Biscuit Factory Summer Launch

Last night was The Biscuit Factory’s Summer Launch, and I was delighted to be able to go, having missed their autumn one due to other commitments. I’m a big fan of The Biscuit Factory – they stock an interesting range of artists at a range of price points, with the idea that art shouldn’t just be a luxury purchase (they even do a financing scheme if you want to buy a piece), the staff always seem friendly, and the cafe is great (entry to the galleries is free).

Last night showcased their new exhibitions, which include Simon M Smith’s floral patterened work – a hit with my companion, S – and pieces from the Open Contemporary Young Artist Award (both of which run till August 25). With such an eclectic mix of work on display, you’re likely to find plenty to like – as well as plenty that makes you shake your head and go ‘so that’s what they are calling art these days?’, which is all part of the fun. (I admit I spend a LOT of time going, ‘I can see it’s good, but I wouldn’t want it in my house…’) Of the current artists on display, probably my two favourites were the almost photo-real paintings by Cherylene Dyer and Basia Roszek’s vibrant portraits. Both are Glasgow-based women artists whose subjects tend to be women, so clearly I like a theme…

My favourite part of the evening was discovering that The Biscuit Factory now has a bookshop! Forum Books now has a dedicated space, a cute little cubby papered with pages of books, and of course after a couple of glasses of fizz I abandoned my ‘I must not buy any books!’ and splurged on some hardbacks. But you have to support indie bookstores, right? Our purchases came with a literary fortune cookie, to up the cuteness factor.

There’s lots to check out over the summer at The Biscuit Factory. Unfortunately inclement weather made their outdoor barbeque space a bit of a wash out, but on sunnier days their Artisan Socials (Wednesdays, 4-8pm) look like a good destination: outdoor drinks and a different foodie pop up every week. The Factory Kitchen (the less posh, more cafe space upstairs) is also getting in on the act with Sloe Sundays, where from 16 June you can enjoy a terrace gin bar (there is a covered space, so less dependent on the weather) DJ sets and botanical cocktails with your all-day brunch.

See you there?

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Alexander Millar at the Hancock Gallery

Yesterday I took a trip to the recently opened Hancock Gallery. A gorgeously converted Georgian townhouse on Jesmond Road West (minutes away from the university, the museum of the same name – where we had planned to go see Dippy on tour, before realising it was half term – and Haymarket metro), it opened in April with an Alexander Millar retrospective.

Free to enter, it’s a pleasing new addition to the city’s art scene. I admit the Millar work was hit and miss for me. I find his work overly sentimental, though some of the landscapes were striking – I liked the images of a lone figure coming to or from work under a Northern sky – and Peaky Blinders fans will find much to love in the room dedicated to the show. The exhibit also featured some of Millar’s newer pieces, striking portraits of figures such as Quentin Crisp and Leigh Bowery.

There was also a guest collection from the Balman Gallery, which was more to my taste – I was particularly taken by the Milt Kobayashi pieces.

Chatting to a woman who worked there, she told me they plan to host 4-5 exhibitions a year, so add this to your art map of the city. It’s certainly a great place to have a quiet and contemplative wander just moments from the noise and bustle of the city.

Forest and Ex-Voto at Side Gallery

Yesterday my friend Simon and I went to see the latest exhibitions at Side Gallery, which is always an interesting excursion. There were actually three shows on (all free, as usual), and although they were very different, they were all interesting in their own way.On the ground floor was Jason & Victoria: Disability and Partnership, an observation by Josefin Bengtsson which featured pictures of the titular couple, highlighting their experiences in a world where disabled people are still marginalised, and relationships between them are often erased, ignored or sneered at.Upstairs there was Forest by Yan Wang Preston, which was a fascinating though quite depressing look at ‘new build’ forests in urban China, and how trees are being transported and transplanted into new cities, with varying success (the story of Frank, a 300 year old tree that was uprooted only to die after being transplanted somewhere else, properly upset me, because apparently I am a person who cries over trees now.) Preston, a British Chinese photographer, spent eight years on the project, and it won first prize in the Syngenta Photography Awards in 2017, so it’s definitely worth your time.Probably my favourite of the three was Ex-Voto, by Alys Tomlinson (who won the Sony World Photographer of the Year in 2018), a series of landscape and portrait photos taken at religious (Christian) shrines in Ireland, Poland and France. I’d have liked more information about the subjects, but Tomlinson’s style – shot on large format film – made for luminous prints, with the portraits being particularly compelling. Lucky for me, Simon is a photographer (you can see his amazing work here) and was happy to explain the process that Tomlinson used and why it worked the way it did, and the challenges it involved, which made me even more impressed. I could get used to having an expert in tow…The exhibition finishes on the 9th June, so get yourselves along. The gallery is open Tuesday to Sunday 11-5 and is free. (You can find more details here.)

Warhol in Edinburgh

As per my previous post, I was in Edinburgh this week. Mainly this was to see a show – Cora Bissett’s excellent What Girls Are Made of – but it also provided a great chance to catch up with friends.

My friend A and her husband moved back to Scotland a few years ago, and I hadn’t seen their new place since, so A & I met for drinks and dinner before the show (an OK-but not-stellar chips and halloumi burger at Red Squirrel, mostly because it was handy for the theatre, though it was a perfectly fine stopping point: friendly staff, very decent selection of veggie options). I stayed the night at their gorgeous house, which gave me major home envy: my room (just one of their guest rooms!) had an en suite, and the whole place was just so lovely and elegantly fitted out, I am now planning to secretly move in and see how long till they notice (it’s a big house – could be a while)…

A and I stayed up chatting till the early hours, so I admit I was more than a little hungover when I went back into town the next day to meet my friend D, through from Glasgow. Still, we didn’t let that deter us from taking in some culture, and decided to head to the Scottish National Galleries of Modern Art.

