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Dominic Bennett, Violet Emsley, Barry Anthony Finan, Jennie Franklin, Horace Lindezey, Ahmed Mohammed, Leslie Thompson, Terry Williams

14 October - 19 November 2022

TJ Boulting is proud to present YESS LAD, a group exhibition of artists in collaboration with award-winning charity Venture Arts, a visual arts studio in Manchester that works with learning disabled artists to create and showcase new contemporary visual art. Showing together for the first time in London, the exhibition presents inspiring, humorous and vibrant work in a variety of mediums, from ceramics to drawing, painting and photography.

Each artist has a unique identity and visual language, but there are also shared themes and influences. Often inspiration has come from the immediate landscape of people and places around them, or draws on personal memories and histories. Popular culture is also a strong influence, especially television programmes and personalities and characters from fiction. Lockdown was also something that hit many of the artists particularly hard, used as they were to coming to the Venture Arts studio often daily for many years. Despite this Venture Arts found innovative ways to keep their artists’ creative practices going, and however challenging this was at the time it has given rise to strong and meaningful projects.

Barry Anthony Finan sees himself as a writer, actor and artist and produces bold, text based drawings and ceramics. His unique style of ‘WRRIGHHTINNGSERRSS’ incorporates repetitive letters and phrases that speak of personal histories, reflections and ambitions. The title of the show YESS LAD is a repeated refrain in his work, as well as a Northern phrase it is also coming partly from his father telling him ‘Yes lad, you can do it.’ Denied essential access to the studios and his social network during lockdown he was sent unfired porcelain postcards to write on to keep his communications flowing to the outside world. Often addressed to people he missed such as the Venture volunteers, he also writes about programmes like Coronation Street and actresses such as Maureen Lipman. One of his ambitions is to be an actor on the telly alongside them, and he writes about what he would do with his money such as buying sweets and dinky cars. We also see here an epic canvas scroll which unfurls to read line after line of his pen WRRIGHHTINNGSERRSS, with YESS LAD visible sporadically. The viewer is being invited into Finan’s interior world, to engage with his thoughts and his fascination with particular objects and people.

Much of Horace Lindezey’s work depicts the people and world around him. On show here are his wonderfully irreverent series of ceramic blue plaques, emblazoned with figures important and famous in his life, both real and fictional, from Eastenders’ Pauline Fowler (‘1943-2006 - She used to wash people’s clothes’) to presenter Terry Wogan and Jamaican trumpet player John Dizzy Moore. Horace has an amazing memory for dates and music, and combining this with a nostalgia for watching these programmes from his childhood his blue plaques are a unique insight into his perception of how he remembers people and what he sees as historic moments.

When Leslie Thompson was a child his mother would take him to Affleck’s Palace in Manchester where there was a model shop he loved and where he used to buy tiny wrestling figures. Leslie here has created ‘My New Favourite Shop’ in the gallery with his own small action figure heroes, including one of himself, presented in limited edition packs accompanied by his drawings and writing about each character. Some are tributes to real people, his mother, father and brothers, and people he admires such as an old teacher, some are wild animals and others are famous stars such as Donna Summer, Mr T, Hulk Hogan and Burt Reynolds. Leslie is a self-confessed ‘superstar artist drawer’ paying homage to the heroes in his life. Leslie has been attending Venture Arts studios for over twenty years. He has a highly developed drawing style, drawing both from memory and through live observational drawings. 

Jennie Franklin is inspired by leaflets, flyers, posters and other printed material that serve as source material. Familiar children’s characters often appear as her pen drawings on small wooden tiles like an energetic stream of consciousness. These include Mr Blobby, Winnie the Pooh and Rupert the Bear. She sometimes includes self portraits, depicting her own emotions. 

Terry Williams has been creating artwork about his life and the world around him since 1990. Working in ceramics, photography, drawing and painting, his work often represents everyday life in and around Manchester. Chance observations from daily outings, Terry’s direct environment and the objects and people around him are documented in his photographs and paintings with an element of quirky humour about them but they give a real sense of his time and place in the world. During lockdown Venture Arts sent him disposable cameras to take photographs of his home environment and converted them to iPad drawings, which are accompanied by his hand-written observations.

The inimitable Dominic Bennett used lockdown as a call to arms for building his ‘Weasel Army.’ Inspired by Anthony Gormley’s terracotta figures and his own obsession with the weasels in ‘The Wind In The Willows’, since 2018 Dominic has now amassed around 170 terracotta weasels of his own, and from people of all ages he did workshops with and sent weasel-making packages during lockdown. He is the self-styled ‘Chief Weasel’ and developed his own story with the weasels as the focus where he hoped to cause an intervention with against leaders like Boris Johnson and Trump. A form of protest art, he has also produced porcelain and glazed ‘Blood Milk’ cartons emblazoned with Audrey 2 from ‘The Little Shop of Horrors’.

Working in a purely abstract way, Ahmed Mohammed has used oil sticks to intuitively create expressive expanses of colour and form, as well as printmaking to create bright blocks of colours that he gives titles such as ‘Chicken Drumstick’, ‘Chicken Burger’ or ‘Ice Cream and Chicken.’ All of his work incorporates bold and assertive mark-making in a spectrum of colours.

Also working abstractly is Violet Emsley. At 78 years old, Violet is the oldest artist with Venture Arts and this is her first presentation of her abstract painting works. She used to work more in textiles but as her eyesight has worsened she prefers to work more intuitively with paint and colour. Her favourite colour is purple, after her name. 

Each of the artists shown has their own distinct practice and this exhibition aims to present them together for the first time in London, showcasing not only their work as artists in their own right but celebrating the work of Venture Arts and how it has given these artists a platform in the contemporary art world. Amanda Sutton, Director of Venture Arts: “Venture Arts has been running for over 30 years instigating a huge range of art projects that are aimed not only at enabling learning disabled people to be part of visual culture, but also to be a part of our culture in general, as artists, as workers, as audiences, as critics and as advocates for the arts as well. There’s been a blossoming of learning disability arts practice over recent years and we’re delighted to be part of that. We are so pleased to be showing work of some of our finest studio artists’ work at TJ Boulting in London, especially during Frieze. Expect a delight for the eyes ranging from ceramic work, to wood cuts, action models, to the everyday of Manchester life. I feel so proud of the achievements of northern neurodiverse artists in the current arts landscape where they are en route to establishing their rightful place in the arts world. Thanks to TJ Boulting’s show it will really help to further pave that way.”

Supported by A Modest Show, Manchester

All works are available for sale, please contact the gallery or view on Artsy HERE

YESS LAD: Current Exhibitions
YESS LAD: Exhibitions
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