Steffan Jones-Hughes, 'pam newall'. [enlarge]

Steffan Jones-Hughes, 'pam newall'.

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REVIEW

Steffan Jones-Hughes 'At night I lie awake and listen to the birds singing'

Oriel Wrecsam, Wrexham
30 August - 11 October 2008

Reviewed by: Pam Newall »

I visited Steffan Jones - Hughes' exhibition again last week,  this time back in the role of one of his students, and listened to Steffan speak about his work. The design of the exhibition has a formal graphic power and elegance. The spare, calm arrangement of images and objects evoke the fragility, vulnerability and randomness of existence - of art as a way of making sense out of the chaos of life.

 

Small found pieces of tiny bird skeletons and little mammals skulls are arranged in handmade paper display units, fitted inside boxes which are themselves recycled cardboard boxes. Eggshells, decorated with drawn and printed images of found, fallen birds are carefully presented as homemade versions of museum display cabinets. Domestic archaeology of garden found bottles and glass vials are newly labelled, each displayed as precious relics.

 

These small artifacts, and the images developed from contemplation of them by the artist, generate ideas about chance finds at home, random choices made about where we make a home and with whom.  Steffan Jones-Hughes screenprints and etchings continue to call up dreamlike images of home and family, place and the structures within it.  Characters re-appear and morph into different roles at different times, as we all do according to where we are, who we are with and what part we are playing at the time.  Jones-Hughes explains:  'all my work is auto-biographical, but none of it is real'.

 

The formal display inside a presentation case of closed individually painted copies of the Guardian guide, next to a huge graphic array of copies of each of the individual images within, are like movie storyboards of tales and characters ready to take flight.  The closed guides with their week by week advice of what to see and do, and news about other people's choices and stories, seem to be gagged and ready to burst out and assert the artists own story over that of everyone else's.  In the midst of noisy random existence the individual is acknowledged, curated and documented.

Venue detail:
Oriel Wrecsam »
Rhosddu Road Wrexham LL11 1AU

Comments on this article

What struck me most about Steffan Jones Hughes exhibition is the ways in which it is peopled with aspects of Steffan’s persona. Throughout the space the work is linked and appears to be a narrative yet never quite tells a story that the viewer can be sure they understand. It is this very ambiguity that draws you in. The prints and sculptural pieces lead the viewer around the gallery offering a personal way to explore containment, protection, identity and relationships. There is very little colour and that enhances the direct graphic impact. The last wall, full of black and white reworked Guardian guides that are displayed like sections of a giant quilt, loudly demands engagement. Here the repetitive motifs, archetypal symbols, of bird, house, chapel, are constantly shifting, metamorphosing and interacting emotionally with the world. Steffan asserts that these works are not illustrations although I felt the distinction is a fine one. His symbolic language explores his own identity and invites you to interpret - what it means to be an artist, his relationships to those close to him and especially his Welsh cultural identity. The beauty, fragility and harshness of the natural world is portrayed through captured specimens juxtaposed with the artist as specimen, contained to both protect artist sensibility while simultaneously displaying artistic vulnerability. I experienced the exhibition as a personal diary that constantly hovers between exposure, and concealment. Exhibitions like this inviting review and comment always take courage. Birds flying are always vulnerable. I cannot open the Guardian Guide again without recalling and reflecting on the association of Artist as Bird. The exhibition moves in November 2008 to Galeri and then onto a group show at Theatr Clwyd in 2009. Heather Prescott

posted on 2008-10-07 by Heather Prescott

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