I would be willing to bet that many of you reading this have never heard of the Durham Art Gallery and that the few who have are not sure where it is.
The Durham Art Gallery is in fact situated out towards Framwellgate Moor, about ten minutes’ walk from the city centre. The gallery occupies the second floor above the Durham Light Infantry Museum, a museum dedicated to military history with a particular focus on the Durham regiment.
Its proximity to the military museum may seem bizarre but the gallery is doing its best to show exciting modern and contemporary art in Durham. It lays claim to no permanent collection but hosts temporary exhibitions which generally last ten to twelve weeks. In this transient space there is always something new to discover. The gallery tries to exhibit work with connections to Durham, by budding local artists or more widely known ones who were born in the region. The military theme often transcends the museum below to inform the work on display in the gallery above.
Having seen a number of exhibitions at the gallery since I discovered it two years ago, I can safely say that the current exhibitions stand out as a definite high point. Currently, a retrospective on the career of the painter Maurice Cockrill, a British Royal Academician born in County Durham, occupies the two main rooms. A stone sculpture by Durham-based artist Neil Molloy, entitled Displacement Theory, which explores the theme of holocaust memorial, haunts the third room.
With over forty works on show, many of them remarkably gigantic, Cockrill’s canvases certainly serve up a visual feast. The exhibition details his artistic progression chronologically, from his early photo-realist style of the 1960s to total abstraction.
Cockrill experimented with a variety of styles and techniques, never returning to the same technique once he had mastered it. The gallery provides a unique opportunity to see the stages of his personal development, intertwined with disturbing figurative compositions and stunning surrealist experiments.
The most recent pieces in the exhibition date from 2011. Cockrill continued to produce innovative art until his recent passing late last year. The show even attracted the attention of Tyne Tees television (see the links below).
Molloy’s aforementioned Displacement Theory starkly contrasts with the vibrancy and vivid colours of Cockrill’s abstract canvases. Five separate belongings of a Holocaust survivor are placed together, inciting the onlooker to consider what it would have been like to be forcibly relocated and to have to choose possessions to take.
The Durham Art Gallery offers a varied programme of high quality art on your doorstep. If you’re pushed for time you can pop in just to visit the gallery, or you can make the trip into a real day out – take advantage of exploring the military museum, stop for a bite to eat at the on-site café, or stroll in the picturesque grounds.
I, for one, would highly recommend that you put visiting the gallery on your Durham bucket list!
Planning Your Visit…
Now on: Maurice Cockrill works & Neil Molloy Displacement Theory until Sunday 30th March.
Next term: Theodore Major works, Anthony Clark Burning Belief & Kate Wilson The Last Full Measure of Devotion from Friday 4th April until Sunday 1st June.
Opening hours: Daily 10am – 4pm (November – March).
10.00am – 5.00pm (April – October).
Allow 2–3 hours for your visit.
Admission: £2.70 with a student card (£3.70 for an Annual Pass).
Travel: Walking distance.
Directions: From outside Wilkinsons (The Gates), take Millburngate up to the main roundabout. Cross the roundabout and continue on the A691 Framwellgate on the right-hand side. Go under the underpass and continue up the hill. Turn into the entrance to the grounds on the right and follow the path up to the museum entrance.
Gift shop purchase: A Royal Academy catalogue which accompanies the Maurice Cockrill exhibition. It is available for the discounted price of £15 – not too much of a stretch for the student art-lover!