‘If a door is locked, find a window’ - art on display in Old Portsmouth during lockdown

FOR much of the past year, trips out have largely been restricted to those for the purpose exercise, which for many of us has meant becoming urban ramblers.

Saturday, 6th March 2021, 6:00 am
Darktown Debris by Johnny Hannah is the Art Through Glass exhibition at Jack House Gallery in High Street, Old Portsmouth for March, 2021.

There have been several projects to help encourage people to get off their sofas or away from their screens.

But there are also the incidental pleasures – noticing the gems we may have previously walked past in our haste to get from A to B.

And the window of Jack House Gallery in High Street, Old Portsmouth is one such gem.

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Darktown Debris by Johnny Hannah is the Art Through Glass exhibition at Jack House Gallery in High Street, Old Portsmouth for March, 2021.JHG

While the gallery is unable to open to the public, owner Rebecca Crow has been putting on exhibitions dubbed Art Through Glass.

It is currently home to Darkland Debris by Hampshire artist, Jonny Hannah, which is described as ‘a miscellany of books and other junk from Emmett Miller's Unquiet Grave Emporium, and a selection of records and top tunes from Brel's Record Bar. All mixed in with a life-size Walt Whitman and badges, posters, painted plates, prints, and miscellaneous fragments.’

It even features a tribute to Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who died recently at 101.

Rebecca tells us about how Art Through Glass came about:

Artist Jonny Hannah who created Darktown Debris

‘I think all retail businesses found the first lock down a shock and planned as if it was the only one we would have to deal with.

‘We now know that two more were to follow with very difficult conditions to negotiate in between. In my case the uncertainty and fear around Covid led to cancellations by people who had hired the gallery and cancellations of things I had programmed – the gallery has fed off the additional events and workshops that bring people together and these were impossible with social distancing.

‘The uncertainty of the changing situation made it very difficult to plan and a certain paralysis set in on my part – a wait and see attitude.

‘It was clear to me when I opened my first show after the first lockdown which was met with an overwhelming response of joy and gratitude that people wanted art more than ever and that they needed some direct contact with it.

Portsmouth artist Charlotte Brisland's work on display as part of Art Through Glass. Plus an appearance by gallery dog, Tati.

‘If nothing else, the Covid crisis has highlighted how important art is to so many people – the artists making it mostly in solitude need something to work towards and responses to feed of, people need interesting and engaging images and stories and ideas that enable them to “connect” or reconnect with the outside and see that life goes on and that it isn’t all utterly grim.

‘It’s long been known that art is essential to mental health. If I had known back in April that the first lockdown would be one of several I would not have struggled to try to fill the gallery in the normal way through the interim periods but I finally reached the conclusion in November 2020 that I should work only with the gallery window to avoid planning and then cancelling and disappointing.

‘That’s when the idea of the Art Advent Calendar came up as a way to commission and show a lot of work in a limited space totally safely and within government guidelines, and more importantly have some fun for Christmas.

‘I asked 25 local artists to produce work at a set size with no restriction on theme or medium but with the stipulation they had to include the colour red somewhere in their picture as the unifying factor. And that they keep the selling price low to attract buyers for Christmas.

The Advent Calendar Window at Jack House Gallery

‘Each picture was hidden behind a numbered board representing the advent date and the response to the daily reveal in the window and simultaneously online was phenomenal.

‘The school kids who pass the window on the way to school each day were particularly excited to see what was next, mirroring exactly my own memories of childish excitement opening an advent calendar window. It really seemed to give everyone a lift.

‘I then began to think how I could keep the mini exhibitions going by making a virtue of the limited space of the window and started asking a few artists to come up with ways to fill it and that’s when Art Through Glass was born.

‘Specifically I was inspired by a quote I saw online which said simply: “If a door is locked, find a window”, as it seemed to encapsulate the spirit we would need to adopt to get through this difficult time.

‘We have just closed a show of large tranquil mysterious paintings by Portsmouth based artist Charlotte Brisland from Art Space Studios and currently have work by the illustrator/maker Jonny Hannah whose vibrant and whacky pieces were perfect to create a fairly mad installation of items.

‘I think I mentioned to Jonny that back in the day in a previous incarnation that the gallery was a sweet shop and he seems to have been inspired by the excitement that would instil in a passing child.

‘It’s great to have the pieces by an internationally well-known artist on display and everything I show in the window is posted simultaneously online and in the gallery shop for those people still reluctant or unable to go out, and Jonny has taken over the gallery Instagram account for a month to post images of things, people, writers, musicians and poets who have influenced him, so we are all learning something and having a sort of direct line with the artist through his exhibition period.

‘In April I have another occupant for the window Internationally renowned veteran pop artist Derek Boshier who is originally from Portsmouth and has work in collections in the Tate Gallery, V&A, British Museum, Pallant House Gallery in Chichester and our own Portsmouth City Museum who is sending me his window show exhibition all the way from his studio in Los Angeles in the post!

‘It’s been very nice to get emails thanking me for the changing window saying it’s keeping people going and getting the thumbs up from passing people in the community, and yesterday when out with my dog someone shouted how much they like the new window.

‘It’s cheering people up and hopefully generating a few sales for artists and the gallery and it keeps us hopeful that things will continue and perhaps even get better.

‘We still don’t know what the next months will bring particularly now that we are hearing news of new variants so I plan to continue with the Art Through Glass window exhibitions for the time being, and hopefully by the summer I will be able to host a group show of a local artists in the gallery with a program of talks and workshops.

‘I also have exciting plans for a big show of work curated by Derek Boshier in October 2021 of British artists living and working in LA.

‘However, given that we were told Covid would be over by Easter 2020 I’m prepared for anything to happen.

‘I definitely plan to do the Art Advent Calendar 2021 whatever!’

Art is everywhere if you look for it

The streets of Portsmouth contain many hidden – and not so hidden – pieces of public art.

The Strand Mural, a giant and continually evolving map of the city, created by Mark Lewis, has become a famous local landmark since it first appeared in 1997.

Last summer 20 artists teamed up for the We Believe Arts Trail, which featured three walkable routes taking in all of their artworks.

There are also many murals by city street artist My Dog Sighs – including Francis Avenue, Goldsmith Avenue and at Hilsea Lido.

My Dog Sighs was an originator of Free Art Friday, which sees artists leave artworks on the streets for people to take home with them.

The distinctive birds by artist Fark are also a common sight.

There are many more examples to spot when you are out and about.