Posts tagged: University of Salford Art Collection

Exhibition – Cecile Elstein: The Sisyphus Suite

Cecile Elstein: The Sisyphus Suite

Autumn 2023
Clifford Whitworth Library
University of Salford

We are delighted to share that Cecile Elstein’s The Sisyphus Suite is now on display in the Clifford Whitworth Library.

Elstein’s series of eight screen prints were made between 1979-80 in response to Albert Camus’ 1942 philosophical essay The Myth of Sisyphus. The full series of prints are on display in the Library’s ground floor exhibition space following the recent acquistion of the work.

The Library is open 24/7 to students and staff, and open to the public 8am – 7pm on weekdays and 8am – 5pm on the weekend. For more information on visiting the library, click here.

Cecile Elstein (b. 1938, Cape Town, South Africa) is a printmaker, sculptor, and environmental artist based in Didsbury, South Manchester. In the 1980s, Elstein worked at the Manchester Print Workshop with the Master Printer Kip Gresham. The Workshop was based at the University of Salford until 1985. The Sisyphus Suite joins two works from Elstein already in the Collection made during this time, Small Offering (1980) and A Letter from Mrs Gould (1981).

The Sisyphus Suite was generously gifted to the University of Salford Art Collection from Cecile Elstein Studio Ltd in 2023.

Artwork of the Month – Salford Faces by Gwilym Hughes

August’s artwork of the month is Salford Faces by Gwilym Hughes. This artwork is currently on display in our New Adelphi Exhibition Gallery as part of Visibilities: Shaping a story of nowFor this artwork of the month, Visibilities Curator Rowan Pritchard explores the work in more detail. 

In Salford Faces, four layers of giclee prints in cyan, magenta, yellow and black are superimposed to form a portrait

Gwilym Hughes found this face in a photograph at the Salford Local History Library. With an ongoing interest in anonymous faces, whose names are no longer recorded, or who might never have known they were having their photograph taken, Gwilym’s work brings close attention to these people who are ‘lost’ in the archives. 

The image is painstakingly hand-drawn using slow and intensive techniques. Rendered first as an intimate relief etching, the portrait is then enlarged and presented as a lightbox. The face, once forgotten, can no longer be overlooked when displayed at this scale, illuminated as it stares back at us. 

Installation View: Visibilities: Shaping a story of now, 2023.

Speaking about Salford Faces, Rowan shares: 

“I picked this work because it speaks directly to the ideas of preservation, questioning whose names we write down and record. 

In Visibilities, I wanted to dig a little into who is represented in the University’s collecting; whose stories, artworks, and achievements are we preserving as an institution? And this work relates to that directly. In the exhibition, Salford Faces is presented next to Silver Triple Pop by Gavin Turk, an artwork full of reference and reverence for men like Elvis, Andy Warhol, and Sid Vicious, whose names and images are inviolably linked to our understandings of culture – preserved and remembered. 

In contrast, Salford Faces not only begins to question why some people are remembered while others are not but creates a space for those forgotten voices to be remembered, re-enshrining them into the archives through their new representation in the University Art Collection.”

A black and white print shows the artist stood in overlaping triplicate, with his feet apart, holding a pistol at waist height, pointed towards the viewer. He is dressed as Sid Vicious, impersonating Elvis.
Gavin Turk, Silver Triple Pop, 2009, print. Courtesy the artist. Photography by Museums Photography North West.
Layers of cyan, magenta, and yellow hand drawn marks form the image of a mans face.
Gwilym Hughes, Salford Faces, 2018, lightbox. Courtesy the artist.

Visibilities continues at the New Adelphi Exhibition Gallery until the end of the month, closing on the 25th of August. You can read more about the exhibition here

Want to hear more from Rowan about Visibilities? Join Rowan and Stephanie Fletcher for a curators tour of the exhibition next week! 1:30pm, Tuesday 15th August 👉 Click here for more information & to book your free tickets. 

