The current Pallant House Gallery exhibition ‘A Twist in Time: installations and interventions’ provides a remarkable opportunity to experience the conceptual, installation work of international artist, Michael Petry, here in Sussex.
Michael Petry’s art draws inspiration from both classical mythology and contemporary culture. He seeks to give expression to our human relationship and interaction with the world, combining a sensual physicality with a reflective spirituality. Michael has a deep awareness of the importance of narrative and place. He involves the viewer in playful narratives rooting them, for a moment, in time and space. We are invited to inhabit the work in our imaginations; to become aware of changes in light, shadow and colour as each moment in time evolves, gifting these installations with life and movement. And there is a conscious relationship between the specific architectural setting and the work.
I approach ‘Libation to Dionysus’ with Michael Petry. I am struck by the beauty and stillness of the deep red of the wine and water held in the porcelain bowl glazed in gold. Colour, light and shade resonate as the window is reflected in the pool of liquid. Michael kneels before the bowl as I ask him about the inspiration behind the title of this piece. He describes how wine was used as an offering, a libation, to Dionysus. In Greek mythology Dionysus was the god of the grape harvest, wine, fertility, theatre and religious ecstasy. He kneels and says “The Greeks would always offer the God’s something precious. Wine would always be mixed with water.” As he speaks Michael pours wine then water into the bowl. The sound of this fills the hall in the 18th century part of the gallery. He continues “What this does is enable the bowl to act like a mirror. The direct sunlight comes down and it illuminates, the wine glows bright red, it’s really fantastic. In the shade it acts like a mirror but it looks like blood. It functions in two ways.” Michael stands and looks into the libation bowl. He remarks “When you look in you see yourself.”
Reflections are at the heart of Petry’s ‘Bad Restoration’. This installation looks at both the imperfect way we seek to restore our physical image and our flawed reflections in mirrors. The fragmented, layered, mirrored glass of the artist’s mirrors seems to reflect something of the nature of modern life while echoing Oscar Wilde’s story ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’.
As we turn towards ‘A Twist in Time’ the gallery’s wall is bathed in the reflected red of the wine.
Much of Michael Petry’s work explores the vitality and non-functional properties of glass transforming the use of this material from utility to art. Petry describes glass as a “luscious material”. He continues to redefine the distinction between artist and artisan. Michael often works collaboratively with highly skilled craftspeople to create his works. He is keen to identify the role of the students and staff at Plymouth College of Art in the making of the glass components for the installation ‘A Twist in Time’. He describes how ‘A Twist in Time’ responds to the architecture of the 18th century house which forms part of Pallant House Gallery. Michael says “I really wanted it to have a reference to these turned columns on the stairs.” The delicate barley twist spindles on the elegant staircase are reflected in the glass spindles suspended, as if floating, in its well. The colours do not fully reveal themselves until you reach the landing where the light from the large arched window gives them life. Michael talks of playing with the tranquil colours of the space. The green spiral ties in with the trees which can be seen in the courtyard garden, the brown reflects the timber of the spindles. It is a work created to be in dialogue with the building and our senses.
As visitors move up and down the staircase the boards creak giving voice to another of Michael’s narratives, this time about ghosts revealing themselves in the house. As you walk through the rooms on the upper floor unexpected clear glass objects, which the artist calls ‘Ghosts’, reveal themselves to you.
This intentional artist challenges our perception of the world and the ‘lenses’ through which we view it. There is honesty and beauty in Michael Petry’s art. His observation of the world and our humanity reveals a rare depth of thinking and compassion. Here the ambiguities of life and death, strength and gentleness are held in tension. This is a must see show.
‘A Twist in Time: installations and interventions’ runs until 1st March 2016 at Pallant House Gallery, 9 North Pallant, Chichester, PO19 1TJ, telephone 01243 774557.
To see video extracts of Rupert Toovey’s interview with the artist Michael Petry click here.
By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 26th July 2015 in the West Sussex Gazette.