After being postponed due to the pandemic, the latest exhibition from Aire Valley Arts, a group of artists loosely based out of the Aire Valley, will be starting soon. ‘Unfolding’, which opens at Bradford Cathedral and Kala Sangam on Wednesday 1st September, was created under the difficult conditions of the pandemic and lockdown.
We spoke to Jane Fielder, one of the group of artists, to find out more about her background and what you can expect from the exhibition.
I’ve always loved painting, and making things, for as long as I can remember. I wanted to go to art school after I left formal education, but was persuaded not to by my parents. When I was 28 – by this point I had been teaching for five years – I decided to go back to college with a view to getting a degree and do art.
I went on a foundation course in Farnham, which is when I met my husband, and so everything was put on hold. We married and had three children and then I went back to college when I was 40.
I did ‘Textile Design’ at Bradford College and during this time I showcased my work at local venues. I really loved this, so I decided that I really wanted to have a gallery. We saw a lovely little shop in Bingley – this was about 15 years ago – and we decided to open a little gallery – the Bingley Gallery – and that became a thriving place. We sold lots of pictures!
How did Aire Valley Arts come about?
Back in 1995 I saw an advert in the Keighley news looking for adventurous artists. Seven of us met up at a house in Bingley and formed ‘Aire Valley Arts’, which would become one of the best things in my life!
And things just happened from there. I think there are probably a few people in the group who aren’t in the Aire Valley; we didn’t say you had to live five miles from the River Aire, or anything like that! I guess we span from Leeds out to Farnley, Skipton, places like that.
What sort of things do you do?
As a group we’ve done all sorts of things in our time, from having football matches in the park to picnics and outings, to – of course – lots and lots of exhibitions.
We’ve given courses and talks and done exciting group projects, working in collaboration with each other. A lot of it is about pooling resources and just sharing ideas.
How often do you meet up?
Until the pandemic we would meet up about every two months, either in a member’s house or in the Bingley Gallery, and there’s a little bit of a formal meeting at the beginning and then people bring what they’re working on, and chat about it, and exchange ideas. Then things lead on from there.
Our members are from a very wide background, so they all bring their own thing, which is brilliant.
What mediums does the group work in?
We all have different mediums and styles. We’re predominantly painters, but we have textile artists and ceramicists, printers, people who work with paper, and those who work folding paper.
Our work is all meant to be quite adventurous but some work more traditionally than others. Some work is completely abstract!
How have you found working under restrictions?
I have to say that we’re not very good at the techy side of things really! Over the year we’ve just had one Zoom meeting but apart from that we’ve not done a lot together due to the pandemic.
We’ve had this exhibition at the Cathedral in the back of our minds all the time, so we’ve been working towards that, as well as work for the Saltaire Festival. I’ve been sending regular e-mails to people but apart from that, there’s not been a great deal happening.
How did the ‘Unfolding’ exhibition come about?
We knew we’d got a place at the Cathedral, so everyone submitted ideas as titles for the show. We chatted a bit about the space, and things we had shown there before.
It somehow seemed very apt that lockdown came because everything was well and truly unfolding by then! We had no idea what was going to happen.
Several of the artists were already quite well into things and had shown the sorts of things they were going to do, but then there was quite a lot of change because of the pandemic and how it was all unfolding, which fitted the title nicely. The pandemic became part of the exhibition.
Through the lockdowns, the artists have worked in different ways. I found these sad looking horse chestnuts, lying abandoned at the side of the road and brought them home. I felt as if I was rescuing them from the dusty main road.
For one of my pieces, I’ve painted them unfolding, so they’ve gone from tight sticky buds to opening out into beautiful leaves.
Could you tell us about some of the works done by the other artists?
It’s all so wide ranging!
There are some other nature pieces. Kate Stewart has done a triptych (an artwork made up of three pieces or panels) of three unfolding hellebores, and she’s also done a piece entitled ‘The Unfolding Crisis; fire’ in textiles.
Anne Marwick always works on lots and lots of paper folding, and she’s done these very patternistic pieces.
Paul Hudson often works in textiles. He often paints and often prints – he does a bit of everything like me! This time, however, he’s worked in patchwork and he’s thinking of patterns unfolding.
Jan Whittock has worked on these lithographs. She lays inks on stones and then draws onto them, and then puts the stone and the paper through a press, so she never quite knows what’s going to happen. She sees that as unfolding because it’s all a bit of a mystery!
Amy Charlesworth is a realist and likes things to be just exactly as they are, so she came up with a dragon that looks as if it’s unfolding, and a road that looks as if it’s unfolding, and then one that look likes an unfolding murder mystery. They’re such great pictures!
Then there’s Helen Shearwood, who’s in Australia now, but she was a member for a while, (and my niece). At the time she was staying with me, and she’d done this amazing series of images. She’d taken these photographs of my filthy watercolour palette and made these very beautiful prints from them, working on top of them with gold and different coloured paints. She saw that as unfolding. The one she wants to put in is called ‘Pools of Jewels’ and it’s just lovely.
Nancy Stedman (who at the time of the interview had an exhibition on at the South Square Centre in Thornton) is a very adventurous artist who works in a very abstract way – beautiful things. It’s all about changing where we stand in the world: what’s permanent and what’s not. She makes marks on the paper and then pours liquid paint and sees what happens.
Susan Strange is working on these big ancient place pieces, which are all about time and the unfolding of it. It’s how we see remnants of the past in the present.
David Starley has taken old photographs from the father of someone he knows who died, and has worked on these. He’s used thick impasto oils on photos of mills, steam trains, that sort of thing, to show just how times have changed.
And finally, Daniel Paulo has worked on a series of angels on six-foot canvasses. They were all inspired by his visits to Undercliffe Cemetery. When asked about them he said:
“The answers are always like half-glimpses, like the sighting of an angel, which can only be seen out of the furthest corner of the eye, if it is even there at all.”
How did Aire Valley Arts originally come about and how has the collective grown?
It was founded by Daniel Paulo and his friend Peter Marsden, who sadly died recently of COVID.
Daniel Paulo always wanted the group to remain small. We started off with seven, and as he’s the founder we’ve sort of felt that we want to remain quite small. We’ve tried to remain under twenty; I think we’re at sixteen at the moment. The group expands really when members come across others who just somehow click with us: maybe they come across some amazing sculptures when we don’t have a sculptor in our ranks, that sort of thing.
We like to have people who work differently. There was once someone from Iraq who we bumped into, who was doing lovely things, and we wanted him to join, but he only came for a little while sadly. It’s a bit hit and miss how people join really.
New members come and show their work and then they get voted in; it’s just how we’ve always done it. That can be a bit scary!
Finally, what would you say to anyone interested in coming to see ‘Unfolding’?
It’s an interesting exhibition in two very interesting spaces! In the Cathedral the artworks will fit beautifully against the stained-glass windows.
The exhibition will be fun, full of variety, and an amazing thing to come and visit now we are able to!
To find out more about the exhibition, the opening times and to book your free place for the opening event, please visit the Bradford Cathedral website.