Join us for a Lunchtime Exhibition Tour – Visibilities (1:30pm, 15th Aug)

Join Visibilities curator Rowan Pritchard, with Stephanie Fletcher (Art Collection, Assistant Curator) for a lunchtime tour of Visibilities: Shaping a story of now, our current exhibition on display at our New Adelphi Gallery, before it closes at the end of August!

An images shows a man and a woman reaching out for each other and holding hands by the water front. Behind them the Wuhan skyline rises into the blue sky.
Wu Yue, Reconnected, 2020. Courtesy the Artist.

Visibilities brings together works from the Collection to explore and examine who and what is represented in our contemporary collecting, and how these visibilities shape what we think of as our ‘stories of now’.

Read more about the exhibition, here.

This informal tour will provide greater insight into the themes behind the exhibition and the work of the University’s Art Collection, as well as offer a chance to ask any questions you may have for the curatorial team about the exhibition.

Announcing the 2023/24 Graduate Scholars

The University of Salford Art Collection, alongside Castlefield Gallery, Manchester are pleased to announce the five recipients of the 2023/24 Graduate Scholarships. 

Each year, a number of bespoke scholarships are offered to graduating students from the University of Salford School of Arts, Media, and Creative Technology. This year the recipients are: 

Adam Rawlinson
Megan Brierley
Lucy Claire
Zan Atkinson
Maggie Stick

Each recipient will receive 12 months of bespoke support tailored to their individual needs and aspirations, including a programme of mentoring, coaching and professional development, Castlefield Gallery Associates membership, and studio space or place on a programme with one of our industry partners; Hot Bed Press, Islington Mill, Paradise Works, and Redeye, The Photography Network.

Director and Artistic Director of Castlefield Gallery, Helen Wewiora says:

We are delighted to welcome Adam, Megan, Lucy, Zan and Maggie to the 2023/24 Graduate Scholars programme. We can’t wait to start working with everyone. The standard of applications this year was particularly high. I know all those involved from across the Graduate Scholars programme partnership will agree that it was really tough deciding on the final awards. As the programme enters its 10th year it is really exciting to know we’ll be working with such a talented and committed group of practitioners and we look forward to another 10 successful years of the working with Salford Scholars!

In Autumn 2023 we also celebrate the 10th year of the Graduate Scholarship scheme. Over 50 graduates have taken part in the scheme since it began, from across the School of Arts, Media and Creative Technology.  Throughout the year we will reflect on and celebrate some of our scholars stories, journeys and successes – watch this space for more announcements soon!

Adam Rawlinson, It’s Nice to Be Alive, 2023. Courtesy the artist.
Zan Atkinson, A Castle in the Air, 2023. Courtesy the artist.
Megan Brierly, Blue Figure 3, 2023. Courtesy the artist.
Lucy Claire, Distorted Beauty, 2023. Courtesy the artist.
Maggie Stick, Untitled, 2023. Courtesy the artist.

The Graduate Scholarship Programme is run annually alongside Castlefield Gallery, with support from our studio partners Hot Bed Press, Islington Mill and Paradise Works, and Redeye the Photography Network. 

Announcing: Hybrid Futures

Castlefield Gallery Manchester, Grundy Art Gallery Blackpool, Touchstones Rochdale, University of Salford Art Collection and Shezad Dawood Studio are working in partnership on a pilot project that they believe will make a difference to the way that they operate. Hybrid Futures will explore collective and more sustainable ways of working that will influence how the partnership commissions, exhibits and collects new work by visual artists to benefit and be more relevant to their audiences, now and in the future.

A series of exhibitions across the North West of England will feature new work and commissions by artists Shezad Dawood, Jessica El Mal, Parham Ghalamdar and RA Walden that address the urgent thematic focus of climate change.

The partnership will also be working with a group of people from their local communities with a shared concern about the climate crisis. This group called Collective Futures will investigate how creative production can help to shine a light on these issues and create solutions to the problems caused by the changing global environment.

