An unusual retrospective for a new sense of ‘make-believe’
From December 2017 to February 2018, Castlefield Gallery in Manchester invited Cumbrian folk artist Peter Hodgson to present an unusual interpretation of a retrospective. In celebration of his lifelong commitment to evolving and sharing his craft, “Making, A Life” centres around a fictional, household-like site as the framework for Peter’s diverse creative practice. A series of domestic assemblages clutter hand-crafted objects and illustrations, developed collaboratively with international artists and local designer-makers, including 2013 Turner Prize winner Laure Prouvost and Manchester-based designer Joe Hartley. “Making, A Life” brings the curiosities of the closet, materialising as an eclectic array of cross-media interactions that spotlights Peter’s four-decade contribution to the arts and its influence on his peers.
Loosely comprised of odes to various living spaces, the installations presented in “Making, A Life” manifest the artist’s desire to share his self-taught practice, which captures the values of folk art that lie at the heart of his work. As an artist who has refused formal painting lessons, instead continuing his own sophisticated impulses of creation, Peter presents a self-styled approach to making art that values steady-handed sustainability over mechanical or mass production. Lending inspiration from animal interactions and the natural world, Peter illustrates simple nuances of life as it appears before him in his Lake District home of Ambleside.
Painted, engraved and embroidered into the surface of each installed component, this character-focused imagery recurs as motifs on purpose-built, ready-to-use domestic objects, reiterating the tangibility of his craft and the multiple hands contributing to the formation of each piece. A simple wooden bed frame with a patchwork quilt, a fireplace frame decorated with hand-painted tiles, and a dressing table laid out with handmade mirrors and brushes imagine a fitting site for the objects made and sold in Peter’s Ambleside studio and shop. By implementing this format of display, “Making, A Life” summons a closing of the gap between work recognised as contemporary art and that which is problematically labelled as ‘outsider’ art: a viewer is encouraged to reassess their understanding of utilitarian and decorative arts through the shift in their position within a wider world of contemporary art.
If the typical use of labels in an exhibition claims (in part) objects as an artist’s intellectual property, their omission from “Making, A Life” establishes the open dialogue between the contributing artists, and across the traditional and contemporary modes of production on display. The definitions between who has made what becomes blurred, which raises the point as to whether it even matters in this exhibition: instead, the show celebrates Peter’s steadily evolved personal style by affirming its presence at the root of communal storytelling, as a natural cycle of sharing and responding.
Exhibited in Castlefield’s half-underground gallery, the functional objects and handcrafted furniture samples are naturally lit through large panel windows, which sit at the street level of a double volume space and allow passers-by a glimpse into the fictional world created by “Peter and friends.” Up close, the artists and designers demonstrate the possibilities of a simple but iconic vision and lots of helping hands, reiterating the significance of collective effort and granting a new meaning to the term ‘make-believe’.
Words by Brit Seaton