This project has been developed by The Burton Art Gallery & Museum, with thanks to Torridge District Council and The Friends of The Burton

Monday, 9 November 2015

"Suddenly the penny dropped and the clinical room of monochrome images made sense"

Forest-of-Dean-based Blogger Rachel Shilston finds that Liberty Smith's documentary film Black Tracks unlocks the secrets of the Bideford Black: The Next Generation exhibition at Burton Art Gallery in Bideford. Thank you Rachel, for this blogpost, which also appears on Rachel's blog

Here’s a question for you. What do a clogged up mascara wand, a pair of cage fighters and a printing press all have in common? Baffled? Then let me enlighten you. 
'A Polychromy in Black' (2015) (detail) Lizzie Ridout
'Coerce Course' (2015) (detail) ATOI
At some point in the last few months, they’ve all had a generous covering of Bideford Black. For those of you who have not come across Bideford Black before, it is a raw material found on the cliffs around the north Devonshire town of Bideford and boy is it black. It is a dirty, filthy, dusty, chalky material, which covers anything that comes into contact with it.
Just over 12 months ago, eight artists were commissioned to create new artwork using and responding to this incredible, natural substance and their combined efforts are currently on display in an exhibition entitled ‘Bideford Black – a New Generation’, at the Burton Art Gallery and Museum. Last week I went along and had a look.
'Bideford Black suit' (2015) Neville Gabie
I arrived at the gallery and entered a rather clinical looking space. There were no colourful pictures to greet me, but instead a collection of monochrome images, some of which looked more like scientific experiments than works of art. Looking around I tried desperately to make sense of what I saw, how the artists were inspired and how they felt about working with this filthy black medium. What was the connection that they’d like me to make? I had no idea. I tried to understand why there was a suit, caked in a black powdery residue, but I have to say, I really wasn’t ‘digging it’. I moved on around the room and looked at a large, wall-mounted piece that appeared to have smudged foot prints on it. Unfortunately, I didn’t really get the deeper message with this piece either. And so it went on. There was a video on a loop, potions in small glass bottles to sniff and earphones to plug in and listen to. Yet after all these seemingly helpful interactive activities I was still left not feeling the love for Bideford Black. 
'Bideford black reminded us of 3 million years. There is nothing quick about the formation of sound' (2015) LittleWhitehead

I went through a second door and a film was about to start, so I took a seat. It was a documentary capturing the eight artists on their journey over the last twelve months, recording their feelings, responses and reasoning behind their pieces, plus their thoughts about this natural material that had become their new art medium. And it was fascinating. Suddenly the penny dropped and the clinical room of monochrome images made sense. It seems Bideford Black needs to be experienced and handled to really understand the material and that came across in the film. (I was also mildly amused to watch the artists talking with such passion and vigour about their work, process and end products, but oblivious to the random streaks of black across their cheeks or foreheads. It seems Bideford Black likes to leave its mark.) The film explained the link between the mascara wand, the cage fighters and the printing press, something that is not at all apparent as you view the pieces in the exhibition.
Bideford Black resource room
In this second room, there was also a small area set up for people to experience Bideford Black for themselves. The wall was lined with paper and covered with people’s sketches, doodles, scribbles and drawings made by those who had visited the gallery before me. 
If you are in the area and want to know more about Bideford Black then pop into the Burton Art Gallery and Museum to see this exhibition, but be sure to take the time to watch the film at the end. It is an intriguing watch.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Final week of exhibition: Great new photos

A Polychromy in Black (2015) (detail) Lizzie Ridout
'Coerce Course' (2015) (detail) ATOI
Here are some fabulous new images of the show by photographer Matt Austin. There is still just about time to catch Bideford Black: The Next Generation before it closes on Friday 13 November.
'Seam' (2015) (detail) Luce Choules
'Sedimentary Memory' (2015) Tabatha Andrews

'A Truce with Time' (2015) (detail) Corinne Felgate

'In Equal Measure' (2015) Sam Treadaway

'DUST' (2015) (detail) Neville Gabie, Joan Gabie, Ian Cook
'Black Tracks: A year with eight artists' (2015) documentary film by Liberty Smith
Bideford Black: The Next Generation, exhibition view

Plastic pellets of Bideford Black mix in 'Cabinet of Curiosities' (2015) Neville Gabie, Joan Gabie, Ian Cook
Bideford Black: The Next Generation, exhibition view

Thursday, 5 November 2015

‘Witty, joyous and fun’ or ‘the emperor’s new clothes’? - Last chance to join the discussion!

The Bideford Black: The Next Generation exhibition has got everyone talking (…and listening and sniffing)

…And there are just a few days left to see world’s only Bideford Black diamond!

'Seam' (2015) Luce Choules
Photo: Claire Gulliver
Burton Art Gallery’s own Emily Paine has perfectly summed up visitors’ reactions to the Bideford Black: The Next Generation exhibition, which runs until 13 November at the gallery.

“It’s been a marmite reaction”, said Emily, “many people think it’s amazing, but some don’t’ like it at all. Nobody is neutral!”

Like the ‘love-it-or-hate it’ spread, the exhibition is certainly polarising opinions. It’s also black and sticky of course! 

But there are just a few more days to catch the specially-commissioned artworks together in Bideford Black’s home, alongside film-maker Liberty Smith’s unique and beautiful film record of these 21st century encounters with Bideford Black pigment.

The next few days are also the very last chance to see the world’s only Bideford Black diamond in the North Devon setting which provided its raw material. This tiny sparkling diamond, which has proved hugely popular with visitors, is on loan from artist duo ATOI for the duration of this unique show only.
The Burton's Warren Collum examines 'Black Diamond' (2015) ATOI (the 'Bideford Black diamond')
Photo: Drew de Rett / Burton Art Gallery

From visitors who have been ‘blown away’ by the show to those who suggest it’s a case of ‘the emperor’s new clothes’, audiences have not been shy to share their views. And we thought it would be good to share some of them here:

“We love this – the more you look, try, watch, listen, smell…the better it gets. BRILLIANT!”

“Liked the dustbins – but no room in them for the other exhibits!”

“Became more and more intrigued by this exhibition. I spent a long time here”

“Witty, joyous and fun!”

“Lots of soot and smudge!”

“Interesting on a personal level as my grandfather mined Bideford Black at East-the-Water in the 1930’s. Good to see its modern application as an art medium”

“My two-and-a-half-year-old grandchild loved the space and messy black!”
'In Equal Measure' (2015) Sam Treadaway

        “Economic crisis, destruction of the planet’s ecosystems, and this is the best we can do to entertain!”

“Fascinating how angry people get! (might be worth discussing why…)”

“Second visit in two days! – Totally engaging and immersive experience”

“Having just been - for the umpteenth time - to the Bideford Black exhibition, I felt the need to contact you and express my appreciation for your work and the processes you have employed. It has given me a great insight into where I could explore and experiment within my own emerging practice” (2nd year Fine Art Degree student, Petroc)

'DUST' (2015) Neville Gabie, Joan Gabie, Ian Cook
Photo: Drew de Rett / Burton Art Gallery
Until 13 November:
Bideford Black: The Next Generation
Burton Art Gallery and Museum, Bideford, EX39 2QQ