Albany Gallery: Celebrating 50 Years With Something New

You could be forgiven for missing the gallery when walking down Albany Road. On the high street and nestled between bustling shops, The Albany Gallery blends in and requires a security buzzer to gain access to the first and second floor location. Yet don’t let that put you off.

Exhibition inspired by David's 2012 visit to India
Exhibition inspired by Bill’s 2012 visit to India

Clearly the gallery has a winning formula, given it was established in 1965 and recently concluded a ’50th Anniversary Christmas Exhibition’ – somewhat timely in the festive season for a private, commercial operation.

I was astonished to hear that Albany owner, Mary Yapp, is still in charge at eighty seven years young. Unfortunately Mary was in North Wales when I visited but her presence is felt throughout the gallery. Bill Swann, also from North Wales, is an artist she admires and he agreed to take the not necessarily glamorous ‘January slot’ to showcase his glass and sculpture work. By the seem of things, it is far from impacting sales.

Riverscape Orchha (Madhya Pradesh state)
Riverscape Orchha (Madhya Pradesh state)

Swann’s collection has been nomadic, shifting around the country before landing in The Albany. Needless to say, the dynamism of India is captured throughout his work: “the sculptural work conveys how the burden and weight of life contrasts harmoniously with the joy and colour of living.” Talk about adding a bit of spice to the January slot.

Such contemporary work is not a staple of the gallery. Despite being a fan of Swann’s work, the gallery is consciously expanding horizons. For example, you could enter the gallery and make a purchase with a few hundred pounds – not so long ago, the top end work went for closer to sixty thousand.

How could art explore the psyche of India without an  elephant?
How could art explore the psyche of India without an elephant?

If you do go, make sure you spend plenty of time exploring Bill’s personal book, ‘studio work, development of ideas, sketches and source information’. The exhibit has so much energy and movement that it really helps to see how Swann’s ideas progressed and resulted in the cathartic glass work.

As Bill has written on the opposite page of his 'ideas' book, "art is a spiritual language"
As Bill has written on the opposite page of his ‘ideas’ book, “art is a spiritual language”

Like so many stories of travelling in India, Bill shares one of a train journey in which he met a transvestite dancer, a government official (keen to talk about social welfare), a young psychology student and a host of goats and monkeys. Although not having been to India myself, I have read a lot of great fiction from the country (from Midnight’s Children to The Inheritance Of Loss) and could see and feel clear parallels.

Again, this was an unexpected treat and even if you are not in the market for something, I would encourage you to drop by for a browse. Who knows, it may encourage you to pack your bags…


Wales’ First Mental Health Arts Festival Is Closer Than Ever

Wales is the only Home Nation not to have an arts festival dedicated to the theme of mental health.

Anxiety Arts Festival has successfully taken off in London and Scotland’s Mental Health Arts & Film Festival is now in its eighth year. The latter just published their 2014 festival report, where a record twenty thousand took part across the country.


Wales abundantly has a thriving arts scene. Events such as Cardiff Contemporary are a huge success. And various studies have shown that mental health and creativity have a symbiotic relationship.

So why the silence in Wales?


Rather than a lack of need there seems a lack of unifying voice.

This could be about to change, thanks in large part to Mark Smith.

Little over two years ago, Mark established Making Minds, a community organisation based in South Wales that seeks to promote the role of art and creativity in mental health.

I went along to find out more at their informal AGM late last month and had difficulty keeping up with all they have achieved over the past year. From involvement with the music festival Cardiff Mind FEST to open mic nights Giving Voices, the organisation is on a mission.


                                                    Art from a Living Rooms workshop led by artist Natalie Jones

Run by a team of volunteers – many of whom have their own mental health issues to contend with, let alone day jobs – Making Minds is garnering a lot of attention.

Why Now?

A key relationship has been made with Disability Arts Cymru and Operational Director Sara Mackay says they were “not quite prepared” for the level of support and interest received, including from potential funders.

Last month – in conjunction with Representing North Merthyr – they held two open meetings to discuss initial plans. The latter of the two was held at Chapter Arts, Cardiff and brought together people and organisations in the arts sector, mental health sector, community development sector and others.


The overarching vision is to have a festival which not only celebrates the work created by artists who have experience of mental health issues, but to tackle the deeply embedded stigma of mental health in society.

At a time when the two separate sectors of mental health and arts are facing considerable cuts in public funding, I asked Mark why The Arts Council For Wales – an obvious pillar stone to key funding – could have their head turned by a mental health arts festival.

His answer was concise: “It would offer multiple benefits.”

It’s not exactly letting a cat out of the bag to say that mental health services are under increasing pressure in Wales. At worst they simply “cannot cope”.  The festival would play into this narrative whilst also being an artistic outlet.

Yet a possible festival “would not necessarily be about art therapy” Mark added.

The Role Of Contemporary Art

Earlier in the year, Julia Thomas co-founded ATTIC, a contemporary art project and gallery space. Located in the third floor of an unmarked building in Roath, the project was “dedicated to exploring personal, cultural and scientific understandings of the mind”.

It played into a lot of the key themes which the potential festival is aiming to highlight.