It’s been years since I have been – I’ve never even set foot in Modern Two – but we started there, keen to see I want to be a machine, an exhibition of Andy Warhol and Eduardo Paolozzi pieces that included many of the famous Warhol prints and movie posters. I’m less familiar with Paolozzi, but his work was a fascinating counterpoint, and the exhibit is well laid out across five rooms, with plenty of explanation as to what’s what and why it matters. It’s also free, which is always a bonus.

NOW at Modern One was more of a mixed bag. A selection of works by Monster Chetwynd, Henry Coombes, Moyna Flannigan, Betye Saar, and Wael Shawky, it covered most of the ground floor, and some bits took me more than others, though as again it was free, I was happy to have a mooch.

D and I then had lunch and a wander, before he had to head back to Glasgow, so before my evening train I met A again for a few drinks in a pub off the Royal Mile (we powered bravely through our hangovers). The pub had a sign on the bar that said ‘those that drink langest live langest’ and at this rate A and I will be around till our 80s…

Da Vinci drawings at Sunderland Museum

Took a trip to Sunderland today to see the Da Vinci drawings – selections of which are on display around the country. It was the first time I had been to the Museum and I was impressed – there were a number of good exhibits, including some drawings from the archives, some LS Lowry and a series of drawings of local pensioners by Andrew Tift called One Day You’ll be Older Too.

The Da Vinci exhibit was astoundingly good value – £2.50 a ticket! – and showcased some beautiful pieces. We rounded off our trip with coffee and a scone in the cafe (also not bad value) and a wander round the winter gardens. Definitely worth a visit.

Baltic, cocktails and Us

After a busy and slightly frustrating week, where I had my biggest deadline of the year and, not coincidentally, my immune system finally gave in after several months of pretty much non-stop work, I was both delighted and slightly wary to play host to my friend T this weekend. Delighted, because she is always good company, wary because I had developed a hacking cough, almost lost my voice and wanted nothing more than to lie in bed with the covers over my head, so feared I wouldn’t exactly be the hostess with the mostess.

Luckily, T is both very low maintenance and very good company, so we actually had a fab weekend. Our plans were thwarted on more than one occasion – I’d wanted to do cocktails at Six in Baltic on early evening Saturday, but when we turned up the venue was booked for a private party, and the weather scuppered some of our more ambitious plans.

In the end, though, our weekend turned out pleasantly laid back. Having been to the Backyard Bike Shop several times for food, I finally got to try their cocktails, which were very nice. We had a delicious veggie brunch at the Tyneside downstairs cafe, and some seriously good Indian food at Dabbawal. And though the Baltic was a no for cocktails, we did see some art. I admit a lot of it went a bit over my head – art isn’t an area I am particularly knowledgeable about – but it’s always a space worth visiting. I was particularly taken with a couple of the shows in the Artists’ Award exhibitions: Ingrid Pollard’s examination of the figure of the ‘black boy’ in English architecture and culture – primarily through pub signs which use black figures – was fascinating, and Aaron Hughes piece on war was moving.

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We also watched a lot of films – it was a bit of a feminist film fest! T hadn’t seen Fury Road or the new Halloween so we watched those, then went to the Tyneside to see Us, where it was also nice to introduce her to the beauties of the classic screen, and rounding off our Strong Women weekend, we watched Widows, which I hadn’t seen either.

I thought both Us and Widows were flawed but fascinating, powered by smart ideas and strong performances. Lupita Nyong’o and Viola Davis were both incredible. I am also *very* here for Winston Duke playing a dorky dad, which was such a difference from his usual roles.

So, all in all – just the tonic I needed!

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Barluga and Boulevard

It’s Restaurant Week in Newcastle, so I used that as an excuse to try out Barluga (and, um, not order anything from the Restaurant Week menu). It’s a place I have walked past many times so it was nice to actually see inside – the decor is lush and warm for such a spacious place.

The menu had a decent mix of vegetarian and gluten free meals – important as one of my friends is GF – and though I plumped for a fairly basic option (grilled halloumi burger and chips) it was very tasty and my friends M and C professed themselves pleased with their respective roast chicken and salmon, though M felt her Bailey’s cheesecake dessert was singularly lacking in the taste of Bailey’s!

After that we headed to one of Newcastle’s most raucous nights out, Boulevard, to see this year’s “adult panto”.

It’s obvious a show called Jack off the Beanstalk isn’t for the easily offended, and I admit there were a few moments that jarred against my Brighton-honed, theatre-tailored PC sensibilities. But Boulevard stalwart Miss Rory runs a tight ship, there were plenty of outrageous laughs, and the staff were pleasant and efficient – I love a place that does table service and is actually on the ball about it.

The night was almost marred by the loudest hen party in the world, who were ejected at the interval after multiple warnings (imagine being so loud you get thrown out of a Geordie club!), with Miss Rory wishing them them the worst of weddings (“I hope it rains on your wedding day – acid rain!”), while someone foolish enough to be on the phone in the second act got a severe dressing down from the stage. I kinda wish more theatres adopted that policy…