This review was published in June 2016 in the Cuckoo Review here.
It took a moment to register what the tiny little island scene had been painted on to (yes, I could have gone straight to the descriptive plaque, but it’s nice to play a little game of guess-work first.) The purple-orange sky that dropped behind the wiry black outlines of a palm tree had a hole taken out of the middle of it. What I took to be the curving waves at the bottom of the piece, on closer inspection, were revealed to have a teeny-tiny gap between them. The whole painting was about the size of the top joint of my thumb. I was pretty stumped, it was a lovely, simple scene but I had no idea what the oil paints had been applied on to. Luckily, my more intuitive (or cheating) friend informed me that it is the little plastic tag that goes around the end of bread packets to keep them fresh. I felt silly, but incredibly impressed at the choice of media and the delicate precision with which the oil painting had been daubed onto it.
This was just one of the micro artworks in Vane’s recent exhibition Seeing a Who, which brings together the work of artists Elizabeth Saveri (bread tag extraordinaire) and Michael Mulvihilll. Mulvihill is a local artist, from Gateshead, who, together with Saveri, was inspired by the recent children’s book and film, ‘Horton Hears a Who’. In the film, friendly furry fluff-ball tries to look after the ‘Whos’ – people who are smaller than a speck of dust. The overriding message is that ‘people are people, no matter how small’.
This inspiration isn’t one that you would perhaps expect to have created miniature depictions of the aftermath of the Cold War, nuclear threat, or other military scenes such as Mulvihill’s work shows. Yet through these diminutive depictions of the big and scary, the artists reminds us that in the modern-art world, where there is a huge emphasis on scale and dynamic and ‘shock-factor’ (think of Kaws’ recent exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, where visitors walked in gardens among giant wooden statues), that there is still beauty, and powerful meaning to be appreciated in things that are small. Scale does not necessarily convey skill or message.
Saveri’s works in the exhibition focus less on man’s might, and more on the danger and destruction that man is causing the environment. On bread tags coated in her delicate oil renderings she shows the fear she feels for the ‘oasis’ of California drying up – to be replaced with the plastic world of the bread tag that we live in.
Whatever could be lost on the visitor by this tiny jumble of miniscule objects is carefully curated in the small exhibition space, with interesting information beside each piece to aid understanding. It’s little but it’s lovely.