Arts & Culture
by Aspect County

What does looking at the world through the lens of a kaleidoscope reveal?

In the words of The Guardian – and who are we to argue with such esteemed thinkers – Pallant House Gallery is second only to the Tate for modern British art. Located in Chichester, West Sussex, their ambition is to make British art relevant today by exploring contemporary, historic, and international connections and redressing imbalances in its history. They deliver an ongoing programme of events and exhibitions alongside their permanent exhibition displays. Currently showing until early 2023 are, Sussex Landscape: Chalk, Wood and Water, celebrating Sussex as a place of inspiration for artists and Anne Desmet: Kaleidoscope, a free exhibition located in the Print Room on the ground floor. No need to book a ticket unless you wish to visit the rest of the gallery as well.

Anne Desmet uses print to depict the evolution of urban landscapes, from ancient cities like Rome, to London and New York. The aspirations of humanity run through her work. She explores themes of transformation, with her dramatic use of light and shade showing the effects of time on architecture, depicted from her own unique viewpoint.

In this new exhibition created especially for Pallant House Gallery, Desmet has sliced into prints created from her own wood-engraving and lino cut blocks to make a new series of collaged works, inspired by looking at the world through a toy kaleidoscope, which she purchased in 2021 at London’s Sir John Soane’s Museum. 

It is a charming and playful exhibition which invites the viewer to appreciate architecture from a completely new and unexpected perspective. The works evoke hot air balloons, Towers of Babel, imaginary worlds, and modules for sustainable living. Desmet’s classic wood block and lino cut prints make minimal use of colour. They rely heavily on geometry and line to draw the viewer in, encouraging a closer examination of each piece and the suggested narrative, reinforced by thought provoking titles verging on the surreal. The new unique collaged works she has created for this exhibition however are by contrast much larger and more colourful. Her sense of fun and humour really shines through as you notice amusing figures on out of scale ladders navigating precarious constructions. She juxtaposes colourful watercolour backgrounds against intricate cut outs of repetitive patterns and shapes, all of which sit happily alongside gigantic moons and galaxies of stars. It is truly delightful and for a small exhibition in a side print room punches well above its weight. It is not surprising to learn therefore that in over 250 years, Anne Desmet is only the third artist ever elected to the Royal Academy for the medium of wood engraving.

Besides Pallant House Gallery, Chichester itself has lots to offer the cultural visitor with a penchant for contemporary art, including OxMarket Contemporary and Candida Stevens Gallery. Oxmarket Contemporary is a registered charity, offering modern exhibition space within a beautiful and atmospheric historic building in St Andrews Court. Candida Stevens Gallery is a curation led gallery located on Northgate. They work with an esteemed group of established artists alongside selected emerging artists. Their Autumn/Winter 2022 exhibition roster includes Pippa Blake, Ben Crawford, Charlotte Evans, and Fred Coppin. 

Desmet Build Your Own Babel2

Build Your Own Babel Tower

2022, linocuts and wood engravings with pencil and watercolour collaged on archival board.

Build your own Babel Tower arose from putting together paper triangles cut from the same lino print but only selecting its most architectural elements – columns and archways. When I assembled them into small hexagons, the way in which the architectural forms did or didn’t interlink and the relationships that developed between the diverse parts intrigued me. They seemed to hint at Escher’s impossible staircases and also at origami – not least because a friend had just sent me an origami stork in a Get-Well card. That led me back to thoughts of the Tower of Babel (a recurrent theme in my work) and the idea of building one from folded paper. It had to be an impossible structure because the Babel Tower is a metaphor about hubris, ambition, and communication, but it’s also about failure and about trying all over again” – Anne Desmet

Babel Tower In Pieces

Babel Tower in Pieces

1999, wood engraving and linocut on Zerkall paper

Desmet Out Of This World

Out of this World 

1997, wood engraving on Gampi Vellum paper

Out of this World grew from another large hexagon formed from a different selection of triangles from proofs (in a different tonal range) from the same Teatro Romano” linocut. Its green moon” is a piece of marbling I made at school. It’s been in my collage drawer for decades waiting for its moment! The small meteorite” is collaged from the stand of trees in the middle of my engraving, Bath Circus II (1997). For me, it recalls the encroaching baobab tree in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s book The Little Prince (1943). Oxford’s Radcliffe Camera floating in space might represent our Earth with hints of Terry Pratchett’s Unseen University” (from his Discworld novels) and the general absurdity of life! The climate crisis was also in my mind.” – Anne Desmet.

Bath Circus3

Bath Circus

1998, wood engraving and linocut on Gampi Vellum paper

Desmet Early Flight

Early Flight

2022, linocuts and wood engravings with pencil and watercolour collaged on archival board

Early Flight developed naturally from the idea that a hexagon of tonally diverse linocut triangles evoked the 3D canopy of a hot-air balloon.” – Anne Desmet

The Anne Desmet RA RE exhibition at Pallant House Gallery, in Chichester, is open now and runs until 5 February 2023.

Written by Lesley Samms MSc ANLP MAC FRSA founder of Pure Arts Group