Ceri Hand Gallery
North West England

Ceri Hand Gallery opened two years ago as Liverpool’s first major commercial gallery, and one of the largest outside London. It has since established itself with a programme of often edgy exhibitions, the latest of which is ‘If You Can Hold Your Breath’, running until July 18th.

The gallery is a challenging space in Liverpool’s gritty, industrial dockland. I’ve always felt the exhibitions here reflect their environment. I have found them as I find Liverpool: hard-edged-exciting, with a sometimes-dark playfulness.

If You Can Hold Your Breath includes work by Sarah Bowker-Jones, Karen Cunningham, Alex Farrar, Melissa Jordan, Pesce Khete, Elizabeth McAlpine and Rachel Niffenegger and is curated by Lucy Johnston. The general ‘theme’ of the exhibition is transformation and challenging figuration by inclusion, abstraction or elimination of the body.

When I read the press release, which includes the birth dates of the artists [1973-1986], I noticed what a ‘young’ show it was. A bold, but refreshing move, given the ‘play safe’ climate of absolutely everything at the moment.

The exhibition is hung without labels or notation. The show feels unified and on first impression almost suggests the artists have worked as a collective, given the initial ambience and playfulness of what’s in the space. Alex Farrar’s ‘Produced on Request’, is daubed on the wall, dangerously overhanging the staircase. Nearby Karen Cunningham’s ‘Cellini Jewellery, after Sol Le Witt’, is left dangerously uncordened on the floor.

Sarah Bowker-Jones: one of the oldies [1978!] exhibiting presents ‘Dark Arches’. Loops of industrial yet delicate-looking striped plastic, bolted to heavier, painted joining sections, suspended from the gallery’s metal ceiling beams, almost reaching the floor. ‘Her process stems from an interest in the arches in caves, their formation, gestures and traces of humanity’ states the gallery information. This is certainly evident; the pieces suggesting openings, at different levels, and the heavily worked painterly surfaces relating to mankind’s history. I found myself enjoying the piece from a more childish perspective. They appear celebratory pieces, reminiscent by their colour and position, of ticker tape parades and ribbons. I felt they also assumed the roll of PE equipment in a sports hall due to the hard vastness of the gallery space. Interestingly the work has a suggestion of drawing about it.

Pesce Khete’s [1980] work also seems drawing based. The somewhat tatty, unconventionally made and hung work is a selection of indulgent drawings / paintings. These are contemporary studio paintings at their best. Made by the artist for the artist, without too much care given to the world. They are packed with energy, a little aggression, mistakes, cover ups, nods to Abstract Expressionism and German Neo-expressionism. There is an exciting lawless quality to them. The pieces are drawn with oil stick on Fabriano paper. Paper is added on top of paint and paint on top of that. They seem somewhat intuitive but I think that’s where their excitement lies. In the paintings are abstract forms, people, animals, a table, maybe the things in Khete’s head or studio, quickly drawn. There are two framed paintings. One could be a section from a Kossoff, while the unframed work is more inline with Michael Swaney and Misaki Kawai.

If You Can Hold Your Breath brings together seven young artists at a stage in their careers where they’re not yet bogged down with discipline, rules, collectors and gallerists who are after a certain way of working. The exhibition shows an excitement that can still be found in contemporary art, just not that often.