JACKIE MITCHELL and John Quinn both have space in Cow Lane Studios, Salford. Jack is a painter, John, a sculptor. Jack was in the School of Art in Manchester Polytechnic in the 1960s; John was a mature student at Central St Martin’s in the 1980s.
Hiking Cornerhouse into a back street car park and surrounding it with three star hotels does not hold great prospects for visual arts in the city. Which is why the Jack and John Show is such an important marker.
I am wondering, as I take in The Jack & John Show, whether it resonates with me because I am closer in age to the pair of them than I am, say, to this year’s art school graduates, or whether the appeal of their work is intrinsic, irrepressible, whether in some way it lifts me up above the timeline and plonks me down in a place where stuff is just more comfortable for me, more considered, better executed, more satisfying?
Their work shows well together, which is important in a single, largely open space. And the space is ad hoc; the square at the centre of a cloister of partitioned studios. Group studios are nothing new. Artists share space in low-rent buildings – disused warehouses and workshops - that suit their needs.
Artists need to work, before they can hope to win over curators of galleries, public or private. Islington Mill, Rogue, Masa, Sparkle Street, Cow Lane; Biennale de Manchester.
Jack Mitchell’s work grows dark. A psychologist might have fun with it.
Simon & Mirror from 2009 is a colourful portrait, after Bacon without the homoerotic tension. It’s her earliest work here and steps right out from her life drawing, of which there are nine framed examples. Look for the one called Splits, splayed ballet dancers legs and fuzzy tutu.
Next to her are Dark Drawing In, and its companion piece, Anniversary Drawings for Tony. [These were made in early August of this year, the fifth anniversary of the death of Tony Wilson, the artist’s friend.]
As in most of her recent work, space and volume are created by layering a ground and then bringing marks forward, often a cross, sometimes a series of loops or spirals. The cross is partnered by a smacking pair of red lips in Kiss Cross, a fair clue that things aren’t as sinister as all this blackness suggests.
John Quinn uses his name to good effect, or at least the Q of it. The upper case initial is both a free standing floor piece (albeit it sits up on a mini plinth, allowing its tail to reach to the floor) and an equally large wall piece from which the letter has been subtracted.
The space between the two becomes part of the whole, and marks the ways in which John Quinn’s work seems to connect through space, as though they walk or hop or hover or spin when our backs are turned. His own studio is slung with a super sized hammock from which all comfort has been subtracted. It is pitch stiff and puddled in water. A not-for-comfort-zone.
The credit that each of these two artist’s work extends to the other is wonderfully beneficial. I wish I could claim to have curated it.
Jack Mitchell often works in twos and threes, and on quite a big scale. This allows her to command large areas of wall, which offer vigorous, muscular backdrops to John Quinn’s rather more tenuous pieces.
Seeing the wall work past and through the floor pieces is a bonus dimension.
Jack Mitchell has a run of three essentially black canvases that are the spine of the show for me. I say she grows dark, but it is the darkness of enclosure, solidity and calm. The good dark, night without 'mares, sleep without dreams.
Cow Lane is a great place to view Manchester.
Stand outside the studios and look back across the wide-open wastes of Salford to the Manchester skyline, very largely created in the last twenty or thirty years, from Civil Justice Centre and Spinningfields to Student Castle and Beetham Tower.
Amongst the many things that Manchester has achieved over this time is the continuing displacement of artists’ group studios over the Irwell and into Salford. I am no sort of sceptic when it comes to city renewal but I would argue that the big prestigious extension to Manchester (City) Art Gallery has achieved proportionately little that has added to the cultural life of the city.
Hiking Cornerhouse into a back street car park and surrounding it with three star hotels does not hold great prospects for visual arts in the city.
Which is why the Jack and John Show is such an important marker. Artists can curate. They can develop temporary spaces and fill them with engaging and worthwhile work.
They cannot invite important and prestigious living artists into these spaces, unless they put their minds to it. I recall seeing Paula Rego, Howard Hodgkin, Gillian Ayres, Bert Irvin and Craigie Aitchison in Manchester, in an artist-run gallery called Castlefield.
Galleries come and go, and go off the boil. Seek out the artists, I say.
See the Jack and John Show in Cow Lane Studios until Friday 7 September. It’s the best show in town.
All pictures from Jan Chlebik. Cow Lane Studios are at Cow Lane (off Oldfield Road), Salford. M5 4NB
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