‘Persona’ exhibition at 200 Silbury Boulevard, Milton Keynes (University of Milton Keynes)

Last Wednesday I was invited to the opening of an exhibition by four Milton Keyne’s artists. I know one of the artists. I do, indeed, have one of his driftwood pictures on my chimney breast; and I have admired the work of another for ages without being able to afford any of it. Ah, penury, penury – when will you push off and annoy somebody else?

Anyhoo, lightly lubricated by a little opening-night wine I was eager to see what Andrew Brown, Jason Duggan, Christine Gallagher and Melanie had hung on the walls. Knowing Andy to be a talented and skilled artist in a number of media I was confident that it was going to be pretty good. And so it was.

Downstairs, on the left, Andy’s palette was immediately familiar. He likes clear tones on the pastel side of bright. But what was this? People? Andy’s usual meat is cityscapes. He enjoys the mathematical, the jagged edge, the straight line. None of this is so much in evidence when dealing with people (although proportion and juxtaposition are, of course, still important). It was interesting to see how very well his eye for composition held up within this new departure.

 ImageAndrew Brown

Portraits are interesting for the general viewer – but also, in a way, alienating. What you’re looking at isn’t a picture of someone you know (usually). So how does it make its impact? Andy’s people pictures solve that problem by being more about people in proximity and juxtaposed with other people, (interacting, not interacting: in the poses we’ve come to know through magazines, TV etc) than about portraiture per se. His vibrant colours draw you in. The drawing and collage provide an interesting, off kilter, suggestion of how we live now. They work if you stand up close or back off. I enjoyed these a lot. And they made an interesting contrast with the portraits of Jason and Christine.

Further along the same wall was a selection of famous men by Jason. Early in the sequence was a splendid portrait of John Lennon. For me it caught the essence of the man – Peter Pan, counter-culture philosopher, rebel. Wise and naughty – what’s not to like?  I want this picture (actually it is a print). I am saving  up. This is the one I mean.

Image Jason Duggan

On the opposite wall were some of Christine’s portraits. She has a lovely warm, open style of dealing with people in paint. Upstairs she has a series of portraits of hands, framed as a single work, which drew admiring  remarks. My favourite portraits were one of ‘Phil’ (who, fortuitously, was present for comparative purposes) and ‘Seasoned’ – which was quite different from the rest of her work on display, looking almost like a Dürer etching.

Image Christine Gallagher


The rest of this downstairs wall was occupied by Melanie Watts gorgeous mosaics. These had a middle Eastern theme. Indeed, for our times, I found them quite radical, juxtaposing the female form with onion domes and palm trees, the hint if Islam everpresent. The colours included were as rich as a chocolate overdose – amber and cold, silver and milky white, emerald and lapis. However Melanie’s standout piece was of, perhaps, a mermaid; perhaps a maiden in harem pants seated on Charles Rennie Macintosh roses in purple, pink and pink-shot white: above her was a wild, jewel-encrusted sea: or perhaps a sky. Thoughtfully she rested her chin in her hand as she contemplated her own beauty.

 Melanie Watts

There was more upstairs. On the way up I passed a metal, yellow-painted artwork (of the ‘ploughshares’ variety) sited in front of a vibrantly patterned pink wall. (It wasn’t part of the exhibition.) It did not look happy. This ironwork needs to be rescued and resited somewhere where its surrounding enhance it. Just saying …

Upstairs hung the multi-hands by Christine. Here too were some of Andy’s driftwood pictures, in which he composes found materials into new forms. Here also some of Jason’s portraits of people who aren’t (yet?) famous. And here were more of Melanie’s mosaics. They and the hands dominated the upstairs space. Two roundels, in particular, drew me. What a delightful, complementary pair they would make in the right domestic space.

This is a splendid exhibition of great local talent. Do go and see it between now and 19 December. Sadly the Gallery is closed at weekends, but would make a pleasant distraction at lunchtime or early evening?

Here are links to their websites, so that even if you can’t make the exhibition (and why can’t you? Honestly??) you can track them down online and see some of their work:







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