To find out more about Hybrid Futures, and explore the artists, partners, and venues involved, visit the Hybrid Futures website:

Coming Soon: Hybrid Futures at Touchstones, Rochdale

The first public instalment of Hybrid Futures, Shezad Dawood: Leviathan: From the Forst to the Sea, launches this week from Saturday 3rd June at Touchstones, Rochdale.

Shezad Dawood’s exhibition premieres the latest episode of his epic film series Leviathan Cycle, titled Episode 8: Cris, Sandra, Papa & Yasmine, alongside related textiles, paintings and research material. Set in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest – one of the most ecologically diverse and threatened biomes on earth, Episode 8 charts an embodied, spiritual and ecological journey along the age-old Guarani path that links the forest to the sea. 

Read more about Hybrid Futures at Touchstones, here.

You’re invited to join Touchstones on Friday 2nd June from 6pm to celebrate the exhibition opening.
To RSVP, email
Please note, RSVP is ESSENTIAL in order to manage capacity. Without RSVP, you may not be guaranteed entry to the exhibition.

Hybrid Futures, a multi-part collaboration focusing on climate, sustainability, collaborative learning and co-production between Castlefield Gallery, Manchester, Grundy Art Gallery, Blackpool, Touchstones Rochdale, University of Salford Art Collection and Shezad Dawood Studio, and generously supported by Arts Council England and Art Fund.

Student Micro Commission Opportunity: Is Anybody Listening: Our Time, Our Place

Are you a final year BA student or current MA student with an interest in socially engaged and documentary photography? Do you want to gain valuable experience of being commissioned to make new work? – ideal for your CV!

We are inviting applications from students in response to the exhibition Is Anybody Listening: Our Time, Our Place. The exhibition includes 2 series of photographs by alumnus Craig Easton, Sony World Photographer of the Year 2021: Bank Top and Thatcher’s Children.

Deadline: 9am, Tuesday 9th May 2023.


It is a significant occasion for a Northwest artist – Craig Easton – to win Sony World Photographer of the Year (2021) with his series Bank Top, created in Blackburn, as well as second place in the documentary category for Thatcher’s Children, made in Blackpool. Due to Covid-19, we were unable to celebrate this achievement within his home region.

Easton tackles stereotypes and responds to the negative way in which the main-stream media often portrays Northern communities. The relevance of Easton’s work has resurfaced in a new light as communities endure the cost-of-living crisis and face new challenges and segregation. Our Time Our Place is a touring exhibition, engagement programme and symposium delivered in partnership with University of Salford, LeftCoast, Open Eye, Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery and the Williamson Art Gallery and Museum. The exhibition is displayed at Blackpool School of Art from 11th April – 31 May.


We are offering four graduating artists an opportunity to make new work, along with a platform to showcase it, and mentoring to support the process.

The commissions aim to bridge the gaps between graduation and career launch – as well as developing connections between the University Art Collection, audiences and heritage. The four selected artists will take the exhibition Is Anybody Listening? Our Time, Our Place as a starting point – assessing how it engages people – and then take steps to involve themselves more deeply in the issues and communities of their own lived experience.

We are offering four awards of £1500 each for commissions in response to the themes in the exhibition. As well as the cash award you will also receive mentoring by Gwen Riley Jones. The selected photographers will be expected to produce new work between June – September 2023, which will be displayed in New Adelphi atrium from Nov – Dec 2023 (coinciding with the Craig Easton exhibition in New Adelphi Exhibition Gallery which launches in September and also runs to

How to apply and the selection process

Micro residency (University of Salford, School of Arts, Media and Creative Technology)
Please send a CV, images of past work and a covering letter no larger than 10 MB to: by 9am Tuesday 9th May (Extended Deadline).

Explain why you are interested in this opportunity (300 words) and how you would respond to this brief (300-500 words). Please keep your CV no longer than 2 pages of A4 and include two references from recent or current employers/ clients/ lecturers. All applications will be acknowledged with an email receipt. Should you be shortlisted, we will invite you to interview.

