One of the best things about lockdown starting to lift is the re-opening of culture, including art galleries. I was one of the first people to return to The New Walsall Art Gallery last month, to once again have a wonder around the Garman Ryan collection, but specifically to see the new Anj Smith exhibition, ‘A Willow grows aslant the brook’, some pieces of which were created in lockdown, being seen in public for the first time in Walsall.
The key piece in the collection is also referred to in the title of the exhibition and refers to Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and, more specifically the role of Ophelia in the tragedy. Ophelia is a doomed heroine and is pivotal to the plot, but spends much of her time off stage, out of view. Anj Smith sees this as a kind of silencing and reflects this in the painting ‘False Steward’, a rendering of a faceless Ophelia, with harlequin beetles nestled in the folds of her dress, and other nettles and flowers suggesting Ophelia in the water, head down like in the famous Millais painting. It is a beautiful and unsettling image with something different to notice every time you look at it.
Other key pieces in the exhibition include the haunting ‘Landscape with deep void’. This is a stark landscape, possibly following some sort of environmental catastrophe, where relics of modern life have been collected, a broken necklace, a Pat McGrath lipstick, a bird of paradise, strange relics of a world that has gone.
The Lover is a stunning piece that was created in lockdown and is a semi autobiographical piece about the seductiveness of retreating into oneself during the uncertainty and pain of the lockdown.
Each piece in this exhibition needs to be looked at closely and you need to keep looking in order to notice new things. It is an exhibition that needs to be seen in person, so you can absorb the beauty of the pieces. The exhibition runs until 5th September and is free to view.