Please note: the artworks by Ann Lewis RCA are editions. As the Gallery holds several editions of each artwork, these works will remain available.
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The view from the windows of our homes might seem more familiar than ever, but on closer inspection, there is much more to see in the trees and the skies. Over the past year, there has been a widespread re-engagement with nature—and in particular, the public’s appreciation of Britain’s native birds. And Fledge celebrates this.
Taking place from 1 – 23 May 2021, at Contemporary Six (lockdown-permitting) and online, Fledge: a year of birds is a multidisciplinary exhibition featuring the artwork of five artists: Mary Griffiths, Susan Platt, Liam Spencer, Clare Bigger, and Ann Lewis. Each of the artists has responded to the birds in their close environments and in Britain’s changing urban areas. Whether the medium is watercolours, oils, or steel, birds have proved a welcome escape for this group of artists—as well as a great source of inspiration.
Adam O’Riordan, Reader in Contemporary Poetry and Fiction at the Manchester Writing School and singer-songwriter Guy Garvey, exchanged a series of pen portraits of birds during the first lockdown in the spring of 2020. Susan Platt illustrated the birds that informed their writing and extracts from their ongoing collaboration will accompany the artworks in the show.
Birds symbolise many things from the everyday to the profound: a sense of freedom, possibility, change, perspective; the light embrace and colour of springtime; the tentative synergy that human beings maintain with our natural surroundings.
The simple act of watching birds engenders a sense of tranquility in times of strife, and this, undoubtedly, explains the unlikely resurgence in widespread public interest. And so this May, at a time when so many of us are hoping we might be freed to some semblance of life outside, is the perfect time for Fledge to take flight.
The artists on display hail from an array of disciplines and work in a variety of styles. Mary Griffiths’s swift, instinctive marks in ink capture birds’ speed and slightness; Susan Platt’s characterful watercolours are filled with whimsy and affection. Collectors will be familiar with the iconic urban scenes of Liam Spencer, and latterly, his joyful still lifes—but his paintings in Fledge mark a change for the artist in bringing the silhouetted form of the distant pigeon right to the fore.
“The catalyst,” says Spencer “was an exhibition I had at my local public art gallery and museum [The Whitaker in Rossendale]. It has a typical Victorian collection, which includes a lot of stuffed animals and birds. I wanted to make work in response to the collection, so I began to put together a series of small ink drawings—a sort of Victorian naturalist’s collection, without the killing.”
In recent years, Clare Bigger’s graceful sculptures in stainless steel have garnered widespread acclaim, and the artist has taken on many dramatic public commissions, as well as being included in The Guardian’s Favourite UK Public Artworks. Her work responds to the distinct movements and behaviours across species—whether a stalking eagle, a poised heron, or a spooked flock of golden plovers. And joining her, Ann Lewis, whose exquisite handmade linocut prints have always championed the scope and variety of nature, who this year was elected the first female President of the Royal Cambrian Academy.
Each of the works in the exhibition will be available for purchase with 10% of proceeds being donated to Greater Manchester Mayor’s Charity, which is committed to providing essential funding to tackle homelessness across our city region.