Interviews expected to take place Wednesday 24th May.

For more information please contact: Rowan Pritchard:


A total of £1500 is available per micro-commission. This includes your fee and all expenses such as materials, public liability insurance, expenses, site visit, meetings, user events, administration, meetings, VAT.

Is Anybody Listening? Our Time, Our Place – Timeline

Open Eye, Liverpool – Exhibition and engagement programme
January 2023 – April 2023

LeftCoast and Blackpool School of Art – Exhibition and engagement programme
April 2023- June 2023

Blackburn Museum and Arts Gallery – Engagement programme
June 2023- July 2023

University of Salford -Exhibition and engagement programme including micro-commissions
September 2023- December 2023

Williamson Art Gallery and Museum – Exhibition, engagement programme and symposium
January 2024 – March 2024

2023 Graduate Scholarship Programme: Now Open for Applications

  • Up to £1000 cash 
  • Studio space for up to 12 months 
  • Mentor support, coaching, and guidance 
  • Professional development opportunities 
  • Opportunity to have work permanently acquired into the University of Salford Art Collection

Our annual Graduate Scholarship Programme, run alongside Castlefield Gallery, is now open for applications for 2023.

Established in 2014 to support exceptional artists in the crucial first year after graduation, this 12-month programme grants graduating students from the School of Arts, Media and Creative Technology, time and resources to experiment and take risks with their creative practice within a supportive framework.

In 2022/23, we offered five scholarships to graduating artists from Fine Art and Photography alongside one place to a student graduating from the MA programmes. The Scholars are currently placed with our professional partners in  studios at Hot Bed Press, Islington Mill, Paradise Works or receiving support from Redeye, The Photography Network. In previous years we have also supported graduates from Graphics, Fashion Image Making and Styling, as well as Media and Performance and Music based courses. The programme evolves each year as we endeavour to offer opportunities to the graduates we think we can best support.

2023/24 will be the tenth year of the programme and we are working on a number of plans to celebrate this.


The scheme is only open to University of Salford final year undergraduates from the School of Arts and Media (who are due to graduate or complete their studies in July 2022) – plus there will be a maximum of one scholarship open to an MA graduate (due to graduate or complete in September 2022). 

How to apply:

Deadline: 9am, Tuesday 9th May 2023

To apply, please read the guidelines and complete the application form.

Click here to download the guidelines.

Click here to download the application form.

Your completed application form plus your CV (up to 2 pages) and image, video or sound files of your work (up to 4 files) should be emailed to by 9am Tuesday 9th May with the subject line ‘GSP Application Form 2023’.

All the information on how to apply, eligibility, and further guidance is included in the guidelines.

For any enquires contact

From the Vault: ‘I feel triangle’: art can help us confront our emotions and come to terms with them

Back in May 2022, Socially Engaged Photographer in Residence Gwen Riley Jones wrote the following blog, reflecting on her meetings and conversations with members of Salford Youth Council. Gwen met with Salford Youth Council throughout 2022, connecting with the young people, using the Art Collection as a catalyst for conversations and activities, and working on several projects with the Youth Council. You can find more details about Gwen’s work throughout her residency here.

At the culmination of her residency, Gwen’s work with the Salford Youth Council has been captured in our latest exhibition on campus. ‘Some Days I Feel Triangle’ continues in the New Adelphi Exhibition Gallery until April 28th 2023. We are sharing this blog ‘from the vaults’ with you now because it is from the discussions with members of Salford Youth Council captured here that the exhibition draws its name, and many of these early ideas about how art can be a tool for expression and wellbeing underpin Gwen’s work with the Youth Council.

For all the details on Some Days I Feel Triangle at the New Adelphi Exhibition Gallery, click here.

I love the chats that we have at Youth Council, the group are so intelligent, honest and open. I am always blown away by the insights they share and how much I relate to their explanations of the world. The group have respectful, insightful conversations and operate as a whole group in a way that some adult professionals unable to do successfully. I would like to figure out what their secret is, how do they do it – older adults have so much to learn from young people.

