Shadowlight Artists: Creative Bridges

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Billed as ‘Five talented individuals set out to challenge perceptions of learning disability’, the Creative Bridges exhibition at The Cornerstone Arts Centre in Didcot, South Oxfordshire showcases Shadowlight Artists’ most recent work. Deborah Caulfield went to see the exhibition on Thursday 27th July. She came away feeling affirmed and encouraged.

Film still depicting a man in an illustrated boat against a murky illustrated background

Still from ‘Landscapes’ a Shadowlight Artists group production featuring Otto Baxter

Shadowlight Artists are a diverse group of people with learning disabilities set up and supported by Film Oxford. Linked by a passion for making art, they create in a variety of media, with an underpinning digital interest.

In the book accompanying the Creative Bridges exhibition, Project Manager Richard Duriez writes:

The work produced has greatly exceeded the scope of the original proposal, and this is down to the very ambitious individuals within the Shadowlight Artists.

Richard Hunt's Aladdin a bright painting using 'dot' technique

Richard Hunt’s ‘Aladdin’. Photograph: Shadowlight Artists/Film Oxford

This exhibition includes sculptural installation, painting and theatrical work (on video) alongside digital media. Subjects range from urban regeneration to Neolithic ancestry.

Richard Hunt’s richly coloured and intricately patterned paintings are resonant of Australian aboriginal ‘dot’ paintings. He uses glitter paint and fine lines which, together with a sharp sense of design and colour, achieves work of a quality that deserves to be seen in any mainstream setting.

A friend with learning difficulties saw the exhibition with me. She liked Richard’s pictures best, particularly Aladdin.

Thomas Breach is an associate member of the group. I loved his pencil drawings, especially Wonders of the Roundabout featuring buses, overlapping forms executed in pure line. How the vehicles are grouped together, the way he shows the inside of the bus, with seated and standing passengers, fill the picture with life and movement. The bird (or is it a plane?) in the sky is a delightful touch.

Lucy Skuce, the only female in the group of six, is a passionate and prolific film maker. She’s described as ‘having a desire to assert the importance of her personal power and independence.’

Lucy’s sculptural installation Cooling Towers with Power Station is a large light painting. It is striking for its mix of cool simplicity and glowing vibrancy. It looks dazzlingly effortless, yet a sneak peek around the back revealed complicated electrical goings on.

Constructed with electroluminescent wire on board, this compelling piece speaks to the artist’s abiding interesting in light and power sources, and her enduring relationship with the now demolished Didcot A power station.

Russell Highsmith’s play A Big Shock was recently performed in February 2016 by performing arts students from Abingdon and Witney College. This story centres around a young couple and their baby. In the exhibition, it can be viewed on a computer with headphones.

Photograph of Danny Smith dressed as a caveman with facepaint Aon and big black hair

Danny Smith (Caveman) production still from ‘Light from my Crystal’ film. Photograph: Roger Gilboy

A big fan of British TV comedy, influenced by Croft and Perry’s Dad’s Army, Russell’s ambition is to have a script accepted by the BBC. I hope it won’t be long before this happens.

A major part of the exhibition is the series of films shown on a continuous loop, projected onto one of the gallery end walls. These include documentaries and interviews with the artists, as well as feature films. These are richly imaginative pieces that combine drawing, painting, animation, green screen and other techniques I’m insufficiently qualified to recognise, never mind critique.

Danny Smith worked with two professional artists to make his film Light From My Crystal, in which he plays a character from the Stone Age. The film was performed underground, in the dark, at Clearwell Caves in the Forest of Dean.

In the film Danny returns, in a dream, to prehistoric times. This dance film was inspired by his interest in cave paintings and their use as creative and sacred spaces by prehistoric peoples.

Mark Hemsworth’s film Moods and Seasons documents a year in his life. The artist is shown striding through the Oxfordshire landscape, camcorder in hand, narrating his thoughts and responses to his surroundings, through wind, rain, snow and sun.

Film still depicting a man with a camcorder looking straight at the camera in a rural setting

Mark Hemsworth – Still from Moods & Seasons

Mark is as influenced by the rhythms and pace of the seasons as the environment itself. This film is full of life and energy, reflecting the ups and downs that most of us experience but don’t often reveal.

The last few years have seen much success for The Shadowlight Artists. To a large extent this is due to the practice of engaging professional artists to work alongside the artists, to support skills development and, crucially, to help shape and realise their artistic ideas.

Their art has been shown at galleries (including Modern Art Oxford), at large public events, on National TV, at Local, National and International Film Festivals and at National Film Theatre and Southbank Centre in London.

Since setting up in 2008, Shadowlight Artists have amassed a substantial catalogue, much of it scattered around the Internet. It would be good to see it all in one place, on individual and/or collective website(s). I say this because theirs is a wonderful story that I’d urge others to seek out and enjoy, as I have.

This fascinating and often moving exhibition made quite an impression on me. It has encouraged a less constrained and more honest approach to my own work.

Creative Bridges is on at The Cornerstone Arts Centre in Didcot until 14 August 2016. To find out more about Shadowlight Artists visit their website or their Facebook page.

The Shadowlight Artists have been Shortlisted for the 2016 National Diversity Awards which is held in Liverpool on 16th September. National Diversity Awards: http://www.nationaldiversityawards.co.uk/