The Shrewsbury-based Visual Art Network (VAN) has been going for a good number of years but recently it has acquired a great new space at the bottom of Shoplatch, below Shrewsbury Market Hall. I have had friends over the years who have been part of VAN but a lot of their material either never appealed to me or passed me by in the usual rush. Since they have been able to use this larger space as a gallery, the material has been more impressive, because there is more on display and some of the larger scale material is available to view. The lighting is great – lots of natural light and high quality strip lighting – and the opportunity to talk to volunteers and artists is always there. Pretty much everything is on sale, too, so it is a great place for art shopping, from oils and prints to some lovely ceramics.
Since they have opened their new space, they have used it as a home for partner organisations to come and take part or exhibit. Currently a group of Shropshire-based abstract artists called Abstract Edge are exhibiting there. For a group of local hardworking artists who are either working in abstract art or moving in that direction, it is a really great exhibition, and some of the art is shown here. If many of these look suspiciously like landscapes this should not surprise us. Shropshire as a county has a very strong sense of place, as do all the borderland counties and even those artists who, in the exhibition, tried determinedly to be as abstract as possible, could not help to allow come concrete expression to slip in. This I put down to the fierce draw of being “in a place.” As far as I can recall, I have put the appropriate artist links (either from Abstract Edge’s site, or the artists own webpages) as the links on the photos.
One of the many jobs of an artist is to force us to look differently at the place that has become familiar. The painting of the Long Mynd below by Ros Burns is identifiably the Long Mynd, but somehow deeper and bleaker, as though special atmospheric conditions suddenly pertained to change the colour and the sensation of being there. Paul Nash spent his life forcing us to think differently about English landscape, whilst never straying from a clear sense of place. Landscape (in general) is one thing; a sense of place and belonging to that place is another. Harlan Hubbard’s paintings and woodcuts were of a place where he belonged and by whose landscape his existence was circumscribed. So it is vital for artists working in these conditions to enable us to see in depth or (as in Ellen Altfest’s work, for instance) in detail.