General Office gallery, Stourbridge
West Midlands

When I visited the General Office gallery in Stourbridge, the founder of The Drawbridge, Elena Thomas told me that it was initially set up as a group on Facebook. The aim was to unite artists who draw in online discussion and mutual activity in times of isolation and to ease the stresses that might create. Elena went on to explain that she wanted to create a supportive, non-judgemental, caring culture of reaching out to other artists. After a year of posting, talking and zooming, the group wanted to meet, and show some of the work they had been doing behind closed doors.

The exhibition, which was open between July 17th and August 1st 2021 featured the work of nineteen artists whose drawings were originally posted in the Facebook group together with examples of their wider practices.

The gallery is approached via a flight of stairs and immediately the viewers attention is drawn to a selection of bright paintings: carefully observed, expressive life studies and colourful landscapes are displayed in the double height lobby together with a series of forty two charcoal drawings inspired by limpet shells set against a bright red wall – quite an impact!

However, if the visitor expects to see more vibrant work beyond the double-doored entrance they would be quite mistaken. An air of reflective calm is palpable within the gallery, almost subdued compared with the work on display in the stairwell. Here, the colour fades, the artwork is subtle, mainly blue, grey and monochrome. There are carefully drawn lines, knotted, twined, twisty things. Soft shadows, clouds and lands of the imagination. Some of the pieces are textural, leading the audience to places of uncertainty, fear, fragility and escape. There are studies of surface, internal spaces, and wild places conveying a sense of longing and distant conversation.

The careful curation of the show by Elena and gallery director Simon Meddings demonstrates a sensitivity to the contrasting moods of the groups work, showing how the standstill of lockdown influenced the artists in different ways.

Seeing and experiencing this collection of work in ‘real-life’ was a pleasure; gently uplifting, thought provoking and reassuring in these uncertain times.

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