14th January – 8th March 2023 | Kirkleatham Museum, Redcar.
Artists Tony Galuidi and Gavin Parry.
I visited the Megaliths exhibition on January 15th, the day after it opened. As an ardent lover of the ancient stones and special pre-historic places that Britain has to offer, this exhibition was one which I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity of visiting. The exhibition itself is in the Bellamy Pavilion at the Kirkleatham Museum, a bright airy spacious room with plenty of space, just what is needed to display megaliths, which in their own environment are usually situated isolated in their own space. My initial feeling on entering the space was awe at the size of not just the space, but also that single monolith stood upright on the presentation board directly in front of me.
After viewing that initial part of the presentation, I moved across to preview the photographic display first, all of the photographs displayed were the same size and pleasantly displayed in neat rows rather than the jumble of sizes and orientations some curators like to show. The majority of the photography was from Northern England with a couple of examples from more distant locations like Machrie Moor on the Isle of Arran.
The photography itself has been shot very competently in black and white with a good range of contrast. They appear to be a mix of different ways of engaging with the stones and ancient sites, some focus on a stone, and others showcase the stone or grouping using the wider landscape as context. Envisaging how these monuments would have been viewed by the people contemporary to them is difficult as the landscape, weather and even climate would have been radically different from that which we have today. The photographs however do feel quite sterile and devoid of any real sense of feeling or place, they lack the atmosphere and timelessness which are created by the lighting effects created in many of the paintings.
This painting off the Lordstones really caught my attention, while it is a place which I have personally visited, it wasn’t instantaneously recognisable, however, it managed to pull me in and intrigue me. The flat tones of the colouring and the appearance of the stones which look as though they could be the fingers of a giant claw rising from the earth were quite captivating. The colours of the stones appear to resemble a low sunset with the sun striking them at an oblique angle, this lighting gives the artist great scope for highlighting the intricate surface details of the stones which they have managed with great panache.
The painting Marker with A Crow caught my attention when I saw it from across the room, isolated boundary stones are quite common, though fall into a different era from most of the other stones depicted in the exhibition. It is quite a large-scale painting in portrait form intensifies the narrow aspect of the landscape while keeping the focus tightly on the stone with the crow sitting on top. The stippled and dimly lit surface of the monolith pictured is reminiscent of lichen and moss which are often found covering parts of old stones throughout the countryside. The inclusion of the crow is the only detail which hints at the scale of the boundary marker, without this, it could be envisaged as a huge edifice. The slightly unfocused landscape and sky behind just enhance the mystery within this painting, making it appear as though this is a boundary stone that could be located literally anywhere in the country.
Most of the paintings in the exhibition aren’t placed on their own, they appear in groups which are arranged in a quite pleasant manner. The grouping shown above contains a mix of arrangements with ultra-wide landscapes displayed alongside more usual sizing. All six of the paintings in this section appear to be constructed using the rule of thirds, placing the subject of the painting around a third of the way into the picture in order to create a nice balance of pictorial and negative space. Each of those very wide images contains not only a different stone but also the lighting and tonal qualities of the images are completely different, this gives rise to an effect where the jarring differences in tone work well together to reinforce that although conceptually similar, these are different paintings completely.
To myself, the one which stands out the most here is the image of the monolith rearing from the ground in a semi-phallic way, surrounded and supported by large boulders atop a grassy knoll. It has a low slanting light, illuminating the stones in a way which now appears typical for the artist, highlighting imperfections in the faces of the rocks and making it appear much more natural than a brightly lit featureless monolith would be. The sky in this image contains an amazing cloudscape that appears in some way otherworldly in its scale and its intensity.
There were a few images which appeared as both photography and painting within the exhibition, which like The Lady’s Neck shown above as a photograph and below as a painting, together demonstrate the appeal of both different techniques. In the photograph, the stone looks much more angular and is also joined by a second stone nearby visible because of the angle that the picture was taken. The plants and the sky in the background become indistinct, there isn’t the sense of a sharp horizon, and the moor appears boundless. The sharpness of the print in combination with the light when the photograph was taken make the blemishes and marks on the stone stand out much more than if it had been a dull or overcast day.
In comparison to that photograph however, the painting has a much different feel. There is a warmth within the light on the stone, which combined with a lower viewing angle almost makes the stone look like a living organism, the lichen on the surface of the rock could almost be mistaken for blemishes on the skin of a person sticking from the ground. There is a slight arrangement with a dark splodge which makes the Lady’s Neck look even more like a face than it otherwise would have. This low angle and warm light transfers nicely to the sunset tones in the cloudscape over the moorland hills behind.
That two pictures of the same subject could be so utterly different in their appearance neatly demonstrates that the artists who created them were both looking for something different within the stones.
2 thoughts on “Megaliths.”
Thanks for taking the time to write such a comprehensive and articulate review
You are welcome, I thoroughly enjoyed your exhibition.