Over a series of Q&As, Julia made it clear why contemporary art could play a key part.

1: It helps us understand the relationship of ‘the biological, social and psychological.’

2: It relates to challenges people have today.

3: It facilitates conversation.

4: This means being more concerned with questions than answers.

5: There’s lots of ways to have this conversation – and contemporary art is just one of them.


Dr Ria Poole of DECIPHer agrees with Julia and says that getting everybody involved is key.

Beyond considering the stigma surrounding mental health and representations of mental illness, there’s a tremendous array of mental health perspectives to take into consideration, from patients’ families to carers to mental health professionals.

“Look at the Turner Prize – the relevance and meaning of art is so dependent upon the observer… so if the representation of art is as wide as it can be there is the best possible chance of reaching out to all people. To facilitate dialogue everyone should be given the opportunity to contribute – using a range of media to facilitate expression.”


   Art from a Living Rooms workshop led by artist Natalie Jones

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Mark is pulling together a relatively disparate group of people.

“The main challenge in achieving this is ensuring people and organisations see the value in the festival, from their own perspective at first to the point where they want to be involved”, he added.

Other Challenges

There are other challenges too, namely in terms of geography. The north and south of Wales are very strong in terms of activity, with only pockets in between.

Should the festival start out regionally or aim to be national? In contemplating the arguable disconnect, Julia Thomas amusingly pointed out that the drive from north to south passes through England.

These are exactly the sort of logistical debates that are ongoing. A current idea is to artists from all over Wales be involved but in a smaller geographical location.

Significantly however, Making Mind’s told New Art Cardiff of their “positive” meeting earlier this week with the Arts Council For Wales.


Cardiff artist Natalie Jones has been running art workshops in conjunction with Making Mind’s and The Living Room.

She got involved as preparation for her art psychotherapy studies next year and says “I didn’t really know what to expect from the workshops but have met some amazing people through them and hope they get ‘something’ from the sessions too.”

It seems a great analogy for the festival itself – it’s more about meeting people and conversation than knowing what to expect.

The goal is to raise the necessary funds and hold a Mental Health Arts Festival within the next two years. The hope is that it becomes a permanent fixture in the Welsh arts calendar.

gallery/ten – A Life Line to Visual Arts In Cardiff

I had been meaning to visit gallery/ten for weeks before Bob Gelsthorpe gave me the final push.

Outside Artes Mundi, I have heard many point to Gallery Ten as their favourite visual arts outlet in Cardiff. Granted, most of this community long for the day when it’s a more hotly contested field.

It was also about time I ventured into a contemporary commercial operation.

IMG_0647Amid the wrapping of purchased pieces and general organisation, owner and curator Cat Gardiner was more than happy to have an impromptu conversation. Her warmth creates a very inviting atmosphere, balancing the minimalist surroundings.

The main message Cat shared is that while Cardiff may not have many platforms – as Bob alluded to – the visual arts scene has evolved tremendously over the past five years. And with this dynamism has come growth. I got the impression gallery/ten would gladly expand its cosy red brick walls if possible!

IMG_0657Fortunately I was able to see the final day of ‘Choose Your Masque” by Jon Oakes before the winter exhibition begins.

IMG_0652Developing themes of disguise, self-confidence and heroism, this series considers whether individuals enjoy ‘the game of identity’.

The various interviewees donning super hero masks made me smile. Many of these pieces are inspired by Oakes’ own encounters and his interest in physiognomy (the assessment of a person’s based on their appearance, namely the face).

Oakes also uses images from the news and transforms them into a wry social commentary – who is ‘the interview’ with a spider man mask? My favourite aspect of The Masque series is, as the title suggests, the fact we choose our own.

IMG_0651The commercial surprise of my lunchtime visit was that ‘pants’ (above) had yet to sell – perhaps that’s changed over the past few hours.

If you want to see the best of Welsh visual artists – with limited depictions of Pembrokeshire landscapes or sheep – then be grateful for gallery/ten.

jon oakes choose your masques by gallery/ten

Artes Mundi 6 – Now Over Three Venues!

The UK’s biggest art prize, Artes Mundi, is back in Cardiff. The biennial competition showcases some of the world’s most eclectic contemporary artists. There is no overarching theme but the international mix of work is held together by a concern to “directly engage with people’s lives and with what it means to be human”.

I checked their website before going and was a little indecisive after reading that the prize has spread across the city. After ten years establishing itself as a leading art exhibition, the entries are showing across The National Museum Cardiff, Chapter (in the Canton/Pontcanna area) and Ffotogallery in Penarth!

If you too are undecided on where to start, click on the lilac ‘art palette’ icons above and get a taster for what’s on offer. Interestingly, a gallery guard at The National Museum told me that despite no overarching prize theme, they have broadly split the venues by three themes. For example, Chapter has a lot of childhood and passage of time work (such as Sharon Lockhart and ‘lunch break’) whereas Ffotogallery exhibits some feminist concerns (namely Sanja Ivekovic’s ‘The Disobedient’/Donkey Toys).

