Exeter’s arts scene shifts through a changing cultural landscape with the continuous action of artists and organisations. Recent developments include the return of art students to the city, a new city-wide visual arts festival, and a DIY slant to artist-led spaces and creative unions.
Art Week Exeter (AWE) is currently midway through its second annual visual arts festival. The contemporary and traditional collide throughout this broad celebration of visual art as, from 13-21 May, exhibitions, live art, graffiti, jewellery, radio broadcasts, artist run-spaces, lectures, library residencies, illustration and an art market intersect usual affairs across the city.
Compared to other regional cities like Plymouth and Bristol, the scene is concise with the focus, to a large extent, fixed on Exeter Phoenix. This multi-use arts venue presents exhibitions of varying scales across its gallery spaces.
By contrast, neighbouring Royal Albert Museum and Art Gallery (the inspiration for Cedar Lewisohn’s prints displayed at Exeter Phoenix), offers more formal exhibitions in its galleries: recently paintings by George Shaw, and currently drawings and paintings of people and landscapes from the museum collections are on display.
Having left their contemporary gallery, Spacex now adopts new modes of working through a tightly focused and wonderfully itinerant approach to engagement; its current commission is Makers of the Multiverse by Juneau Projects.
Artist-run gallery spaces are present, but fractional – events are sporadic. Topos, located in empty offices in Sidwell Street, is run by artist Volkhardt Müller and is presenting events and exhibitions during AWE.
DODO Photo is the private studio of Jessica Lennan and Robert Darch, occasionally opening as a gallery in this disused shop on Fore Street. Different from the cloned city-centre, DODO Photo’s neighbours are an eclectic mix of independent shops including longstanding Exeter Peace Shop – run by CND volunteers since 1980 – and NGNG, a curated shop selling independent journals, zines, prints and houseplants.
Lennan and Darch, along with others, produce Unveil’d, an ambitious biennial photography festival. DODO is currently running cyanotype and bookbinding workshops as part of Juneau Projects’ Makers of the Multiverse.
Preston Street Union (PSU) is an association of artists finding ways to work together. Originally facilitated by Trevor Pitt during a residency at Spacex before its move, Preston Street references the old site of the gallery where artists’ studios remain on floors above the empty space.
The welcome return of Exeter School of Art – which was re-established in the city in 2016 – contributes to this expanding, joined-up scene. Summer Show season launches on 26 May showcasing the Foundation Diploma and Degree programmes in various sites. Notably, the art school is bringing art students ‘back to the cultural heart of the city’ – hopefully to stir things up, ask questions, be critical and help this succinct art scene grow.
Showing at this artist-led space during AWE, Adam Garratt presents Brutal Pattern, a playful print and sculptural study of Exeter’s Civic Centre, while Sister City is an elegant group exhibition of found video footage, ceramics, prints, altered postcards and a personal collection of vinyl records. The exhibition title is a comradely nod to Exeter from Plymouth-based artists Sister Sister who first presented work together at last year’s Plymouth Art Weekender.
Until 21 May 2017, King William Street, Exeter EX4 6NN. www.toposexeter.uk
Currently Cedar Lewisohn’s expansive prints, drawings and book-works occupy the main gallery space, while Corinna Spencer’s hundreds of little paintings are installed on the walls of the Café Bar. Clare Thornton’s tubular, pastel coloured ceramics poise gracefully in dinky Gallery 333 (until 20 May).
Until 1 July 2017, Gandy Street, Exeter EX4 3LS.
Preston Street Union
During AWE, PSU are occupying the empty gallery with Random Art Machine, generating poetic, funny and peculiar instruction-led artworks utilizing a collection of objects whilst donning orange hard-hats.
Until 21 May 2017, 45 Preston Street, Exeter EX1 1DF. www.facebook.com/prestonstreetunion
Spacex: Juneau Projects
As part of Spacex’s newly itinerant approach, Makers of the Multiverse by Juneau Projects is a joyous and colourful, temporary pavilion situated on the quay. This sculptural pavilion houses a shop and event space to distribute artists’ multiples alongside a programme of workshops and events.
Until 10 June 2017, Exeter Quay, Piazza Terracina, Haven Road, Exeter EX2 4AR.
1. Juneau Projects, Makers of the Multiverse, 2017, Exeter Quay. Photo: Maddy Hearn
2. Molly Rooke and Beth Emily Richards, 2017, Sister City exhibition, Topos, Exeter. Photo: Maddy Hearn
3. The door to artist-led space Topos, Exeter. Photo: Maddy Hearn
4. Random Art Generator, 2017, Preston Street Union, Exeter. Photo: Maddy Hearn