Study Visit: Laing Art Gallery: 2nd March 2017

This gallery holds collections of paintings and also pottery local to my area. 

Helpful to visit to tie in social and cultural connections of my area, thus a part of my own history.


The main opening of the gallery is reminiscent of a Botanical theme, with references to The Great Exhibition.

The ground floor showcase is under the heading of Northern Spirit, basically showcasing artists from the area over the past 300 years.


Maling pottery was a large part of the areas industry, thus seen here.

To be perfectly honest, I was never bothered about my “area”, in other words, I felt the same about local art work as I would to a national collection.  However I found the historical aspects interesting, as I could link myself with places mentioned.

I found a real fondness for a shape of a vase, particularly this shape.  Looking at them, I began to understand why they were created.   Take this piece below, made by Thomas Fell and Company in 1830.  No cameras around, thus items such as this were made to document a place, create a memento.  It is classed as a Potpourri Vase.  This linked my thoughts to the concept of treasuring what we have; even basic potpourri had a place in a home.


A sense of quality was achieved at the time, something that is not always evident in today’s world.

Going back to the thought of artefacts, I like the idea of seeing visual history when no photos were possible.

Another favourite from the collection was seen upstairs in the paintings section.

Elisabeth Blackadder – Still Life with Japanese swordgaurds and fans (1990)

This piece was a new discovery for me.  I have researched her work in the past, especially on Fine Art courses; however I had no idea she had a piece in my local gallery.


This page scanned above, documents her piece seen at the gallery.  I bought the guide for the Laing, thus could scan this image.  Here she has used her own “artefacts” to document a painting.

This led me to a little research on her work.  Having been able to borrow a copy of a book on her work, I was able to discover more.  The painting seen above, links with a whole collection of her work, which documents her love of Japanese items.  We see the artist here as a collector of items, which she uses to draw upon for her work.  We could class these as “Still lifes”, but what does that word really mean?

It is important to connect this with the word artefacts to acknowledge the difference.

Tate online defines Still Life as:

‘One of the principal genres (subject types) of Western art – essentially, the subject matter of a still life painting or sculpture is anything that does not move or is dead’

So yes, this could be anything, so I am now thinking that it is what is seen within the still life which is important.  Thus what we see in a still life, could be a group of artefacts.

The main difference is that the concept for Still Life is generally an amalgamation or staged grouping of items.  For example a bowl of fruit with a curtain behind.  Artefacts are not staged; for example I may draw from a museum collection, a still item as it were, but not staged.  It would be in its home or setting.  It will also have a story, unlike a bowl of fruit.  Thus I feel more informed and less confused between the two.


Having borrowed the book on her work, published by Yale University Press, I was able to scan some insightful pages, relating to the idea I am most concerned about – namely artefacts and how artists have responded to them.  In Blackadder’s case, there are some visual representations seen within the book I have.  I scanned the ones in which fit best.  The above illustrates parts of her home; we see the items she holds dear and are seen within her artwork.  I love the way she curates a visual display, it is there for as long as she needs it, until she maybe changes it for another selection.  Something like this would be a good idea for me to try.

The book tells us that ‘Today in her studio, she continues to conjure up memories and sensations and convey them on canvas.  A kimono…objects of all kinds wait silently’.


Another scanned image of the artist’s home.

What can I take from her work?

  • The idea that within her “still life” paintings, we see her artefacts, collections which she carefully curates.
  • Memories are strongly tied in, used to evoke and develop.


Interesting how a museum / gallery visit led me to this artist.

I intend to make my own display as she has, so that I have my own objects around me to draw upon.



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