Although that helped my ‘need-to-categorize’ nature, I think it’s too disparate a show to be thrown into three boxes. Hence I’ve suggested on the map above that you walk to Penarth via the pier and also see the Aasobe Design Studios at The Norwegian Design Studios (queue yellow pin point). Likewise it made me think about ‘the human condition’. Plus I’ve included a link to a rather good write-up….

Back to Artes Mundi, I focused on the National Museum this weekend. It’s probably the most engaging exhibit I’ve ever been to. And I mean physically engaging.

Renzo Marten’s Institute For Human Activities (IHA), self portraits made by Congolese plantation workers

Renzo Marten has said that ‘poverty is Africa’s biggest export’. He set up the IHA in 2012 to  begin ‘a gentrification programme’ on a settlement near a former Unilever plantation in the Democratic Republic of Congo.The pieces above are produced by the same material that has been supplying Unilever for over one hundred years. Needless to say, the room smells like the (Unilever) products we buy, usually without thinking about where they came from.

Renata Lucas, Falha (Failure)

Lucas’ installation is a critical take on how built environments determine our actions. You are able to pick up the pieces of plywood and reconfigure them to shape the room as you please. Approach with caution…some people found them a little heavier than anticipated. But the gallery guard was delighted to see interaction – the installation doesn’t work if everyone remains passive.

IMG_0612            IMG_0616

I’ve put a picture of my favourite on Instagram – Carlos Bunga’s ‘Exodus’. It includes a remarkable corridor – made out of cardboard and packing tape – on an architectural scale. From a distance it looks like an industrial structure within The Museum but on closer inspection, is clearly something very temporary. I understood Bunga’s message about temporary and permanent, past and present; but needed the handout to realise it’s about migration and nomads. I guess the title ‘Exodus’ was a pointer.

What three words would you use to describe your experience? I’d say: makes you think.

O:4W and On Record: Robert Bidder

I went to see the Outcasting: Fourth Wall (O:4W) commissions this afternoon at the Panopticon venue.

The work which most struck me was Alison Crocetta’s moving image installation ‘On Poppies’.

The gallery assistant said I should reflect on the cultural significance of the poppy within historic and contemporary contexts. Filled with thoughts of The First World War Centenary and Afghanistan opiate trade, I walked through curtains into a blackened out room with one large screen angled in the middle. One side had the clip above and the other was a taken from a poppy field.

photo (1)

It seemed especially poignant given the UK hand over of Camp Bastion to Afghan forces last month, as well as Paul Cummins’ Tower of London poppy garden.

I understood Crocetta’s message that the poppy has a place in some of the most difficult passages in human history and the ponderous music was effective. The old hand slowly making commemorative poppies hinted to the cultural role it plays in British consciousness and reconciliation, whereas the windswept field highlighted contemporary struggles.

For a total change of pace I then went to ‘On Record’ in the Morgan Arcade to see Robert Bidder perform.


I truly had no idea what to expect other than knowing it was a contemporary performance to celebrate vinyl and the emotions of editing mix-tape. Clearly I had no wars or centenaries to help contextualise.

From a short piece of theatre called ‘Dickhead Buildings’ to some spoken observations with projected images, Robert successfully fused a self-deprecating humour into his show. He very much seems interested by the mundane or irrelevant and this set the stage for my highlight of the day: a karaoke art song about household dust.


I gather the editing process can be a painstaking one but Robert got laughs rather than sympathy. His vocal performance and purposefully out of sync coordination with the blaring white projector made for the perfect tonic to Crocetta. That’s not to say dust has less gravitas than a poppy – as Robert said, we cannot destroy it, we can only push it around.

Historic Cardiff Is Contemporary

A few months ago I had never been to Wales, let alone Cardiff.

With Cardiff Contemporary ongoing, I arrived at a fantastic time. The Festival forces you to ‘experience’ the city and think about its spaces rather than merely become accustomed to it.

I have always loved art despite not being very knowledgeable. My studies more involved history books than brushes. So it was a pleasant surprise when I visited the ‘Stute, the festival’s social centre. Echoing the Miners’ Institutes which historically formed the heart of old mining communities, it is both meeting place and public space. Plus, it’s filled with history books….

IMG_0529  IMG_0519

I met co-ordinator Becca Thomas and her lovely team. As a novice, I had to ask: what is the difference between ‘visual’ art and ‘contemporary’? They seemed pleased I had asked. The public often seemed frightened by the word contemporary when it essentially just means new. It is not exclusively art which is visual but rather work which is new and open to interpretation. This is represented by the history books.

I liked the simple argument and it encouraged my blog title ‘New Art Cardiff’.

Based in St David’s House, Wood Street, the Council has heavily backed the operation. Directly opposite the bus and central train station, it is a prominent focus point for Cardiff’s communities of artists, designers and architects.

Cardiff Contemporary ends in just nine days but these communities are going no where. I want ‘New Art Cardiff’ to engage their conversation over the coming months and track the most interesting developments ahead – even if it’s bad news, namely funding cuts.

I am grateful the city has such a strong contingent of contemporary artists – I’m discovering a much richer Cardiff thanks to them.