Hidden on the North Wales Coast in the Victorian seaside resort of Llandudno is the Oriel Mostyn Gallery. The Mostyn Open of which the gallery is famed, is in its fifteenth year and is a showcase for fresh new developments within the visual arts. The competition has continued to attract a strong field of artists, nationally and internationally.

There is uniqueness to the Oriel Mostyn gallery in the provision of local handmade crafts which stays true to its roots of being a Welsh art gallery. Walking through the craftshop, the gallery opens up into an impressive space which is amplified by the tall ceilings. Two rooms of reasonable size with an additional room for video work provides excellent facilities for exhibiting work. There is also an educational gallery and regular workshops, residencies and lifedrawing masterclasses available. On the whole, the gallery provides a cornerstone in North Wales for contemporary art not seen unless you take a trip down to Cardiff or over the border heading for the cities of Manchester or Liverpool. It will be interesting to visit the Oriel Mostyn gallery after its major expansion programme during 2005 / 2006.

The 15th Mostyn Open

Selectors – Tania Kovats, David Alston and Martin Barlow.

As stated by the host selector Martin Barlow in his notes, "The Mostyn Open often appears as an early line in the biographies of many who go on to develop successful exhibiting careers". This does in fact ring true and highlights what an important competition the Mostyn Open is for emerging artists. Although it may not have acquired the status of East International in Norwich, it is certainly a match against the Drawing prizes of Jerwood or Pizza Express. With a £6000 top prize it is certainly a competition not to take lightly which is exemplified in over five hundred applicants from twelve countries. Martin Barlow continues in that "For the thirty or so selected there are five, ten, even twenty who are only ruled out, reluctantly, in the last stages, who would be included by different selectors".

With all due respect to Mr. Barlow, there were several who should not have been selected in the final decision. That is not in direct association with the quality of work, although some of it was poor, it is in relation to the size of the space and the quantity of work exhibited. It would be unfair to single out the Mostyn Open for this crime, but it is a reoccurring theme in open competitions of machine gunning the walls with work to the extent whereby it almost blends in with one another like wallpaper. Thirty three artists exhibiting forty six works seems a large amount of work for the space available. I wondered if any of the selected artists had to compromise their work to fit into what space there was available to them.

Whilst wandering through the gallery, familiar names cropped up from exploits and exhibitions in London, such as Susan Collis, Anne-Marie Creamer, Ansel Krut and Kate Scrivener. Similarly, Stuart Lee last year’s winner of the National Eisteddfod was included as was previous Eisteddfod winner Sue Williams (winner 2000).
There were several artists in the show who caught the eye, in particular representatives of video art. Tanya Axford produced an untitled digital video of sound intervention set in Kielder Forest. In using a myriad of digital alarm clocks, the rhythm and volume of Axford’s piece increased to create a time scaled pulsating arrangement of sound. Samantha Clark’s Reach 2004 offered a scientific insight as night flying insects were caught in strange flight paths fooled by concentric rays by a man-made single light source. Zatorski & Zatorski offered a melodramatic battle symbolising the survival of the fittest in two butterflies clashing on the surreal landscape of a female body in a piece entitled Kokoro 2005.

A hypnotic and highly addictive work was produced by Emily Russell & Kristian De La Riva entitled Do we have to play this game? 2004. A digital video animation triptych, the piece was created using a technique called ‘rotoscoping’ which uses real life video footage as the primary source for the animation. The subject portrayed an almost innocent, yet highly charged eroticism of two simply drawn, black outlined figures. The animated figures, possibly the artists themselves perform slightly offbeat actions, complemented with minimal sounds.

Other works of interest included Andrew Bracey’s Various titles 2004, a visual kaleidoscope of miniature canvases scattered on the wall. Jane Thurley’s The Honest Sausage 2004 continued the tradition of intricate collage, almost creating a ‘magic eye’ image in portraying the countryside in various wallpapers. Kate Scrivener produced All this was Alien 2004, which appears from the outset to borrow from the 1960’s ‘Combines’ of Jasper Johns or Robert Rauschenberg. On closer inspection the outer layer of many reveals the most delicate hand painted text forming the shapes of jellyfish in what appears to be an abyss.

It was left to Susan Collis to take away the £6000 Mostyn Open award with work entitled The Oyster's our World 2004 and Paint Job 2004. In having seen similar work by the artist from shows in London, it was of no surprise in identifying her work on entering the gallery. An unsuspecting viewer of her work might have assumed that a technician had left an overall and step-ladder in the gallery. On closer inspection the paint splattered step-ladder is in fact a step-ladder painstakingly inlaid with mother of pearl, white opals, cultured pearls, moonstone and diamonds, entitled The Oyster's Our World 2004. Similarly, Paintjob 2004 appears to be an old white overall used for painting and decorating but is again a trompe l’oeil in that each mark on the overall has been meticulously embroidered on. Although Collis creates illusions, Rosemary Shirley writes, "It is not the subject of her work, it is the device she uses to communicate her subject. She alters the surfaces of things to scratch through the thin veneer of perceived knowledge and meaning".

This particular artist seems to be on a roll at the moment having picked up awards of similar ilk at the Pizza Express and Jerwood Drawing prizes in 2002. There appears to be a niche in the market for this style of work and Susan Collis innovation has filled the gap. It will be interesting to see how this artist develops through future shows, of which I am sure there will be many.

Julian Johnson



Top: Susan Collis, The Oyster's Our World, 2004, wood inlaid with mother of pearl, white opals, cultured pearls, moonstone and diamonds, collection of Shaun Monaghan, London.

Above left: Emily Russell & Kristian De La Riva, Do We Have to Play This Game? 2004, digital video animation. Centre left: Zatorsky & Zatorsky, Kokoro, 2005, digital video. Centre right: Jane Thurley, The Honest Sausage, 2004, wallpaper collage. Right: Susan Collis, Paint Job, 2004, cotton boiler suit, embroidery threads, collection of Carl and Edwina Marks, Australia.


Images courtesy of Oriel Mostyn Gallery.

Oriel Mostyn Gallery, 12 Heol Vaughan, Llandudno, LL30 1AB, UK.