Review: Monochrome and Crate 39 – Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

Into the Heart of Glencoe_tcm44-253622By Tori Aitken, a student at Belper School.

The first impression you get upon looking at Tracy Barlow’s Monochrome exhibition at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery is a sense of scale. There’s a kind of dizzying detail in the plunging depths of her mountainscapes – full of texture and contrast both from a distance and close up.

From further away, the full scope of the landscape is breathtaking – nearby, the effect of the colour scheme is properly visible.

Tracy uses burnt sienna and ultramarine, and mixes a separate batch of colours for each of her paintings. Because the oils take several months to dry, she often has six or seven on the go at once, and labels each palette.

Because of the two different tones and separate batches, some of the paintings hold a warm sepia tone, while others are cool stone grey-blues; the strongest works hold a mix of both, stressing even more texture.

While most of the works in the exhibition depict similar subject matter executed in a distinctive style – craggy cliffs, sloping mountains, roiling clouds – there is a character to each painting that is unmistakeable. For most of the pieces, there is no earth to be seen beyond the mountainside; ungrounded, this lends a sensation of vertigo to the viewer.

The energy in each piece gives them undeniable movement: you can almost see the clouds rolling, and it feels very much like a real landscape you might stand in on a cold, clear day, looking down from a tall peak.

Tracy prefers not to work from photographs, and instead mostly uses rough sketches and the immediacy of the memory.

The exhibition is breathtaking, all wild skies and rugged rocks. There’s an undeniable life to these works, despite their depictions of uninhabited, harsh places; it’s impossible not to want to see the view for yourself, to stand on top of the world.

In a stark contrast, the downstairs exhibit of Crate 39 is a veritable treasure trove of information both auditory and visual, regarding the bombing of Sheffield in World War II in an attempt to halt the steel production there.

The exhibit explores the possibility of one of the evacuated museum crates being lost, and discovered by a young boy, becoming his haven from the harsh life of evacuees in wartime.

The accompanying sketches, small models, and text, document the bombing of Sheffield after X-Verfahren radio beams were detected targeting the city; the decision to move the contents of the museum exhibits; and the dangerous drive from Sheffield to the Derbyshire countryside. All are done in exquisite detail, allowing a view into small, focal areas of the story, as with the peepholes in the crate itself, which dominates the room.
With the soft music playing through headphones and the drone of a wartime radio over the top, looking through the peepholes of the crate is a surreal experience.

It’s easy to imagine being a young child, having found a place to foster his imagination, turning the semiprecious stones and wrapping inside into his own play area amid the trials of war.

Monocrome can be seen until April 12 and Crate 39 until April 19. You can meet the Crate 39 artists, Richard and Amanda Johnson of Kidology Arts, on April 11 between 2pm and 4pm.