Tom Martin at Oriel Mwldan

Tom Martin  Wunderkammer

This is a lovely show. I spent ages in the gallery just examining tiny bits and pieces and trying to work out how he had put some of the things together. What follows is the review written for the Tivyside.

Though there is no translation of the title on display at Wunderkammer, the exhibition now showing at Oriel Mwldan, its meaning is well known in Continental museums to mean a cabinet of wonders, or curiosities. Printmaker Tom Martin’s current show very much lives up to this description, with some exquisitely made curiosities, in a collection of rainbow, hand-painted work. Many of the items and compositions are striking and beautiful and the word ‘curious’ is apposite here, since much of what one sees is very much out of the ordinary, and surprising. Available close to the entry point are white cotton gloves which viewers are invited to slip on, should they be tempted to play with what they see hanging on the walls and sitting on tables. Even opening the white pristine drawers and moving their contents about is not off  limits.  In fact this is exactly what the artist wants,  that the viewer might be moved to change and rearrange what is there for their own pleasure, to create something new by extracting the small pieces and placing them differently, thereby creating a whole new design. Moving them around can become a mesmerising experience, similar to one’s feeling as a child when resisting the end of a game, with ‘just one more’.

In a glass cabinet filled with magical items, tiny proscenium theatres have mini-characters moving across the stages. These are constructions which come out of matchboxes! Also in the cabinet is a  Myriorama, a dinky box of 16 handmade screen prints whitch fit together in any arrangement. Everything throughout the show has been created by hand by the artist; like the ‘Pyramid Grid’ which appears to be a brilliant multi-coloured square, until when getting closer to it, the squares within the square are seen to be tiny open boxes, each filled with miniature pyramids.

This is a genuinely exciting show and a free artist-led workshop is coming up in the next few weeks for students of schools and colleges. For further information on this please contact Isie Smathers, Mwldan gallery co-ordinator on 01239 623929 or email  Wunderkammer is showing at Oriel Mwldan until 22 March.

John Sharkey – A Final Review and a Fond Farewell

Today I noticed that my copy of The Meeting of the Tracks, by John Sharkey, who died last week, had appeared in a prominent position between book-ends on a window sill. How did that get there I wondered? Later it came to me that it would be nice to put the review I did of that book onto this blog. The book, published by Carreg Gwalch, came out in 2004 and I set about finding the review in my computer archive for that year. I searched for a good hour but it was not there. Disappointed I left the computer alone, and went to get some lunch. Stirring the soup and thinking about the good conversations John and I had shared over the past ten years, I found myself saying aloud to him, ‘Well John, sorry darling. I’d have liked to blog it but it’s gone. Unless you know better of course!'( The touch of sarcasm because John was prone to argue any decision to the bitter end.)Half an hour later, soup spoon in my mouth, into my brain came the words ‘Random Collection’. My reply to this suggestion was that as I only created a folder of that name in 2013 it could not contain the review. But when the words returned with an insistent repetition, I went to take a look and there, of course, it was. Apparently I had moved the file, and erased the original though I have no memory of doing so. I recognise that the most likely explanation for what happened was that my subconscious went searching while I made my soup, and that it had nothing to do with John finding it. But those of you who knew him will know, there was something in his smile and a twinkle in his eyes if he won an argument and  as clear as day I saw him, as I opened the file and in my surprise I shouted aloud ‘Oh My God It Is Here!’ If you never read it, and you were one of his many friends or acquaintances now might be a good time to acquaint yourself with the things he loved – the ancient Celts and their art.


Rock Art in Ancient Wales

by John Sharkey. Review by Liz Whittaker

‘The fun in writing this book has been following up the observations, hints, asides and suggestions of earlier writers. Antiquarians, prehistorians, travellers and archaeologists have unknowingly contributed to the making of the work although any conclusions drawn are mine.’

Chasing around looking for ancient carvings, cupmarks and spirals on monoliths and burial passages is not everyone’s idea of entertainment, but reading about them here is fascinating, the more so because though the subject matter is obscure, it is imbued with Sharkey’s passion and within the first few pages it becomes apparent that this is not a dry re-hash of archeologists’ views but as he makes clear in the above quote, he is having fun with both the research and coming up with new ideas.

