Mill a hive of industry again

Artist Doug Binder, pictured at the gallery
Artist Doug Binder, pictured at the gallery
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Dean Clough has been home to a creative community for a quarter of a century. Yvette Huddleston visits their latest exhibition.

Once the world’s largest carpet mill, Dean Clough in Halifax is now home to more than 100 business, arts and educational organisations employing around 4,000 people – comparable to the workforce of its industrial heyday. It is also one of the North’s most significant art centres with six galleries and over 20 resident artists who are given studio space free of charge.

The current art exhibition, which runs until June 16, celebrates the work of the studio artists and is one of the largest joint shows to have taken place at Dean Clough, using all the main gallery spaces simultaneously. The range of work includes fine art painting to illustration and animation, ceramics to photography and printmaking to sculpture. The man behind the studio artists’ scheme is Doug Binder, a nationally renowned artist in his own right, who initially proposed the idea 25 years ago, enabling emerging artists working in the region to develop their skills and create work in rent-free space.

Doug was born in Bradford in 1941 and, although his ambition was always to become a painter, he initially trained in graphic design at Bradford College. On his own initiative he began life-drawing classes in the evenings, took a studio in the city centre and within a decade was exhibiting his work at the ICA in London in 1967. In the 70s his work was influenced by comics such as the Beano and the Dandy and it sold extremely well in London, Chicago and San Francisco. After a spell in London, including 13 years as a tutor at St Martin’s, an exhibition of his work at Bradford’s Cartwright Hall in the late 70s prompted him to return to Yorkshire where he has been working ever since. He was curator at Dean Clough until 2007 and is now painter in residence.

“Once the studio scheme was set up, the artists formed a committee to choose who would work here at Dean Clough to represent different kinds of visual art,” explains Doug.

“We had a great response, we still do. Some of the artists don’t stay long, but others have been here for many years. It’s a lovely place to be and we are all familiar with and supportive of each other.”

Doug volunteered to curate the latest exhibition, working with the artists to select the work that is on show. “I trust the artists’ taste,” he says. “They know what they would like to show – and I like to please everybody if I can. I asked them how much space they needed and so on and it developed from there. They did a lot of the work themselves.”

Among the huge array of artworks on display are pieces from Halifax-born illustrator Chris Vine whose work revolves around humour and visual language, using figures of speech and mixed metaphors to describe the real and imagined. He has recently been commissioned to create a set of paintings illustrating all of Shakespeare’s plays. Huddersfield-born sculptor Suzanne North is also featured in the exhibition.

She has worked in stone, cast iron and latterly in fluorescent acrylic and, while she happily admits that the landscape and industrial heritage of her home town has been an influence, her work is largely symbolic. Chair of the Yorkshire Sculpture Group, her work is widely featured in public and private collections. Ceramicist Olivia Brown is best known for her handmade ceramic dogs – many of which are almost life-sized – but she also creates other animal figures, such as cats and even anteaters.

York-born Jake Attree’s work is very well known in the North. His paintings often depict semi-urban scenes and figurative landscapes in oil using a layering technique known as impasto. He also draws and works in pastels.

One of the more unusual pieces in the exhibition is from IOU, one of the resident arts organisations at Dean Clough, which makes original work across art-forms including sound, video and sculptural installations, site-specific performance, music, touring theatre and interactive digital works. Their latest work, on display until the end of this month, is Speaking Tubes, a large steel sculptural installation which uses the noise of vortex rings travelling through the atmosphere at high velocity with large tubes and giant cones spilling out a chorus of sounds into special listening zones manipulated by sonic artist and composer Yannis Kyriakides. It includes an interactive area where visitors can create their own soundscape.

Also on show will be a selection of artworks by the students in the life drawing class that Doug set up at Dean Clough in 2000. “I’m not a landscape painter,” he says. “The model is such a fascinating form; that’s been my interest for the last 10 years.” He has abandoned the geometric abstraction of his early work and moved towards figurative oils, creating a series of nude studies in greens, ochres and reds. He considers life drawing skills to be an essential part of the development of an artist.

Working in his studio every day, Doug clearly enjoys being part of the vibrant artistic community at Dean Clough. “The whole idea of what constitutes art is changing very quickly,” he says.

“All the artists here are doing different things and, while we may not always agree with each other, there is always a forum for argument and discussion which is very healthy.

“For everyone else who works here – from small businesses to large corporations – it is exciting to see the art on the walls changing as we put on different shows. I love the feeling and the sheer energy of the place – there is so much activity going on.”

Dean Clough Galleries Spring Exhibition, Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm, until June 16.