Just under a ten minute stroll from Piccadilly railway station, allowing that your sense of direction is better than mine, (head down Fairfield St, turn left onto Travis St, then right into Gidding Rd), you’ll find the Track Brewery Company’s Taproom.
You’d probably say that the best reason to visit a bar is the quality of beer they sell. Normally, I’d agree, but for the next few weeks, the best reason to visit this place is a small but beautifully curated exhibition of photographs by Bristol-based artist, Lucy Ridges.
Hosted by Track Brewery as part of their Fractions project, the exhibition marries images and words (chosen from online contributions). Each of the four writers currently featured (Samuel Thomas Rye, Jo Hewitt, James Sanders and Jon McQuillan) has composed lines which respond to and augment the effect of the image.
For her part, Ridges quotes Garry Winogrand, approvingly:
“I photograph to see what things look like photographed.”
It’s an endearing, unpretentious philosophy for a visual artist to espouse. Nevertheless, for the viewer, what draws and teases the eye in her work is the nagging sense that – paradoxically, for this art form – there is always more to Ridges’s images than meets the eye. By the way, as good as these images may look here, they work even better in the “flesh”. (More of this, later.)
Two of the four photographs on display show a female figure through distorted glass and water. Do we peer vainly in the hope of forming some more complete vision, or open ourselves to the wonder and beauty of the incomplete? Could it be that the sharper our focus, the more constrained our vision?
The grounding for Ridges’s subjects is, more often than not, a woman’s face or body. She is, she says, more familiar with the female form.
Looking closely, there is something in common with the erotic, here. Not the sexual aspect of erotica (the images are not in the least sexualised), but the intriguing, alluring impression that what we are being shown, being permitted to see, is only a promise, a pathway to something somehow forbidden to our eyes.
A third photograph shows a hand and its reflection in a mirror. The mirror is not on a wall, but lying flat on a table, hard by a window with a net curtain diffusing the light. The composition is beautiful, but again the magnetism of the image lies in the questions it invites. Why is the mirror there? Whose is the hand and slender arm? What is going on just out of sight? And why?
The remaining photograph is a quirkily refracted and charming “non-portrait” of the artist. Ridges’s face is partially obscured by the bunch of flowers (milk parsley?) she is holding. A tender smudging of colour tones adds to the invitation of this photograph. The art of photography knows many ways to be provocative. This one provokes a smile.
The beer. Track Brewing Co. offer a wide range on tap and in cans. If you’re the fashionable sort, you’ll find an assortment of cloudy (aka ‘hazy’) beers, but there is no shortage of other options for old-fashioned grouches (like me). There’s a special run of cans available during the exhibition, featuring Ridges’s images. Beer and art – what could be better? Limited edition – get ’em while you can.
In his book, Pictures and Tears, the art historian, James Elkins offers guidance on how to look at paintings in an exhibition. Elkins’s advice is to spend a little time browsing, but then to settle on a single work and just stand (or sit) in front of it, to look (really look) not just for a few seconds, but for fifteen or twenty minutes. Only with that level of dedication can you truly begin to see what the artist has carefully constructed.
Go to the Track Brewing Taproom. Grab a beer and settle down to view these photographs, these works of art, in the manner Elkins recommends. They’re worth it.