THG to take a curious turn with mechanical sculptures in Honiton

PUBLISHED: 17:00 10 February 2018

Mule Make Mule.  Tim Lewis, 2010, mixed media construction.  -� Tim Lewis, Picture: Courtesy Flowers Gallery, London and New York

Mule Make Mule. Tim Lewis, 2010, mixed media construction. -� Tim Lewis, Picture: Courtesy Flowers Gallery, London and New York

Flowers Gallery, London and New York

A new exhibition at Honiton’s THG will be displaying some extraordinary automata from March to May

Five Artists Reflect On Their Waning Powers, W49, Paul Spooner, 1983. Picture: Todd-White Art PhotographyFive Artists Reflect On Their Waning Powers, W49, Paul Spooner, 1983. Picture: Todd-White Art Photography

A Curious Turn is a new exhibition featuring 30 pieces of extraordinary automata, the first major review of its kind since 1992.

It comes to THG (Thelma Hulbert Gallery) in Honiton as part of a national tour from The Crafts Council, which is leading the revival of interest in automata.

Automata are moving mechanical sculptures that are brought magically to life by sequences of cogs, cams, and levers.

They have delighted and bewitched people for centuries. Visitors will be able to turn, push and crank to see many of the pieces in action, while newly commissioned films will show other pieces in motion.

Transport of Delights. Keith Newstead, 2010, wood, brass and rubber. Picture: Courtesy of Keith Newstead AutomataTransport of Delights. Keith Newstead, 2010, wood, brass and rubber. Picture: Courtesy of Keith Newstead Automata

A Curious Turn presents automata by leading makers of the last 40 years that range from the humorous to the macabre and from the playful to the satirical.

Works on show take a look at key automata makers such as Rowland Emett, famous for creating the elaborate inventions of Caractacus Potts in the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968).

A newly commissioned piece by John Grayson has been specially created for A Curious Turn. Grayson has created a satirical piece looking at the corruptibility of politics, taking inspiration from a 17th century political scandal and connecting it to current affairs.

In this work The Rt Hon Wippingdale of 1716 has his head turned by two dominating females who are ensuring he makes the right choices on future legislation.

Pieces and makers on show include:

• Sam Smith, widely seen as the grandfather of contemporary automata, has influenced generations of automata makers. His beautifully painted colourful ‘toys’ at first glance look playful and harmless, but on closer inspection they explore the darker side of human life, as with a second groom being rowed across the lake by his third bride.

• Paul Spooner, an automata maker who has been perfecting his making process for more than 30 years. Spooner’s work is humorous and thought-provoking, as with the popular Crafts Council Collection work Five Artists Reflect on Their Waning Powers. As well as being a skilled carver, Spooner is an accomplished illustrator and some of his drawings from the Crafts Council Collection is revealed in this exhibition for the first time.

• Melanie Tomlinson, whose automata are printed with beautifully intricate drawings of folklore and fairy tales, which are brought to life when the sculptures move. Tomlinson works hard to keep secret the mechanisms that make her characters come to life, making her decorative work even more intriguing.

A Curious Turn also looks at the central role that Cabaret Mechanical Theatre and its founder, Sue Jackson, have played in the revival of automata from the 1970s onwards. Recognising the potential popularity of moving sculptures, Jackson actively encouraged a group of makers in Falmouth, including Peter Markey, Paul Spooner and Ron Fuller – all represented in A Curious Turn - to make automata to sell in her local craft shop, Cabaret. She often actively guided their creative direction, looking for wit and entertainment in the automata that she collected.

There will be a programme of co-ordinating workshops and family-friendly activities to accompany this exhibition, visit www.thelmahulbert.com for more details.

Annie Warbuton, Creative Director, Crafts Council said: “Always charming, sometimes witty, automata never fail to raise a smile.

“What this exhibition shows is that they can also be astonishing works of art with contemporary relevance.

“A Curious Turn offers a chance to see rarely seen gems from the Crafts Council Collection alongside classics of the last 40 years.

“Drawing connections with film, animation and comic culture, this show doesn’t shy away from pieces with a darker humour or uncanny turn.

“We’re especially proud to be unveiling a fresh commission from John Grayson that, behind its charm, reveals biting, bang up-to-date, political satire.”

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