen and Chris Baker. Glass artist Katrine Taylor and printmaker Jo Clark add their dashes of colour around the gallery whilst photograph Geoff Abbott’s life size black and white altered image of a tattooed man demands attention.

More importantly though than the individual works contributed to this exhibition by the members is that every one of this co-operative of artists plays an invaluable part in making this little gallery the sparkling gem on the High Street of a small Welsh seaside town that it has become. And still it is less than a year since Oriel Scala first opened its doors to the public. However even more laudable is the fact that these artists are looking beyond achieving personal and group success by fostering and encouraging new talent and working with the local art colleges in offering this innovative opportunity to new graduate artists and help them to take their first steps as professional artists.

Susie Liddle

August at Oriel Scala

Karis Tomlin's wearable felt sculpture tumbles down the plinth


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