In this conversation we were talking about the purpose of art. As usual, some members of the group chatted while others noted down thoughts on the conversation roll. Here are some highlights:

  • Music creates an emotion and creates ART 
  • To evoke a thought/an emotional response from someone 
  • To explore emotions, to show pain 
  • To show different points of view in life 
  • To express yourself 
  • Art can be a safe space for people to express themselves 
  • Art is a way for someone to expand and communicate their visions physically and emotionally 
  • To make a safe space to relax in and a place where the artist can escape 
  • To get different ideas out into the world 
  • To explore 
  • To explore hypothetical scenarios (what if?) 

Harley said: ‘the most important reason to explore and self-express emotions through art is it’s an easy way to bring ourselves to confront those emotions especially when dealing with negative emotions, like sadness and depression’. Amber agrees.  

I asked, ‘is it easy?’

‘It is comparatively easy – you can confront them and come to terms with them, Harley said. 

Alex shared ‘I can never cry about stuff that’s going on with me, but if I watch a movie then I can cry. It’s similar to that.’ 

Amber, Ollie and Harley: ‘I can’t cry’… 

…but I find when I get something down in an artistic form, whether that be words or drawings, it helps me more easily to organise my thoughts and understand what I’m feeling.  

[I’ve only cried at one movie – INSIDE OUT (Pixar).] 

‘Inside Out.’ Image © 2015 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

Harley: ‘Emotions are abstract things. It might be hard to put into words.  

So it might be easier to put the emotion in to a picture or something more metaphysical… 

> sounds 

> colours  

> shapes >>> I’ve genuinely said to someone I feel very triangle today’


Amber and Alex: ‘YES, I always say I feel beige’

Ollie: ‘How do I just understand I’m feeling very triangle today? 

When you said it, I just got it.  

I understand why I got beige, but not triangle.’ 

Some Days I feel triangle, a digital collage created by Gwen Riley Jones in response to a conversation with Salford Youth Council and Some Days No.03, 2002 by Wang Ningde, part of University of Salford Art Collection

We asked Gwen to refelct on this blog ‘from the vaults’ in spring of 2023, after her exhibition with Salford Youth Council opened. Here are her thoughts looking back almost a year on:

This conversation resonated with me throughout my time with the Youth Council. I made this digital collage (above) while I was thinking about and processing what they said . The conversation made me think about this artwork Some Days No.3, 2002 by Wang Ningde, which I had been discussing with another group of young people. We discussed that it wasn’t clear how the subject of the image felt – happy, sad, indifferent, dreamy – everyone saw something different.

Feelings and emotions can look, feel, and are experienced differently by everyone. They can be hard to describe, hard to put in to words, and there is no right or wrong, you feel how you feel. Art can help us explore and confront our emotions, and find new ways of expressing them. Feelings and emotions pass, some days you feel one thing, some days you feel another. This is how we came to the title, Some Days I Feel Triangle. How do you feel today?

More more information on Some Days I Feel Triangle, click here.

#ThrowbackThursday – What is NOT art? Gwen Riley Jones & Salford Youth Council Discuss

In the Spring of 2022, Socially Engaged Photographer in Residence wrote the following blog post, detailing her first few meetings with Salford Youth Council. Now, a year later, our latest exhibition ‘Some Days I Feel Triangle‘ showcases the brilliant collaborative work Gwen and the Youth Council have done over the past 12 months. We’re resharing this blog today to look back at the early beginnings of Gwen’s work with the Salford Youth Council ahead of the exhibition launch next week!

Some Days I Feel Traingle opens on 1st February until the 28th of April 2023 in our New Adelphi Exhibition Gallery.

Join us for the preview! Come down to the New Adelphi Exhibition Gallery from 5:30 to 7:30pm on the 31st of January to celebrate the exhibition launch. All are welcome, refreshments will be provided, and there will be an opportunity to make your own badges to take away with you!

