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Review: Three Painters - BayArt, Cardiff - Jennifer Pearce

(December 01, 2017)

Review: Three Painters - New Work
Jacqueline Alkema, Mabli Jên Eustace, Llinos Thomas
BayArt, Cardiff Bay
Runs 14 November to 8 December 2017

Jacqueline Alkema, untitled
Untitled, Jacqueline Alkema
collage chalk and acrylic on acid free paper, 79 x 93 cm
© 2017 Jacqueline Alkema

BayArt gallery exists to support fine art practice, through offering a platform for exhibitions to a range of emerging and mid career artists, from Wales and further afield. They even have a studio flat for Artists in Residence and their approach is one of inclusivity and accessibility.

Bay Art grew from the Butetown Artists Studios that began in the 1970s as the Association of Artists and Designers in Wales. It administered affordable studios for artists, including two old and rundown warehouses in Cardiff. So you can think of it as Cardiff’s answer to New York’s meat packing district. In 1997 with state of the building in a critical state, the now Butetown Artists group chose to become a company limited by guarantee, and with Cardiff Council, ACW Lottery Fund, CADW, CBDC and the Foundation for Sports and the Arts created a complex of studios as well as a public art gallery that was finally completed in 2002. The building now remains an asset in perpetuity for both the company and also as an arts facility for the city of Cardiff. Fifteen years on and the artistic community thrives.

Butetown Artists are a relatively high profile group within the Welsh context. They exhibit nationally and internationally, some winning prestigious awards and several representing Wales on an international stage. One of these, Phil Nicol curated the current show, a painter himself, he chose three painters who happen to be women.

This exhibition opens in the same month that Linda Nochlin died. Her 1971 essay "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?" is still relevant today, despite real improvements. While true that not all artists are championed or given opportunities to commercially succeed, it is still a rarity to find an all-woman group show not held under the auspices of a body created for the purpose. Bay Art is an artist-led exhibition space, and categorisation is often more favoured by critics and marketeers than creators, I hope we will see more natural diversity in audiences as well as shows.

Jacqueline Alkema is Trustee Women’s Arts Association Wales (WAAW), Member of the Welsh Group and Wales Assembly of Women. Her work invariably depicts women and the female experience. Speaking at the private view she said that it was important as a women to portray women. Her subjects are characters rather than portraits or representations of the roles of women; the idea of giving anonymous women an identity appeals to her.

Dutch by birth, Jacqueline has been living and working in Wales since the seventies. Studying in Cardiff she has a wide art historical vocabulary, with her knowledge of Dutch and Flemish painting particularly evident.

Jacqueline Alkema - Those hands that do dishes - oil on panel
Those hands that do dishes, Jacqueline Alkema, 2015/16
il on panel, 43 x 47 cm
© 2017 Jacqueline Alkema

She works with layers of meaning and layers of paint. Her work begins with drawings, having an idea of the character she wishes to depict and then building up layers on her canvas, often having to redo as her creation develops. Her backgrounds are invariably velvet deep midnight blacks, made up of multicoloured layers that absorb the light and create depth and intensity. To me her characters are therefore highlighted as if on a contemporary stage, exposed and yet in the comfort of the lights, welcoming the audience to study and explore them. 

Her newest paintings Handmaid I, II, III are more cropped and transparent lending them a suggestion of baby scan images, intimate, precious and mysterious. Paintings develop through experimentation and intuition, but with an awareness and control of the media used. Using memories and objects as props in her scenes she portrays characters with domestic lives, conveying their sexualities and wider emotional range.

Mabli Jên Eustace uses her own body to create her work. Working from selfies used the ‘old skool’ way - with a camera timer - she poses, expressing the movements she wants. Mabli Jên then paints the images, using her whole body’s movement to make marks, she often recreates the shapes depicted. These become sensual groupings of female or sometimes gender obscured nudes that are abstracted by their reduction into elements. She depicts sensuality from a woman’s perspective. As an actress who rates an IMDb listing herself - known for the S4C dramas Gwaith/Cartref (2016/17), Y Streic a Fi (2016), Byw Celwydd (2016) and Reit Tu Ôl i Ti (2013) - the use of her body, mind and artistic training combine in her working practice.

Jen Pearce - Mabli Jen 3
Bathers, Mabli Jên Eustace
oil on canvas, 204 x 150 cm

© 2017 Mabli Jên Eustace

Mabli Jên says, “My practice currently involves working with the relationship between the human figure and its environment. I work from collaged photographs of myself to create drawings and paintings that suggest an ambiguity of gender and narrative”. They can also be enjoyed as abstracts, with beautiful colour palettes of warms and cools and painterly finishes.

Mabli Jên Eustace Mabli Jên Eustace
Mountains move, Mabli Jên Eustace
oil on canvas, 150 x 120 cm
© 2017 Mabli Jên Eustace
Ladies who lunch, Mabli Jên Eustace
oil on canvas, 204 x 150 cm
© 2017 Mabli Jên Eustace

Llinos Thomas works in Carmarthen. She both creates and finds objects that she portrays in her work. Her canvases are small and complex, confident compositions that are all about form and colour. The glitter and scale say different but I see the same elements in her work as the large canvases of Ceri Richards in the 1960s.

Llinos says “My work consists of figurative objects that move around the picture plane and interact with abstract shapes. Sometimes the objects sit on top of the abstract shapes, sometimes they sit behind, sometimes the objects become the abstract shapes. The objects in my paintings are often ambiguous, inspired by Cervantes Don Quixote where windmills are giants and inns are castles. My paintings are not still lives – they are ‘nature vivante’, paintings of living objects.”

Llinos Thomas Untitled 2016. 23x30 cms. Acrylic and glitter
Untitled, Llinos Thomas, 2016
acrylic and glitter, 23 x 30 cm
© 2017 Llinos Thomas

The studios often run open days and the complex has educational functions and can be hired as a well lit venue. Close to hipster hangouts like Sunflower&I and Octavo's Book Café & Wine Bar, it's worth making it a destination when you have visitors to the city, as it combines talking points, comfort and good transport links.

The show runs until 11 December.

Jennifer Pearce, December 2017


54b/c Bute Street
Bae Caerdydd Cardiff Bay
CF10 5AF

Phone/Ffôn: +44 (0)29 2065 0016

Twitter: @BayArtCardiff
Facebook: BayArtGallery

Jennifer Pearce is the founder of Art Club and can be followed on Twitter

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cylchgrawn Cymru Culture magazine
Published by/Cyhoeddwyd gan: Caregos Cyf., 2017

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