Review: Wild at the Margins Exhibition

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Opening on a night still reeling from the after-effects of Storm Dennis, with rain and wind still howling, Lancaster’s magisterial City Museum’s latest Winter exhibition was perfectly fitting for the conditions. Titled ‘Wild at the Margins’, the exhibition features the work of the talented Fay Collins and Janet Mary Robinson, the former of whom was in attendance at the opening of the show on the 21st February, alongside the Mayor of Lancaster, Richard Whitaker, and a multitude of local art lovers.

Billed as a ‘fascinating consideration of the boundaries between mankind and nature’, the exhibition tilts such a traditional distinction on its head with a much more clear offering. Echoing the divergent scenery of Lancashire, a county whose landscape undulates between the idylls of Pendle Hill and Bowland Forest and the hulking edifices of the industrial era, the artists behind ‘Wild at the Margins’ have taken inspiration from Lancashire and similar locations. Taking these scenic dichotomies, they have not sought to parrot such regions’ obvious contrasts between nature and industry. Instead, it is a more nuanced approach that is at its most incisive in the twilight zone where nature and humanity coalesce. These are the ‘margins’ expressed in the exhibition’s title. It is neither a portrayal of the county’s former cotton mills or its natural vistas. The works instead focus on such scenes as a stone wall in an otherwise unblemished field, or garden birds moulded from metal cutlery. This collection emphasises the harmony, rather than the discord, of nature and civilisation at both their peripheries.

The gallery is also an exploration of light and impressionism. The artist’s broad brushstrokes in open compositions convey colourful but indistinct scenes of landscapes familiar to many in Lancashire, including popular beauty spots like the River Wyre and the Lune Valley. This style allows for the depiction of an impreciseness to the boundary between humankind and nature, and an ambiguity which allows the two respective artists to illuminate a very different view of both the natural world and humanity then is typically presented.

Works to look out for from Robinson include the oil paintings ‘Little Egrets in the Lune Estuary’, ‘Fleetwood Harbour’ and ‘Ginnel, Denmark Street Lancaster’ as well as her aforementioned, sublime bird sculptures which form the gallery’s centrepiece. Work from Collins, who confesses that much of her work has a special focus on water-edge debris and human-caused erosion, is equally spectacular despite the superficially inspiring foci. Paintings such as ‘Longing for Submersion’, ‘Shining River’ and ‘Gentle Breeze Over Low Water’ are essential spots to any visitor.

Moreover, ‘Wild at Margins’ is perfect for anyone passionate about the local scenery, nature or simply to art lovers searching for a dynamic exhibition of two prominent, talented figures in the Lancaster cultural scene. But, the gallery’s small scale and attractive contents mean it is enjoyable for anyone looking to spend a few hours in the city centre. Set to finish on the 1st March, in order to give way to a new Spring/Summer exhibition, a visit – even if fleeting – is certainly recommended.

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