Gwen gets to know members of Salford Youth Council. Their conversation begins by discussing ‘What is NOT art?’

Getting to know each other – the importance of listening

In November I started attending meetings of Salford Youth Council (SYC), a youth voice group for anyone aged 11-21 who lives, is educated, or works in Salford. The group meet on a weekly basis, to plan events, work on campaigns, and promote positive stories of young people in Salford. SYC are the home of the Young Mayor and Member of Youth Parliament for Salford. 

When I first joined the group I began by listening, and joining in conversation when appropriate. I was there to get to know the group, its members and to start to understand how the groups works. 

SYC were working on a range of projects, including how to tackle hate crime, child obesity and sexual harassment in schools. They began work on a photo project for Holocaust Memorial Day, they had to take images and write a caption to the prompt – ‘One day…’. The group came up with some brilliant images and captions. I joined in to review the images each week and then the group would go out and take more images. Some people knew how they wanted to caption their images, but sometimes the whole group would collaborate to produce a caption that everyone agreed on. One member of the group is a wordsmith and wrote incredibly poetic captions for other people’s images.  

The images were shared at an event as part of Holocaust Memorial Day remembrance in Salford. You can view the images being read by member of the group, and Salford Young Mayor, Rosie 

Original drawing of the work ‘ART’ by Chinaleigh

Questioning is so important – what is NOT art?

In January I started working directly with members of the group. In the first session we had Amber, Alex, Chinaleigh and Ollie. As a place to start from I asked them ‘What is NOT art?’ which prompted a passionate and wide-ranging discussion. I recorded the conversation and have written up what they said. The group also had a roll of paper to write their responses or draw on if they preferred to contribute that way.  

Chinaleigh said ‘everything in the world could be art in its own way’ 

Ollie said ‘nothing is art – literally nothing. Nothing is not art, but nothing is also art.’ 

Alex said ‘absence of anything is art, if someone can find some kind of meaning to it or feels something then it’s probably art.’ 

We agreed that anything can be art – so I took them back to the original question – what is not art? 

‘I was going to say things that you can’t feel or see, something that doesn’t make you feel something’ 

‘You can put a filing cabinet in an empty room and someone will find a message in it.’ 

‘Is destruction art?’ – ‘I think the general consensus is yeah’ 

Amber said ‘my favourite artist uses the pain he has gone through in life to create his art. I think that’s really cool’. 

I asked can the messages in the making of the art be different to the message the audience gets from the art? 

‘Everyone can bring their own meanings’ 

Chinaleigh said ‘so like a poppy, people could say it’s for rememberace and stuff for the soldiers, but it could also be red for blood’. 

One the walls of the room we were sat in were some medical drawings, so I asked is medicine art? 

‘It can be. Science is a pretty artistic thing. Science is art – you have to draw everything out like lungs and things’ 

‘But when you think about it, everything is art, cos art is such a varied thing’. 

What makes good art or bad art? 

‘That is really subjective’ (x2) 

So, thinking about the University of Salford Art Collection, I asked them, if you were in charge how would you decide which art is good art and which art is bad art? 

‘If you want to reach as many people as possible, the people deciding should be a group with totally different interests and stuff’ 

‘You need a variety of people deciding, unless there is a theme’. 

Creating through conversation

While we were talking, Chinaleigh, who is a cadet and had come straight from training, she was dressed in a green camouflage uniform, drew this brilliant graphic image of the word ‘art’. I love it and have made it into a sticker for her and to share with the groups.  

