Review: Castle Fine Art Gallery

Whether you are lamenting the lack of art in Exeter, or simply looking to take a break from your essays, Exeter’s Castle Fine Art Gallery is certainly worth a visit. Looking out onto to the Cathedral Green, the gallery displays a surprisingly diverse range of artwork in its small interior. From vast landscapes to portraits of famous figures there is something for everyone in its current collection.  

Castle Fine Art G
Above: Exeter’s Castle Fine Art Gallery

If you are a music enthusiast, you might want to check out the display of Ronnie Wood’s paintings. The Rolling Stone represents a variety of moments from his long career in vivid colours, suggestive of the bright studio lighting of the stage. The dramatic swirling lines of his works have a distinctly musical feeling to them, and provide a fascinating glimpse not only into the mind of the artist but the characters of his fellow musicians and stars of the 60’s.

For those who prefer darker subject matter (there’s always that one housemate who is still hanging on to Hallowe’en isn’t there?), Xue Wang’s works have a distinctly eerie feel to them. Partly based on the dolls she owned as a child, she uses fairy tale imagery to express quite unusual narratives. Ghosts appear in the majority of her images, haunting her protagonists, and each painting has a wealth of little details that affect the way you see the image each time you look. Horror fan or not, these nightmarish images will keep you guessing for a long time.

Peter Smith’s paintings also draw on childhood stories, his Tweedle Do and Tweedle Don’t representing Lewis Carroll’s characters in a very novel way. Like Xue Wang’s work, it is worth seeing this painting in the flesh to pick up the variety of details that Smith incorporates into the scene. The tiny stars, candles, and bubbles that litter the piece are not really noticeable on first glance, but add to the feel of a chaotic, living toyshop. The canvas is clearly divided into two, a feature that Smith uses in a lot of his work, which is suggestive of the transition from a dream to a nightmare. For anyone seeking an Alice in Wonderland dose who doesn’t necessarily want to travel to London for the exhibition in the British Library, there are some interesting interpretations of Carroll’s work right here in Exeter.

However, for those who are missing the bustle of London life, Paul Kenton’s dramatic views of the city should appeal, the dynamic brushstrokes and vastness of his pieces creating a sense of London’s energetic, thriving atmosphere. Yet there is also a sense of emptiness within them, his linear technique and restricted colour palette creating bleak, deserted scenes that are strangely reminiscent of the Forum at 8:30am. Certainly there are hardly any figures in the majority of the work, the human aspect of the city becoming secondary to the emphasis on the towering buildings. The greys are particularly suggestive of London fog (though might also remind you of the dismal weather in the West Country), while the accents of red enliven each piece.

The gallery is also currently displaying a variety of London scenes by Jeff Rowland. Whilst his compositions bear some resemblance to Paul Kenton’s work, his paintings have more of a narrative quality to them. Both his depictions of the City and his more rural representations often feature a couple dancing in the rain, and the presence of these figures combined with the warm, delicate lighting lend his pictures a tenderness that seems fitting with the time of year. His paintings are almost the artistic equivalent of a Christmas romantic comedy (if you feel you have already seen Love Actually far too many times you might want to check these out instead) but his tiny figures have a universality to them, allowing anybody to see themselves in one of his wintry scenes. Even if you don’t usually consider yourself a fan of art, if you make a visit to the Castle Fine Art Gallery you might be surprised at what you see.

Beth Howell

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