The Art Forum Review

Posted by Admin on 23 May 2014, 10:52 a.m.

Last week The Art Forum presented and published their reviews of John Ruskin: Photographer and Draughtsman and the Big Issues exhibition.

The Art Forum is a part of the Watts Gallery young people’s programme Watts Academy and is aimed at 14-18 year olds. The group meets twice a month and gives young people the opportunity to get a behind the scenes view of the inner workings of Watts Gallery. Read their exciting take on both exhibitions below!

The Art Forum: Review
Ruskin’s Issues

Earlier this year the Watts Gallery opened two exhibitions: John Ruskin: Photographer and Draughtsman and the Big Issues Exhibition. The exciting John Ruskin exhibition explored Ruskin as both a ‘photographer and draughtsman’. The inspiring Big Issues exhibition displayed the work from the Watts Gallery ‘Art for All’ programme, including work from three local prisons and local community groups. The Art Forum attended the Private View to review the exhibitions.

John Ruskin was the most prominent writer on art of the Victorian age and as this exhibition showed he also had a talent for creating art himself. Ruskin did not think of these works as high art; however this exhibition showed that art does not need to be grand to be spectacular. The exhibition was presented to us in four parts divided by location: Switzerland, Tuscany, France, Venice and Verona. Each section contained photographs and drawings that are equally impressive.

The exhibition spaces were elegant and open and created an environment appropriate for this great British Art Historian. A piece that stood out for us was his photo of the Lady Chapel of Rouen Cathedral in France. This daguerreotype has a magical feel due to blue discolouration which at the time was thought of as a flaw, but now gives the image a certain beauty. Another work we thought was particularly beautiful is Ruskin’s drawing of Lucca cathedral of 1882. We felt this image had wonderful rustic features as a result of the use of mixed materials. The contrast between light and dark gives the impression of a snapshot of a moment in time.

The second exhibition, held in The Old Pottery Gallery, presented work in a variety of materials by participants of the Watts Gallery Big Issues project. The Big Issues project works with people who would not usually have access to art and supports them in learning new skills and gives them a way to express ideas about issues they care about. The different media exhibited included paintings, prints, sculptures, pottery, drawings, jewellery, textiles and lamp shades. The work in this exhibition is in places extremely emotional and often heart-warming. In this exhibition art has created an open forum to discuss the often harrowing subjects and stories of each individual; and one comes away feeling moved and inspired. There are two pieces of art that particularly stood out for us. These two pieces illustrate two contrasting themes that recur often throughout the exhibition: anger and hope. The first is Within the walls, Flowers will bloom by Emma from HMP Send. The work is a combination of painting and construction in which colourful flowers made from paper burst from the centre of the canvas. The work is about finding hope within the worst of situations. When describing her work the artist said: ‘I wanted to show that no matter where you are or what walls are behind you, you still have a chance to bloom and become the person you always should have been.’ We especially liked this piece because we liked the creativity she used to present her hopeful message. Our second recommendation is a drypoint print by Ben from the Surrey Youth Support, called Rage. This piece portrays a message of anger using strong lines and overt emotion. This picture contrasts our first choice because it overtly portrays a message of anger; whereas Within the Walls presents a subtle portrayal of hope.

The Art Forum found both exhibitions very engaging and interesting in their own unique ways. We are torn as to which exhibition we liked best. From an educational point of view, more comes out of the Ruskin exhibition which gave a fantastic introduction to the most important art historian of the 19th century. Whereas the Big Issues exhibition had a powerful and inspirational impact on its viewers due to its emotional content. We would highly recommend visiting these exhibitions which together offer historic and contemporary art to inspire and entertain.

John Ruskin: Photographer and Draughtsman will be on show until the 1st of June.
The Big Issues exhibition is no longer on show.

The Art Forum meets with professionals to gain insights into gallery and museum careers; they write reviews of Watts Gallery events; and they work on projects. The Art Forum meets twice a month on a Tuesday evening 5.30pm-7.00pm. For more information contact Lauren McCombie Smith Learning Apprentice at or 01483 901 808.