Image of ART sticker on Gwen’s Socially Engaged Photographer in Residence Journal

The Filofax and the Ape: Material approaches to the work of Albert Adams

I was lucky enough to be invited to write and reflect upon the work of the many-faceted South African artist Albert Adams, including a brief delve into his archives which are held at the University of Salford Art Collection. An opportunity also arose for me to produce an essay on Adams for Art UK, which you can read here. In that piece I took an introductory approach to the artist, reflecting my own learning, and in this piece I wanted to take a more eclectic approach, allowing me to range between themes and pieces that grabbed my imagination. From learning to yearning, you might say. That’s not just down to my own taste, but also because Adams’ output is not at all linear in its development, though there are themes that he returns to again and again – violence, self, power, nature – in fractured and inconclusive ways. I’m interested in the materials, anecdotes and images that merge/emerge in his work, from forgotten works to the frequent appearance of the artist’s own face, to queer contexts, to the mischievous frightening ape that sits atop it all.

– Greg Thorpe, Oct 2022

‘Hung where they had been painted’

I want to start with an image that might seem innocuous at first. In his short book on Albert Adams, ‘Notes about a Friend’, the renowned Salford artist Harold Riley recalls a visit he once made to Adams’ family in South Africa. He took tea with Albert’s mother and sister in their home, “a simple house in a community, similar to a local council estate in England.”:

as we sat in the room, I saw something from the window. Behind the house was a yard bounded by two sturdy brick outbuildings. I saw something on the walls and went out to discover two paintings of great power and energy. They were hung where they had been painted, and although covered by a kind of veranda, they were open to the elements. I mentioned this to Albert’s sister who nodded but was clearly at a loss as to what to do.

Riley’s discovery is poignant and without conclusion. He later mentions the paintings to Albert’s partner, Ted, who already seems aware of their existence. Were they paintings from Albert’s young life, or had he painted them on a later visit to his family? It’s conceivable that Adams drew and painted everywhere he went, as he seems to have been extremely dedicated to his work. Did he travel to his mother’s house with blank canvases, then back to London without them? Or did he buy materials on arrival in South Africa without worrying what would happen to the abandoned paintings once they were left behind, when light and moisture, wind and weather took its gradual toll? This too is conceivable – Riley himself recalls how Adams only kept “five or six pieces of any significance” from their time together at the Slade School in London. Perhaps the works were meant as a gift for his mother, for the garden, to surprise and intrigue visitors to the house, exactly as they have done.

What was “the great power and energy” Harold Riley saw in the paintings? Where are they now? Why does this odd mention of the two unclaimed veranda paintings linger? Firstly it suggests a sense of abundance to Adams’ output – that there will always be more paintings to come. There is also a forlorn feeling about Riley’s discovery – a sense that perhaps nobody quite knew what to do with Albert’s work, then or now. Are the pieces really ‘unclaimed’ though? What would ‘claiming’ them mean? There is an acquisitiveness to this response, a sense of wanting – to keep, restore, recoup, save. Who says the work of a Black/Indian artist is better off in a gallery or archive setting that is part of a white-dominated art structure than it is hanging where it has been painted in the warm breeze of a Cape Town backyard owned by two women who loved him? Perhaps there is a colonialist mindset at play in wanting to ‘claim’ the work – and a resistance to it in the casualness of what is ‘left behind’.

Notes on the many self-portraits of Albert Adams

Look closely at your lines again –

Your life comes back through them

– ‘Self Portrait 1956’, Jackie Kay

1956, etching on paper: Side-on view, high collar and quiff, almost coquettish this look, giving soft butch like a young Black James Dean (it’s the year of Giant). 26 or 27. High youthful cheekbones elegantly rendered with cartographic contour lines. Are these ‘the lines of South Africa etched in your face’ that Jackie Kay describes? Pristine mouth. Shy cruising eye.

1956, drypoint etching: You first scratch the image onto metal (copper or zinc) then smooth over generously and neatly with ink, then the paper is pressed to plate giving life to the image in its new iteration. Draw the lines nearer together for density or darkness – but the dour expression is all the artist’s own. Glum. Perplexed? I think etched at night in a small hot room.

1958, woodcut: New etching techniques bring out Picassan facial features and a feeling of accomplished looking. Minotaur. Simian. Up-lit but emitting darkness. What has happened in these two years? Deft, dynamic – derivative? – but also daring. What does it mean for an African artist to take back what Picasso took from African art? How can we sense so well that black and white represent the same kind of skin in this image?

