‘Overlooked’ is an exhibition in Park Hill flats organised by the artist Mandy Payne which also features the work of four other painters. They are all Sheffield based. Mandy’s paintings focus on Park Hill and appropriately use concrete and spray paint amongst other materials. She became obsessed with Park Hill as a Fine art student, graduating in 2013, and has remained so since.
The four other painters were selected because they share some common concerns with Mandy: transitional urban landscapes; liminal spaces; locations and scenes that don’t fit the traditional aesthetically pleasing bill; cities in flux; a sense of unease; also an everydayness. With one exception, they are realist painters. Being presented in an empty space where the old Scottish Queen pub was situated adds additional poignancy. Concrete walls with concrete paintings and urban scenes from the margins.
Andy Cropper focuses upon scenes from his everyday life – places where he is anyway. He doesn’t seek out places and things to paint. Instead, the paintings are the result of happy coincidences, things that just happen. As such they seem to make the unremarkable remarkable: two women passing each other on a city street; curtains not fully closed; old torn posters on a billboard; a CCTV camera in a corner. He is exploring the things around us that we usually ignore in favour of entertaining distractions. They are fine paintings.
Conor Rogers is a miniaturist. He paints finely observed and executed pictures of seemingly ordinary scenes in incredible detail on everyday surfaces – condom, cigarette and crisp packets for example. They are haunting and their size transforms them into precious objects, something that you want to hold and cherish. He plays with the switch between the illusion of representation on a flat surface and the idea of the painting as an object. I’m not sure that I can explain in words quite what he is doing but it sure looks interesting.
Jane Walker is the artist who provides the exception to the realist theme. Her work has a scribbly quality that reminds me of early Cy Twombly paintings. However, in her case, her marks depict cities from above. Constructed by initially drawing particular views and then re-worked, they end up looking like abstract paintings. Upon closer inspection, combined with the pictures’ titles, they represent particular subjects such as divided cities and cities in danger of being flooded. They are cities in flux, some of the flux created by the artist herself.
Sean Williams’ paintings are haunting. They are of familiar things – building sites; new build environments half-completed; not-often painted rural views; but in focussing upon them and painting them in a melancholic and somewhat drab manner, Sean makes them unfamiliar and often unwanted. We don’t feel easy looking at his paintings. We want to turn away from these scenes. They evoke something of the stresses and strains of modern living. They are not pretty or pleasing. He is deliberately setting out to unsettle us and he is certainly successful with me.
Mandy Payne is fascinated by the Park Hill estate, by the beauty of the brutalist geometry and, as some of her titles inform us, the failed utopian aspirations of the project. Her work successfully represents the many contradictions that have now become inherent in Park Hill: beauty; ugliness; community; isolation; aspiration; disappointment; 21st century icon; historical relic; hope and failure, utopia and dump.
This is an enchanting exhibition
Imagine Better Communities,
School of Education,
University of Sheffield.