Summerfield Gallery
South West England

In the open west’s third annual exhibition at the Summerfield Gallery in Cheltenham the work positively leaps into the space provided. Organised and curated by Sarah Goodwin and Lyn Cluer Coleman, this international open competition and exhibition impresses again. Word is spreading about the high standard of discrimination. The work of emerging artists sits seamlessly alongside fellow practitioners, many of whom have exhibited internationally for years.

the open west attracts artists who surprise, innovate and challenge. Quiet beauty has its place too. That is the strength of this hybrid exhibition; though it is an open competition, it is so sensitively curated it manages to show the work of forty five diverse artists in the large light filled space of the Summerfield Gallery without crowding or confusion. The combination of subtle themes and visual threads unify the exhibition. It is clear that the artists and their work are well served by the curators who have a light and perceptive touch.

the open west requires time. It invites people to pause. People walk very slowly around the exhibition and spend a lot of time with it. There is great diversity, within which each artist’s work has opportunity to find its own sense of presence and personality. Many mediums are represented, but in such a way that subliminally a rigorous, driving narrative makes for a coherent whole.

So much in the exhibition impressed. But particularly magnetic were David Kiely’s large canvases – contemplative, impressionistic and beautifully painted – the viewer could be forgiven for missing that they are drawn from photographic images of desolate abandoned industrial landscape.

Ellen Nolan confronts the viewer with her photography of wealthy mothers, each with only one precious child. Clearly materially privileged as these women are, the viewer must set aside preconceived attitudes to class as Nolan captures the inherent tensions and intimacies riven through their maternal absorption, Lit with the simple clarity of daylight the images have a stillness and a disarming honesty.

Steve Proudfoot’s deceptively conventional small oil on paper Oh My Soul Is Yearning hides its unnerving central paradox behind quiet figuration. On closest inspection the focal triumvirate in the middle of the image spiral through fractured similarities of hairstyle, clothes colour and facial feature. Are they triplets, sisters or ghostly clone?

Alan Goulbourne ‘s vast yet delicate Simulated Growth causes some to feel claustrophobic within its intricate spiral; others peacefully meditative. Calculated on the golden ratio, each sliver of wood measured and milled, this precisely built site-specific sculpture dances when sky lit from above by the sun.

Ellen Nolan was one of four award winners, the others being Shan Hur, Helen Murgatroyd and David Theobald. These artists will now work with the open west again to take part in their own exhibition later this year, each showing new work.

An added vital feature of the open west 2011 was the day of talks given by 11 artists. This amplified their work, giving insight and illumination into their process, in an informal inviting arena open to all. As the open west progresses forward, its community and education programme continues to expand. This year, with The Hesters Way Project, the open west has placed two artists into an area of urban regeneration, where they have engaged in consultative dialogue with those who live there to produce genuinely exciting collaborative work which will be exhibited publicly during March.

It is hard to believe that the endeavour behind the open west is the work and ideas of just two individuals; curators and organisers Sarah Goodwin and Lyn Cluer Coleman travel fast and light because they are unburdened by organisation, gallery or university affiliation.

Now well established, the open west is a much needed initiative in an area starved of contemporary art. It has an ambitious and wide ranging remit, and has now forged a vision very much of it own.