The indigo Guide to Durham’s visual arts scene
With the easing of coronavirus restrictions and the end of exam period, the time has never been better to engage with Durham’s extensive Visual Arts scene. Below is a guide to just some of the arts venues, events, and activities that are at your disposal this summer.
Durham is home to a small handful of understated art galleries. Amongst them is North Road’s Outstanding Art, which exists as a haven for art lovers and socialites, displaying the works of local as well as world-class artists while doubling as a cocktail bar and café. Outstanding Art is open between 10am and 6pm during the week, though it stays open until eleven at the weekend. Just around the corner from Outstanding Art is South Street’s Crushed Chilli Gallery.
The small hut showcases the work of local artist Janet Rogers, an award-winning creator of stained glass pieces. The Gallery space exists as a lively space of light and colour, as Rodgers’ work ‘combines traditional craftsmen’s techniques with bold modern designs to produce vibrant works with a contemporary feel.’ Alongside Rogers’ glass pieces can be seen a selection of artworks by other local artists, making the Crushed Chilli the perfect venue to engage with Durham’s local artistic output.
The Angel of the North
Antony Gormley’s ‘Angel of the North’ stretches its steel wings just over twelve miles away from Durham’s city centre – making it the first port of call for any road trip, or the ideal day-trip setting. Gormley’s twenty-meter ‘Angel’ has stood as a symbol of the North for more than twenty years and constitutes the world’s largest angelic structure as well as Britain’s biggest sculpture. the University’s Botanic Garden is an absolute must.
Gormley has stated that the work has three primary functions: ‘firstly a historic one to remind us that below this site, coal miners worked in the dark for two hundred years, secondly to grasp hold of the future, expressing our transition from the industrial to the information age, and lastly to be a focus for our hopes and fears – a sculpture is an evolving thing.’
Materially, the Angel alludes to the ship and mining industries that define the North East, and which were falling increasingly under threat in the late nineteen-nineties when the sculpture was designed and constructed. Additionally, the sculpture’s hill-top setting was selected on the grounds that it resembles a megalithic mound – allowing Gormley’s ‘Angel’ to symbolise the North’s past, present, and future.
‘Challenging Convention’ at the Laing
Newcastle’s Laing gallery is currently celebrating the works of some of the 20th century’s female artistic icons – Vanessa Bell, Laura Knight, Gwen John, and Dod Procter. ‘Challenging Convention’ celebrates the ways in which these artists worked creatively and collaboratively to challenge the cultural prejudices of a patriarchal society, documenting the shifts, setbacks, and social changes that defined the careers of each creative. For Lizzie Jacklin, Keeper of Art at the Laing, the exhibition’s main function is to highlight how a generation of British-born female artists began to make strides in a male-dominated artistic industry. While the exhibition can be toured virtually, Laing’s celebration of female artists can also be viewed in person until late August.
Since its opening in 2002, Gateshead’s BALTIC has dominated the visual arts scene of the North East. While a number of virtual tours and exhibitions have been available over lockdown, a number of exhibitions are now available to view in person. Of special note is the ‘Open Submission’ space, which exhibits the works of over 150 local and regionally-based artists, setting the works of artistic amateurs alongside professional pieces. The result is a multi-media and multi-tonal cacophony of creative sound, as an expansive range of artistic styles, preoccupations, and techniques are made to sit alongside. A true tribute to the creativity of the North East and a physical indication of art’s centrality to the regional character.
Art in the Durham Botanic Garden
Before the end of your time at Durham, a trip to the University’s Botanic Garden is an absolute must. It is not primarily regarded for its art, however, the Prince Bishops’ Garden is an incredible creative accolade to North Eastern culture. Its three central fountains represent the three main rivers of the Tyne, the Tees and the Wear and County Durham. Whilst the central sculptural installation has sadly been removed, it is still definitely worth a visit to this tranquil heritage spot within the unmissable garden.
Image Credits: Carys Stallard, Irina Raquel via Creative Commons and Alexandre Lion via Unsplash