Stunning new Harrogate blockbuster exhibition impresses at Mercer Gallery and lifts the spirit

Harrogate's Mercer Gallery is basking in the success of a bold new new blockbuster exhibition which oozes the feeling of summer sunshine.

By Graham Chalmers
Friday, 6th May 2022, 4:59 pm
Stunning blockbuster exhibition in Harrogate - “Painting is a visual language,” says curator of the Mercer Art Gallery, Karen Southworth.
Stunning blockbuster exhibition in Harrogate - “Painting is a visual language,” says curator of the Mercer Art Gallery, Karen Southworth.

Celebration is a simply stunning collection of nearly 60 paintings by 12 different British Abstract artists - several on a heroic scale - including Yorkshire’s Patrick Heron and John Hoyland, along with acclaimed contemporary Abstract painters, Mali Morris and Fred Pollock.

This perfectly-curated, hugely enjoyable collection, which takes over the entire gallery space at the publicly-owned gallery on Swan Road, has been drawn largely from one outstanding private collection and the result is an exhibition which, while offering an important over-view of British Abstract art, is easy on the eye and a delight to walk round.

The earliest works in an exhibition which has a touch of magic about it - and is already attracting strong visitor numbers - date from 1970s and the latest from the early 2000s.

So impressive is the single most important event curated by Mercer Gallery in several years that renowned British art critic Matthew Collings has already visited the show and has produced a video which is also showing as part of the exhibition.

“Painting is a visual language,” said curator of the Mercer Art Gallery, Karen Southworth who put together the show in conjunction with the anonymous private collector.

“You don’t need to understand it, you just need be open to these loud, colourful canvases and allow yourself to engage.

"We have placed several armchairs pthroughout the gallery inviting people to sit, look and think about how a particular painting makes them feel.

"Our aim is to encourage people to linger and experience the art slowly."

The middle years of the 20th Century saw a sea change in the British art scene, triggered by the first UK exhibitions of the theatrical, visceral abstract art by American artists like Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko.

This feel-good exhibition at Mercer Gallery in Harrogate includes several paintings by Sheffield born John Hoyland (RA), one of the most inventive and dynamic abstract painters of the post-war period.

His work was celebrated in a retrospective exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1999 and he was the first artist to be shown at Damien Hirst’s Gagosian Gallery.

Such is the careful and perfectly hung selection of colourful pieces at Mercer Gallery, Celebration largely avoids the darker mood of some abstract art in favour of positive vibes and a summery feeling which instantly lifts the spirits in these troubling times.

The writer and curator Sam Cornish said of Celebration: “These paintings are positive, affirmative statements in light, space and colour, and the materiality of paint and canvas."

“Far from being ‘pictures of nothing’, each offers a world for us to explore. Inevitably individual viewers will find some of these worlds more accommodating than others.

"Some images will assert their presence across a room, others will work their magic in close quarters. All will open up as time is spent with them.”

Celebration also features one untitled pieces by the elusive collagist Francis Davison, previously shown at his retrospective exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in 1984.

Damian Hirst has spoken openly of his admiration for Davison, whose wife, Margaret Mellis (one of the St Ives group) was mentor to Hirst.

Patrick Heron’s Very Soft Yellows and Formal Reds (1968), a piece from the Harrogate Fine Art Collection, was critiqued by the author AS Byatt in a feature entitled In Praise of Patrick Heron for The Guardian in 2015.

Celebration: British Abstract Painting

Douglas Abercrombie, Gillian Ayres, Francis Davison, John Edwards, Patrick Heron, John Hoyland,

Albert Irvin, Patrick Jones, John McLean, Mali Morris, Fred Pollock, Gary Wragg.

Celebration runs until September 4, 2022 and has been financially supported by Friends of the Mercer Art Gallery.

Entry is free at this gallery owned by Harrogate Borough Council