When Worlds Collide: textiles by Michael Brennand-Wood.August 11, 2014 by Elisabeth Rutt
I have for a long time admired and enjoyed the work of textile artist Michael Brennand-Wood and am delighted that his first solo show in East Anglia is now on at Smiths Row, a place I am also very fond of. Smiths Row is in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk and is housed in a Georgian gem of a building. I have visited the exhibition twice and though not a reviewer, here are a few words on the reasons I enjoyed it so much.
Smiths Row’s Georgian building has a Robert Adam interior with lofty ceilings, white plasterwork, and chandeliers making an airy, and elegant gallery space. The moulded 3D plasterwork and nature of this pale interior surprisingly complement the works in the exhibition. There is a formality, a delicacy and similarity in scale to the plasterwork decoration and the materials Michael Brennand-Wood has used. The relief 3D surfaces in many of his pieces come off the wall and grab the viewers attention, drawing you in to look and look and look again.
The works are eye catching in their scale and colour and warrant standing back to view. However this is to miss the depth and comment that they make as closer looking and lingering, reveals layers of making and meaning. What may appear to be a lace like material is actually an assemblage of plastic toy soldiers tied together with thread and saturated in paint. It is hard to distinguish one toy soldier from the next as they appear welded together but in an incongruously lace like 3D construction. The imagery of war and destruction is haunting and thought provoking. The work brings thoughts of remembrance and World Wars but are also so sadly current.
The combination of pattern and symbols from the East, World War imagery of soldiers, skulls, aircraft and medals, computer game characters and floral sprays sound such unlikely fellows in a cohesive body of work but together they ask enormous questions about these worlds and how we allow them to collide. They sit alongside each other in sculptural vases of flowers, large, intricate ‘Meddles’ and applied to an Eastern woven carpet. More traditional in technique, ‘Transformers’ is a tapestry woven at the Tapestry workshop at West Dean, which I was delighted to see hung as I saw it half made, on the frame in the tapestry studio, a couple of years ago.
The exhibition has work on show from the 1980s through to new work from this year; it was great to see the new alongside what went before. It also gives an overview of the artist’s preoccupations with pattern and symbol within an underlying structure; all the preoccupations of most textile artists but for Michael Brennand-Wood very little textile!
‘When Worlds Collide’ is on at Smiths Row until Sat Sept 6th and I would wholeheartedly recommend a visit.