The Art Insider: December '18

Ruthie Collins gives you the lowdown on arty happenings around Cambridge in December 

'She walks in beauty like the night’. One of the most exquisite lines of poetry ever – written by radical poet Lord Byron (famous for keeping a pet bear while at Cambridge – hmmm) which could easily describe sparkling, dressed-up Cambridge at this time of year. There’s nothing more festive, or sumptuous, than dark nights and glittering trees (the Empress pub is the queen of bling – go for the decorations alone). Mill Road Winter Fair is no exception, starting the month with a bang on Saturday 1 December, boasting all manner of community treats and treasures. It’s a fantastic day to sip a mulled wine, pick up gifts – and support some of Cambridge’s best-loved artists and makers (such as Loukas Morley, offering his bespoke design wizardry working with reclaimed wood) by buying from them. In fact, why not start a new family tradition of choosing handmade decorations, gifts or cards from artisans at the fair each year?

Another must-visit this month is Gallery 9, just round the corner from Mill Road on Norfolk Street, and one of Cambridge’s best galleries – take the chance to find fabulous gifts while you’re visiting the fair, and all year round.

A stone’s throw from Mill Road, across Parker’s Piece on Regent Street, is the Heong Gallery at Downing College. Currently running is Halfboy, the gallery’s latest show, by one of the UK’s most acclaimed living painters, Stuart Pearson Wright. “An exhibition can often be either intensely moving or deeply thought-provoking. Halfboy is both,” comments Master of Downing College, Alan Bookbinder, on the show, which explores the artist’s paternal roots – or lack of –with breathtaking results.

Fans of the BP Portrait Award-winning artist include HRH Prince of Wales, JK Rowling, Kiera Knightley and Daniel Radcliffe, who all own his works. You can also find him in public collections including the British Museum, Government Art Collection, the Ashmolean and Fitzwilliam museums, and many others. 

“The male has got to be heroic – if he’s wearing a codpiece, he’s got to get his sword out, win the maiden, and save the day... So, I wanted to take all of those references and expectations and piss them up the wall: explode the myth of the hero,” comments Stuart Pearson Wright on MAZE, a film piece made in collaboration with Kiera Knightley, screened as part of the programme to mark the opening of Halfboy. His examination of the masculine haunts Halfboy, too, along with the fresh-faced innocence of the artist as a young boy. The show runs until 6 February.

“I wanted to explode the myth of the hero"

Also not to be missed is Richard Pousette-Dart: Beginnings at Kettle’s Yard, reflecting on the artist’s time as a young abstract expressionist in New York, which runs until 6 January. This is the first UK solo show of US artist Richard Pousette-Dart, whose contemporaries included Pollock and Rothko – those abstract expressionists who put New York city at the centre of the art world in the 1940s. The youngest member of The Irascibles – a group of artists struggling to find a new sense of self, plus gain recognition for their rebellious new art movement in the aftermath of the Second World War – Pousette-Dart kept a lively correspondence with Jim Ede, founder of Kettle’s Yard.

It’s relationships like theirs that highlight Kettle’s Yard’s own legacy – a long-standing commitment to nurturing a careful selection of young, original voices within the artworld. Featuring paintings, drawings, photography and sculpture that all mark Pousette-Dart’s significant contribution to American art, this show touches on that often-hidden fluidity between disciplines that happens as an artist finds their own voice. Standout use of text, alongside stunning works created at the start of Pousette-Dart’s incipient career, makes this a show that is high on concept, but not at the cost of craft – many of his works on show seem as fresh now as they must have felt when they were first made. And don’t we all love the idea of a young artist in New York?

“Artists are the real heroes of humanity,” Pousette-Dart once said. “All great art is spiritual.” Maybe he was right. “I’m interested in helping people get on their own thread of their own creative being... I don’t think one is better than another – they are all unique.”

Finally, if you haven’t already experienced a Cambridge Junction Christmas show, known for arty twists and fresh ideas, then put Snow White in your diary. Produced by New International Encounter, this lively and engaging show opens on 5 December. Yarn bombers are also called to transform the foyer of the Junction for this, with the help of Tigerchilli, Cambridge’s yarn bomber extraordinaire. December’s silly season would not be complete without a feel-good festive bash like this! Whatever you do, make sure you have a fabulous, happy and creative December.