He draws on art, poetry and legend and this varied material keeps the work stimulating, transporting the reader, as it does, beyond the mere recording of place,size and shape of carving into the realms of imagination and inspiration. He introduces the work of Edward Lhuyd the scholar and natural historian who was Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum in the 17th century, and whose writings include the first recorded sitings of ancient stone carvings.

Challenging the preconceptions of the establishment and the assumption that ‘one explanation fits all’, Sharkey observes that Wales has its own symbology and works his way intuitively to fresh conclusions. His impatience with the lack of imagination and original thinking in archaeological spheres is seen as inevitable, as his is a visionary approach to the subject and an attempt to bring light to bear on  what he refers to as the ‘hidden ritual configuration and the enigmatic quality expressive of much of the wild countryside of Wales’.

The symbolic markings are less profuse in Wales than in Ireland and in Brittany, but just as curious and even more curious is the fact that they do not last forever once they are exposed to the light. It is as if once seen, they fade and disappear over time to the naked eye, and only become observable when treated to rubbing. The description of this in relation to the Blaenawen stone and the Ty Illtud cover-stone expose a mysterious process which gives an incredibly life-like characteristic to the stones. It is, Sharkey hints, as though it is of their own choosing they show or hide their decoration, and is an example of what he feels is the ‘two-way’ communication between ancient rock art, laid down by men in the past, to the men of today.

It becomes apparent very early in the text that Sharkey’s fascination with his subject is profoundly enduring. This, the last in a quartet of books exploring layers of history and mythology in carved stone which he has completed during the past ten years, marks a kind of personal evolution in his opinions and his mode of expression. His knowledge, his particular blend  of intuitive guesswork and scholarly research, plus his moments of wry insight into the peculiarities of what he does, make this an accessible and informative read.

Treasure Island – Pantoland

It is not often that I take the decision to put a Tivyside review of panto on my blog, but I have been persuaded by the enthusiasm of certain cast members to share it on their face-book pages and I do hope that as many people as possible will see it and maybe on another occasion make the effort to go and enjoy a production by this immensely talented bunch of village people.

Treasure Island – Cilgerran Players.

From the moment the excellent Sarah Moore put a foot on the stage as Dame Sally Forth at the annual Cilgerran panto, the audience knew they were in for a good time and began answering back without a second thought.  Treasure Island was a courageous move, breaking with more traditional titles and going for an original choice for a change, but under Amanda Wells’s direction this brand new entertainment, had a joyfully traditional daft panto plot, and some welcome new characters for the audience to laugh at and argue with. The Cilgerran Players have a wealth of talent evidenced by quality acting throughout, right down to the very youngest with the chorus of lost pirates and Spot the dog, played with an insouciant comedy by Bradley Martin.

Also worthy of mention among the teenage members of the cast were Jake Caswell as Ben Gunn and Theo Blackburn as Jack Forth both of whom shone in their own parts, showing real acting ability and additional musical skills. Thomas George made a first-class Jolly Roger, especially in his moment of miming Freddie Mercury with credible relish, and Jim Hawkins and Mary Forth the young lovers, ably played by Charlotte Wallond and Leah Kitson James, sang sweetly, looked lovely, and contributed the essential romantic element.

Amongst the adult parts Andy Wallond did a great job as the devious Long John Silver, holding his own against the overtures of the insistent Dame and the two of them were aided in keeping the audience laughing by several others who have a natural talent to cause mirth on sight, Mark Chandler as Israel Hands, Jan Garner as Blind Pugh and Silas Blackburn as Squire Trelawney whose double act with Doctor Livesey and his ear trumpet played by Reuben Wells, was hilarious. It must however also be said that the Cilgerran players do have advantages that  stretch beyond their acting capabilities and that is why they make such good ensemble productions. Congratulations should go to Sue Bains for the marvellous costumes, especially those of Dame Sally Forth, and, to  all the backstage team from sound and lighting, to the team who painted and created the super set with the pirate ship sailing in, and other clever devices. Such fun for the audience, and it looked like just as much fun for the cast.