Five years ago, Ian and Catherine Hay opened the doors of Manchester’s Saul Hay Gallery with an inaugural exhibition. Today, some of the artists featured in that first display are still present. They even have new work on the walls as part of ANNIVER5ARY, Saul Hay’s current exhibition, which celebrates the five-year milestone.
Alongside these names, which might be familiar to the gallery’s regular visitors, the exhibition also introduces some exciting new discoveries including Andrew ‘Mackie’ McIntosh. His Sun Station is dominated in the top half by the red light of a perfectly circular yellow sun contained within a rectangular opening in the façade of a brick building. Dull and grim otherwise, it is a perfect example of the sheer variety of work the gallery offers. But it also maintains the distinctive character synonymous with Saul Hay’s exhibitions.
The building appears almost photographic, with its small windows and whitewashed wall stained with damp, and dialogues nicely with Mandy Payne’s industrial road as well as the concrete landscape in Jen Orpin’s motorway (two artists often featured by Saul Hay).
Newcomer Sun Station also connects to striking photographic prints by Andrew Aitch, another newbie to the gallery. Aitch’s images are, much like by McIntosh’s painting, constructed on a masterful use of contrasting lights: the dark atmosphere of a rainy bus stop is portrayed in a Caravaggio-esque light, with passers-by depicted as solemn figures.
The paradoxical inside-out of the sun in the building depicted in Sun Station bears surrealist tones, as do other artworks on display. I was especially taken by the work of Laura Garcia Martin and her piece Kestrel, a simple charcoal on paper where loosely sketched profile heads of a bird and a human figure overlap and merge.
Equally strong and impactful, and vaguely reminding me of some Frida Kahlo in its composition, is the painting Elizabeth Garrett Anderson by Burcu Urgut, which is on display for the first time in the UK and celebrates an extraordinary figure in British history (she was the first woman to qualify in Britain as a physician and surgeon, as well as being a suffragist).
I attended the press event for ANNIVER5ARY, where family, friends and media were treated to musical interludes by the wonderfully talented cello player, Li Lu. As the music changed from Bach to Aaron Minsky, somehow the artworks also appeared to transform.
I loved watching how Neil Wood’s stylised human figures, fashioned from steel, appeared to be gracefully dancing one moment and, as a rather ominous small army, ready to commence battle mere moments later. The sculpted legs emerging, feet upwards, from a seemingly rough piece of black walnut by Jamie Frost also seemed to join in the dance.
I looked at the light in Deborah Grice’s Plea II as it forced itself through the thick layer of grey clouds over a dark sea, which appeared further animated by the music. My eyes were guided around Kevin John Pocock’s Dream Home Heartache by the rhythm of Bach’s Sonata, and it was as if the intersecting lines and planes that create the abstract composition (red and grey) were flashing under my gaze.
Nearby, Ancient Sound by Steven Heaton also appeared to change with the music, as my eyes either rested in the white field of paint or jumped from one section of the geometrical shapes in the centre, blue and orange and grey, to another.
The exhibition includes human figures, landscapes and animals, non-representational and abstract work and two-and three-dimensional pieces. It’s clear that, five years on, Saul Hay Gallery continues to display and make accessible a wide breadth of contemporary artistic talent. The gallery showcases the multiple strands of current art in all its diverse and exciting possibilities.
Main image: Mackie, Sun Station