This project has been developed by The Burton Art Gallery & Museum, with thanks to Torridge District Council and The Friends of The Burton

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Bideford Black - the Next Generation. Not the first, and not the last, to use this medium

Claire Gulliver and I (Carolyn Black of Flow Contemporary Arts) have been appointed by the Burton to take the Bideford Black project onto another stage. The Next Generation - is not the first project that the Burton has initiated relating to artists using Bideford Black. It is a development from the work done by many local artists, including Peter Ward on this blog, and in his studio too. It's inspirational to see and meet so many artists who have worked with BB as a medium. The exhibition at White Moose in Barnstaple showed some of them in 2013.

Thanks to ACE funding and support from the Friends of the Burton, Claire and I are managing the new commissions on behalf of the art gallery, working closely with Warren Collum. 8 artists and 1 film maker will be selected to stretch this pigment to its limits. Coming from an industrial background, the pigment played a part in the economic foundation of Bideford. We're excited by the possibility that artists can explore new ways of using it. Beauty, fragility, density, darkness, earthiness and stickiness are just some of the qualities it possesses.

As a natural pigment, it has some very specific qualities. It holds social history in its tacky texture; crumbling memories of ancient geology; grains of physical hardship in its mining; but it can also be part of an unknown future. Since it was first used in industrial paint and mascara, the world has developed unbelievably fast. Technology is everywhere, new materials and compounds are being discovered, some of which may (or may not) be combined with the pigment in some way. We need to understand more thoroughly the nature of the material and hope to be able to share a material analysis in due course.

In the meantime, we encourage artists to think beyond the page or the pedestal, challenge the preconceptions we have about what pigment can be used for.

Download the brief here and share your ideas with us. Don't be afraid to suggest something unusual or challenging, the criteria for selection are stated in the brief - beyond them anything may be possible.

Friday, 1 August 2014

The nature of black: Artist commissions to explore new ways of working with scarce pigment

The Burton Art Gallery & Museum has secured Arts Council England funding to commission eight artists and a film maker to make new works for the collection and to develop new ways of using Bideford Black.  Eight artists and a film maker will explore new ways of working with a scarce pigment as part of a project launched this week. ‘Bideford Black - The Next Generation’ is a Burton Art Gallery project produced and curated in association with Flow Contemporary Arts and Claire Gulliver.

The artists will be selected by open call and the project partners are confident they will be both surprised and excited by proposals from emerging and established artists from across the UK and beyond. The new commissions will join examples of existing works made with Bideford Black in the Burton’s collection.

Warren Collum, Exhibitions Officer, said: “We are grateful for the support of The Friends of the Museum who also contributed, to ensure the budget is suitable to attract high-calibre artists to make art with, or about, this unique and adaptable black pigment”.

The project connects the heritage of the Bideford area with the use of its local pigment by artists past and present - commissioning and documenting its creative possibilities. ‘Biddiblack’ is the local name for Bideford Black, a coal-like mineral traditionally prized by artists for pigment and mined at Bideford until 1968. ‘Bideford Black: The Next Generation’ will reinterpret Bideford Black for a contemporary audience, stretching its uses and creating fresh artworks for Burton Art Gallery’s collection.

The specially commissioned film will document the creative process - from the artist’s preliminary ideas, right through to the final works - for exhibition in the Autumn of 2015. Devon-based artist Peter Ward, who uses this unique pigment in his own artworks, conducted some fascinating research about Bideford Black:

Running alongside seams of anthracite across North Devon is a black clay-like material that was mined for 200 years in Bideford for its uses as a strong black pigment. The unique ‘Mineral Black’, or ‘Biddiblack’ as it was known, was commercially produced for applications in the boat building industry, for colouring rubber products, for camouflage on tanks in WWII and was even bought by Max Factor for the production of mascara. The mines were closed in 1968 when the production of cheaper oil-based blacks and the depletion of the seam made the operation financially unviable, but many locals still remember the ‘Paint Mines’ and have tales to tell of using the paint or going into the now defunct mine shafts.

Follow the progress of the The Next Generation project on this blog.