July 2015

Wonder Current

Whilst Canal is indeed situated on London's Haggerston Riviera, it's still the inner city in the summer, with a constant stream of cars idling their engines on the potholed double yellows in the elegantly named De Beauvoir Crescent.

I'd always wanted to show the work of Nicholas Hughes again, ever since I'd featured a couple of his prints in an exhibition called 'Attentive' when I still ran my home gallery, Lounge, and he was a recent MA photography graduate.

After many years in London, he moved to Cornwall, and last year, he happened to mention that he was in touch with a 'naïve' painter called Malcolm Opie, whose children were at the same school as his.

The idea of showing a 'professional' and a self-taught artist side by side appealed to me, as it asked interesting questions about how the two types of work tend to be presented, theorized and received. Salon hang versus minimalist restraint, 'life story' versus professional art CV, price versus investment, outside versus inside, all these featured in the thinking about the show.

Most of all, I liked the idea of taking a cliché of the traditional seaside gallery scene - the 'summer show' with its seascapes and reference to holiday reminiscences - and re-presenting it in my gallery with two artists who take those trickily well-trodden subjects, and revitalize them with a 'current of wonder' .

Talking to Hughes and Opie, there's not so much difference in what motivates them - a certain need for seclusion, a love of nature, a passion for making the work, and a dogged, almost obsessive, commitment to it.

When my colleagues and I arrived in Stithians to select Opie's works for the show, he presented us with boxes of small impressionist paintings, stacked and unprotected. One thing that struck us while looking through them was that there was no sense of pre-selection on his part, of differentiating between work of the utmost sensitivity and the simply workaday. I don't think this trait is necessarily unique to the 'untaught' artist, but I do think that a good 'taught' artist will have had the opportunities to develop the intellectual resources of self-criticism which then open the way to pushing the work in innovative ways and into new territories.

This is something that Opie would never want to do, nor would he want to gain access to the 'inside' with its rules and gatekeepers. He remains an 'impressionist' artist, writing 'I like how the impressionists paint so freely', and his marginality in the art world ensures that he keeps that freedom.

The work of Nicholas Hughes has been extensively theorized, and most recently in Robin Kelsey's book 'Photography and the Art of Chance' (Harvard University Press 2015). His sea and vapour photographs have been described as sharing an almost Romantic passion for recording the spontaneity and unpredictability of nature, underpinned by a contemporary concern for ecological issues.

In the end, looking at the work of both artists in the gallery, I simply want to present these works side by side, as two compelling strands of creativity, and hope that they might surprise as well as delight.

Monika Bobinska