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Saturday, 20 August 2011

Art in Guernsey

Sausmarez Manor, parts of which date to the early 13th or late 12th centuries, has been altered, reduced and added to over the years with major changes in Tudor, Queen Anne, Regency and Victorian times. A delightful spot to spend in amiable and unhurried surroundings, the grounds house a sculpture exhibition which currently comprises 130 pieces by 57 different sculptors. Generally minor works can able to be seen to best advantage in the beautiful tropical garden.

The current exhibition at the Guernsey Museum and Art Gallery is Mervyn Peake’s Sark - To the Sweep of a Steel Bay; a celebration of the centenary of the writer and artist Mervyn Peake, who lived and worked for some years in Sark. Peake's son has rightly written that this:

"is an outstanding example of how the artist and writer's work can be displayed in all its glory in a relatively small space. The designer, curator and director of the gallery have given the local public and visitors to the island, a genuinely beautiful mix of water colours, pencil and oil paintings, within the octagonal gallery."

As a result of time on Sark, Peake wrote Mr Pye, a parabolic novel using the motif of the messianic or diabolic outsider who becomes a catalyst for change. Sitting mid way between, on the one hand, Mr Weston's Good Wine and Mr Golightly's Holiday and, on the other, Brimstone and Treacle, Mr Pye sees its central character land on the island of Sark equipped with love, his mission to convert the islanders into a crusading force for the undiluted goodness that he feels within. The extraordinary inhabitants of the island range from the formidable Miss George in her purple busby to the wanton, raven-haired Tintagieu, 'five foot three inches of sex'. Mr Pye, however, is prone to excess and in the increasingly personalised struggle between good and evil, excess is very nearly his downfall. The prejudices of a close-knit society shine through the story in which the characters, cameos and events add up to an hilarious romp.

Remaining on an angelic theme, we bought an interesting etching, from the Coach House Gallery, entitled Angel Sleeping, by Latvian artist, Katrina Graseva, whose work has been described as having "naive and whimsical charm" and who works with lithography, watercolour and in children's book design.

Hauteville House, where Victor Hugo lived in exile for 15 years (from 1856 to 1870), displays Hugo’s abundant creativity in the astonishing richness of its decoration, his use of recycled and reclaimed objects within that decoration, and the symbolism of his interior design as visitors literally rise from darkness to light in moving through the house. As Charles Hugo put it, the house is "a veritable three-storey autograph, a poem in several rooms".

Nick Boulos has described how a visit to the house begins in the suprisingly dark and oppressive hallway, where a creaky wooden staircase spirals out of view while heavy doors and intricately carved wooden panels line the walls. With its secret doors and bold interiors, the property was designed to intrigue and challenge visitors, reflecting Hugo's view that knowledge leads one into the light. His glass, rooftop lookout, reached via the third-floor library, allows a column of sunlight to illuminate the length of the staircase. A simple, drop-down table in his study is the place where Hugo put the finishing touches to Les Misérables. This room was a haven; he would sleep, write and (much to the dismay of his neighbours) wash up here, savouring sea views over the neighbouring Channel islands of Sark, Herm and, on a clear day, France. He likened his house to "a seagull's nest high above the immense foam of the waves".

Anthony Gormley has sculptures on both Guernsey and Herm, as part of the Art and Islands Foundation initiative. We saw Another Time XI on Herm. While Gormley's bodycasts often have huge resonance depending on the form and location chosen (such as Sound II at Winchester Cathedral or Another Place at Crosby Beach), here though the repetition of yet another Gormley bodycast seems merely decorative, rather than possessing genuine conceptual force through a thoroughgoing engagement between form and location.

Gillian Welch - The Way The Whole Thing Ends.

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