After many years at their Adelaide city site, the infamous Gray Street Workshop have decided to pull up stumps and move to Thebarton, just west of the city. Having offered the community a unique display of contemporary jewellery and object for the last 7 years, the dedicated team are taking a well-earned break from their busy exhibition program to focus on their own practices as well as an exciting residency program for interstate and international artists. The local contemporary jewellery community will greatly miss the wonderful gallery space. A rather large hole will be left in the Adelaide arts scene for a small, supportive, experimental craft-focused space who are open to both established and emerging exhibitors – one which I hope will be filled soon.
The final show at Gray Street featured none other than Victorian artist, Claire McArdle. With 10 solo exhibitions under her belt, Claire has not let us down with this stunning show, Up North: a fantastic conclusion to the exhibition program.
Up North responds to Claire’s month long residency at Textílsetur Íslands (The Icelandic Textile Centre) in Blönduós, Iceland; an unexpectedly small and isolated village. Unlike her fellow textile centre residents, she began her residency without preconceived ideas of her project, leaving room for exploration and experimentation. Claire embraced the unknown, responding directly to the fascinating scenery, wildlife, tradition and culture she saw before her.
The exhibition was made up of several small series’ of work, each telling a poetic story of her experience. On the far wall of the gallery were a range of delicately placed sheep which she had hand stitched to form necklaces, brooches and bracelets. Positioned in threes, she emulated the sheep seen on her journeys who also traveled in groups of three: a mother and her twin babies.
Claire hand dyed every strand of Icelandic yarn she carefully threaded using local plants and other things she found along her travels. Meticulously recording her recipes as she went, Claire was highly innovative in her approach to the hand-dying process. From sunburst lichen, rhubarb roots and dandelion flowers to crowberries, yarrow and downy birch twigs, she created a sea of exquisite mustard, wheat and grey tones. The colour pallet created from these natural dies gave the pieces a beautiful earthy feel which helped me to imagine the stunning scenery she must have experienced during her travels.
In her other works Claire used minerals she crushed such a chrysoprase, malachite, rhodonite, red jasper and lapis lazuli to emulate the stunning Icelandic terrain. The central table of the gallery was covered in a series of hand raised, height adjustable mountains which she encrusted with these minerals. All of the pieces in the show surrounded the mountains, creating a landscape of memories within the intimate gallery space.
To tie the stunning works together, Claire displayed a pair of Icelandic Wolfish skin leather shoes. In Icelandic tradition, a journey is represented by how many pairs of fish leather shoes were worn through, for example, a one or two ‘fish skin journey,’ and so on. Claire displayed her delicate fish skin shoes on a bed of hand dyed sand to represent her ‘one fish skin journey,’ a rather poetic and meaningful touch to the magic she created within the gallery space.
I highly recommend visiting Claire McArdle's inspiring show and taking the chance to say goodbye to the Adelaide site of Gray Street Workshop. The gallery will be open from Friday to Sunday until the 25th of June, 2017. I wish the Gray Street girls success for their new adventure and hope that they enjoy the change of pace at their Thebarton studio.