Two of my favourite paintings from this, the third iteration of HOME’s open exhibition in Manchester, exemplify why it is such a highlight in the region’s cultural calendar.
On the gallery’s first wall, amid other, showier work, hangs a small, dark, deceptively simple piece by Maria Jackson, evocatively called which night was that again?. It’s a subtle, fragile thing of beauty that you could easily pass by without a second glance as you head towards a large triptych that demands your attention on the adjacent wall. In the Spirit of Rushcart is a spectacular depiction of the Saddleworth festival, featuring a sloping hill of resting people, filtered light dappling through the trees in a meticulously elaborate painting – a contemporary scene somehow laced with nostalgia.
The two paintings couldn’t be more different. One will set you back £25,000. The other is a mere £85.
Such is the democratic greatness of the Manchester Open, where 473 artists see their work presented alongside those of longstanding professionals, gifted amateurs and everyone inbetween.
Entering the gallery space is a slightly overwhelming experience, the volume of work bombarding you from the off. It’s wise to take a walk through the exhibition in its entirety for an overview before starting again and concentrating on the specifics that caught your eye first time around. Take your time and you’ll be rewarded by the many demure gems which vie for notice alongside the show-offs.
This year, it’s mainly those smaller works which excited me. Matilda R’s simple but exquisite citrus bowl Lemons, a delightful portrait of David Hoyle (who also has a piece of work in the show) by Rachael Field, and a fantastically moody collection of shop fronts called Salford Shopping City 4 (Poundland) by Peter James Houghton. Tucked away is a lovely piece by Terry Rushworth called The Goldfinch which invites you to stop once you notice it. But the large, playful hanging bird that dominates the area, quite the counterpoint to the more timid finch, might draw you away from corner-hidden treasures, so be careful to take it all in.
The quality of work and diversity of subject matter is one of the things that makes the Manchester Open such a joy. Work of all shapes, sizes, forms and budgets, all put together to represent what makers and artists in the region have been busy creating.
Of course, not every painting, sculpture and installation in the exhibition is a treasure, hidden or otherwise. The photography isn’t particularly exciting this time around, except for Simone Trumpet’s commandingly beautiful and immediately eye-catching The Divinity of Afro Hair, and there’s a fair share of unremarkable works that are easy to dismiss as baffling inclusions.
But my baffling inclusion is another person’s masterpiece. The artists represented in the Manchester Open have an age range of between five and 83 years, and submissions were judged by a panel of nine. Such diversity of talent and taste is exactly what makes this an essential and thoroughly enjoyable event. Go in a group and you’ll each have different favourites and dislike different pieces. That’s part of the appeal. Go with an open mind and, who knows, you might end up taking a piece home.
Luckily for me, my favourite from the exhibition was also one of the most affordable pieces. I’ll be picking it up once the show ends on April 28.
Main image: Alena Ruth Donely. Photo by James Richardson.