The Alchemist Gallery, Cardiff
Salad Days is the perfect name for this exhibition. With themes like skateboarding, counterculture, punk rock, tattoos and street art, the notion of youth (or in some cases youth-at-heart), creativity, energy and grabbing each opportunity as it comes creates a feeling of community, positivity and the last gang in town kicking against the pricks.
Phil Morgan, a Cardiff-based artist and illustrator, is curating it; a group exhibition of work from both Welsh and international artists. Having been part of group shows in, among other places, London, Bristol and Los Angeles, he wanted to bring a similar experience to Cardiff, and give artists he had exhibited with, and artists he admired, the opportunity to show here.
I meet Phil at The Alchemist Gallery on Bridge Street in Cardiff city centre. He is busy arranging the artwork. Some on the wall, some is still on the floor waiting to be displayed. An aesthetic jigsaw, deciding what to group and where to hang. Phil is welcoming, enthusiastic and a genuinely nice guy. Rather than being motivated by money, the exhibition is a labour of love with a focus on getting exposure and promoting an alternative to a fine arts culture that can appear elitist and unattainable. Salad Days is Phil’s first foray into curating, and he speaks with honest fondness and passion about all the work and the artists he has chosen to show.
Most of the artists featured come from a background of skateboarding, surfing and street art, and several illustrate for magazines, skate/surf brands, design T-shirts for bands and create murals and other kinds of street art. Though there is a general shared ethos, and similar themes are often explored, the work is incredibly varied.
The most recognisable name at the show is Welsh monsterist Pete Fowler. Fowler is instantly recognisable for his work with Super Furry Animals, but is also an established artist on the contemporary art scene. The two pieces on show at Salad Days are stunning examples of the juxtaposition often evident in his work. The quirky mixed with the mysterious. In this case, creepy, sepia animal skulls are adorned with glasses to an almost comedic and absurd effect.
Another Welsh artist, Dafydd Fortt, and Doncaster-born Schoph Schophield both supply collage pieces with nods to Peter Blake and pop art. Fortt’s, a symmetrical kaleidoscopic piece, in keeping with his recurring theme of process and repetition. Schoph’s piece is a layered and angular take on objectification of the female form and advertisement. Hints of Rodchenco and propaganda art. Two highlights of the exhibition.
California tattoo artist Devon Blood is exhibiting three pieces of acrylic painted on cardboard. A contemporary take on the traditional tattoo. The rich paint contrasted against the matt cardboard makes the art pop out, feel alive, as if painted on skin. London based artist FRENCH has two dark but beautiful pieces in the exhibition. Intricately hand-drawn with themes of death, ritual and funeral, they are both eerie and magnetic. Another artist showing hand-drawn work, who immediately stood out to me, was Justin Hager with his humorous mix of popular culture themes and word puns. Phil Morgans’ work also has a quirky sense of humour and distinct graphic style, but unfortunately he has only one piece on show this time. It would have been great to see more of his work, but then again, the purpose of the exhibition was to take a step back, curate and let other artists’ work be shown.
There is a strong notion of community in this arts scene, and many of the artists are part of different collectives and collaborations, and have shown work together in the past. The majority of the work will be for sale, and prices will vary from £25 to £600.
Salad Days will run at The Alchemist gallery from 27 March til 3 April, so just a short window of opportunity to catch the show. Genuinely worth a visit, this is one of very few chances to view and purchase this kind of counterculture art in Cardiff.