I prefer Stubbers Green

My old mate Fe came over from Leicester for a visit on Sunday. For one reason and another, it was the first time we’d met up since the funeral of our mate  Gill in September 2008.  We met our incomparable Gill at Middlesex Poly in the mid eighties.

As you head blithely into old fartdom (yes, a birthday is imminent and no, the last digit isn’t a 0, thank you), the passage of time changes imperceptibly. It could have been yesterday that I last saw Fe, yet now, her eldest child, who I had the privilege to see come into the world, and turn from grey to pink, like magic before my eyes, has just turned 16.

After Fe had had a mug of tea and some toast (she’s tiny but eats a lot!) and made the acquaintance of Two Turds,who begged a few crusts, we headed off to Walsall’s Art Gallery (it opened in 2000; I struggle to call it ‘new’) to have a look at the Damien Hirst exhibition.

I’m always interested in non-Walsall  friends’ reaction to the Gallery when they come for a visit. I think its fair to say that Walsall just doesn’t sound sexy. On the sexy name front, its right up there with Grimsby, Scunthorpe and Wigan. So, people have perceptions before they even get here. Don’t get me wrong, I love my town dearly, but being realistic, its never going to sound sexy and cosmopolitan.

Fe seemed quite impressed with the Gallery, in terms of the design, views from the windows and lift, and the size of the exhibition space. She didn’t really think much of the Hirst stuff though, so maybe that coloured her view of the overall visit. Chuckling a bit here as she’ll probably read this and have to register to comment – she’ll HATE that as she’s quite the Luddite :-)

Well I tried really hard to appreciate the Hirst stuff, but most of it left me cold and uninterested. How this guy has amassed a fortune of £215m from what he does makes my eyes roll.

I didn’t mind another look at the Garman-Ryan collection though. That’s a world class collection and its right here in unsexy old Walsall. If you’ve never been for a look, I urge you to go and have a peep. There are works by internationally renowned artists (the old school type who used paint, pencil or charcoal) so I’ll say amen for the generous Wednesbury girl and her American heiress friend for giving us these riches.

I liked this one.

This was the only Hirst exhibit I had any feeling for. Can’t say I was all wow wow wow though to be honest. Like it? You can read more here http://www.damienhirst.com/with-dead-head


I like the touch screens around the Gallery, with different stuff going on. On one, there was an artist talking about what was, to him, the jewel in the crown of the Garman-Ryan collection. It was this Jacob Epstein sculpture. Kitty?

I do like this sculpture. Like lots of Epstein’s works you can pretty much feel it without extending a finger. You want to touch them though, as they’re earthy and raw. I’m not articulate enough to put across how I feel when I see amazing work like this. I just want  to get my hands on it. Fe was the same today. She unconsciously put a hand out towards one piece, then looked at me and asked if an alarm would go off.  I said “nah, go for it”. Its testament to our long friendship that she trusted me; I had no idea if touching the damn thing would bring security staff running. Fe’s quite fit and does kick-boxing, so I’m sure she’d have got herself out OK.

And I really love, love, love the little cupboards dotted around, within which one finds letters from Epstein or whoever. That’s history, right in your face. I’m sorry the pictures aren’t better quality; I just used my phone as, yet again, I’ve misplaced the camera.

Just love seeing old letters and especially the succinct addresses.

My kind of woman

As I think I mentioned in a previous post, my much loved A Level Art teacher used to drag us down to the former location of the Garman-Ryan collection now and then. The very economical line drawing by Modigliani is one of the GR collection that I’ll always remember. I don’t love it but love the simplicity of it. If you asked me to conjure up an image to represent the GR collection, this would be a contender.

The Hirst stuff had some space of its own, but there were a few pieces littered (I mean that) amongst the GR stuff. I see what the Gallery was doing, or trying to do, but eww. It doesn’t mix well for me.

I wonder if I could be the next arty sensation by displaying sensitively taken pictures of fly tipping, smashed glass bottles and dog turds.

The story of how Walsall came to have such an amazing collection of art can easily be googled. Yes, you’ve got to work a little!

I love this for its simplicity. For me, this is the nearly the iconic work of the collection.

I just love the Garman-Ryan collection. I’m stunned every time I visit. I wonder if my memory really is THAT bad. Why else am I surprised to find work by legends of the art world on each visit?

Weirdly, I’ve also come to love the building itself. It probably doesn’t hurt that Costa Coffee are on the premises. It was ugly to me 12 years ago, but I kind of like it now.

Who hasn’t chucked stale bread at the ducks here?

I just love that Theodore Garman took the time to capture Stubbers Green before his life ended at a very young age. There’s something very ‘wow wow’ about being in a gallery in Walsall, in front of a piece of work by a young artist from a renowned family, that’s of a place you know and went to as a kid to feed the ducks and then back again with your nieces to feed the ducks. Maybe that’s why I prefer Stubbers Green to a sheep suspended in formaldehyde.

It looks fatter from different viewing angles. Beyond that? Its just a bit weird. Sorry for the poor image. Maybe go and have a look yourself to see it 20/20?

I’m losing the will to live now trying to get the bloody pictures lined up. So, commented on the sheep. As I headed down the stairs to the ground floor, I came across a few more exhibits, one of which really caught my eye. Wow, I thought, that looks just like Ellie Simmonds. Like the poor old fart I am, I then put on my ‘I’m in my 40s’ glasses and read that yes indeed, it was a portrait of Ellie Simmonds.

So I think the Hirst stuff is over-hyped rubbish. That’s just my uninformed opinion. Why don’t you go and visit and see what you think? The Gallery is very child friendly, with lots of little sit down and ‘create’ points. The staff clearly love what they do and seem to be dead chuffed when someone asks them about the collections.

For me though, unless the Van Gogh Museum decides to exhibit at Walsall’s Gallery, I’m more than happy with our own collection.

My iconic work of the Garman Ryan collection? Van Gogh’s chalk drawing called ‘sorrow’ which you can see here . It’s a bit of a bête noire for me, since I had, back when I dabbled, a heavy hand.


Really doesn’t do it for me.

Ellie Simmonds

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  1. Interesting. I love Epstein. He was a real punk. The parallels with Hirst are interesting and striking. Both ridiculed – and to a certain extent – decried in their own lifetimes.
    The difference here, I’m sad to say, is you’ve got the best of Epstein and the dog-end of Hirst. Rather than being a ‘Greatest Hits’, as I said a few weeks ago, this reminds me of a crap, bargain-bin B-Sides collection, if not actually a Windmill Pop Hits album.
    Hirst at his most potent is numbing – Mother and child divided – The cow and calf, beautifully bisected – is a work of art to me, just for the skill. He’s done so much better stuff than there is here. I left feeling empty, but the Garman Ryan was a good as ever.
    Always amuses me how the NAG material kind of glosses over the unconventional and complex sexual relationships between the protagonists, that led to Walsall possessing such a remarkable collection.

    Cheers on another great post


  2. kate Goodall said

    Thanks Bob. The relationships would give a psychologist a life study I reckon. No pun intended. The relationships make the works even more interesting.

    To me, the Epstein pieces are visceral. You feel them, whether in your mind or with your fingers, rather than think them.

    You have more knowledge of Hirst than me; The year 9 biology class stuff really didn’t do it for me though.

  3. I love the Garman/Ryan Collection. To think on our doorstep (and next to Poundland), we can stand the same distance away that Monet, Van Gogh and Picasso were when they created these. It’s emotional.

    I have to say, I have always loved ‘Sorrow.’ I can relate and connect to that.

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