Albert Adams, Self Portrait, 1956, etching on paper.
Albert Adams, Self Portrait, 1956, drypoint etching.
Albert Adams, Self Portrait, 1958, woodcut.

1958, oil on canvas: Experimenting with colours in oil. Handsome in his vest, such an image ahead of its time – this could be Soho trade lit behind the window of a bar in the 90s. Fast strokes and furious curious lines. Something anticipates Basquiat in the carnival of colours going on behind the scenes. A pretty boy offering us his best side under Tibetan flags. A paperback anthology of rad young poets of colour.

1960, sugar lift aquatint: Ever the technician, hungry for new materials. Back to black, zinc and ink, real sugar, gouache and gum. Sounds thick and sticky but the results give something Grecian and elegant. Is Adams trying to learn each new stage of his craft in solitude – hence his own face over and again? – or does each portrait demand a different form in which to say something new about himself? Introspection. Be still. Focus. Albert falls into shadow here and the eyes seem to go … nowhere. But London is outside your window, Albert!

Albert Adams, Self Portrait, 1958, oil on canvas.
Albert Adams, Self Portrait, 1960, sugar lift aquatint.

1960, print: A dead-on pose for once, with lustrous hair and direct eye contact. Like a bathroom mirror beginning to fog up and drip. There are no two portraits alike, because no two days alike? What was kept and what was thrown away, and why, in these years? Adams becoming the Expressionistic printmaker capturing his own cool stare and solemnity, but there is chaos here too – in the energy of the hair that might also be the brain, the mind.

1961, etching and aquatint: 1961, the year of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, South Africa exiting the Commonwealth, Yuri Gagarin entering outer space. Albert’s face here seems to consist of pressings of bark and clay, such texture and tactility. It wants to be touched. Those pale slashes seem like a kind of solarization of matter somehow. This work would be made on an iPad today. It’s the hands that I think are the masterpiece of design and suggestion and structure. Look at that network of metacarpal and knuckle and nail. The busy hands of the artist. Is that a knife or a brush too? Hands as crucial as the face.

Albert Adams, Self Portrait, 1960, print.
Albert Adams, Self Portrait, 1961, etching and aquatint.

Queer considerations in the work of Albert Adams

but the rain

Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh

Upon the glass and listen for reply,

And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain

For unremembered lads that not again

Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.

– ‘What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why’, Edna St Vincent Millay

There is a Filofax belonging to Albert Adams which resides in the archive of the University of Salford Art Collection. Adams purchased the Filofax in 1986 and it seems to have remained in use by the artist for at least a decade. In amongst the home addresses for an international circle of friends – Brisbane, Preston, Johannesburg, Bombay, Alicante and Devon in just a page or two – and his London restaurants of choice, from Gujarati to Chinese, Brick Lane to New Oxford Street – there is an Edna St Vincent Millay poem that has been written out by Albert in longhand. I’ve quoted from it above.

I delve into the Filofax hoping to encounter something intimate and revealing, and honestly, hopefully, something gay. I wonder if his personal materials might offer a queer aspect to works that at first glance seem to say little about sexuality or gender or desire. What are we looking for, exactly, when we are looking for something queer anyway, either in a Filofax or in a body of work? And why? The word ‘lads’ makes itself known abruptly in Millay’s poem, reproduced in full in Albert’s handwriting. What goes through his mind when he is writing ‘unremembered lads’? Does he have any of his own? In Albert’s decade of bound leather, there is sometimes a man’s first name with no address or surname, only a phone number. Ask any gay man who he thinks those men might be. Then there is the occasional man’s name that has been crossed out. Entered, and then crossed out, sometime between the mid-80s to the mid-90s, in a gay man’s address book, in London. Ask a gay man what he thinks might have happened to those men. (It’s worth saying that the campest thing in the Filofax is the presence of Valerie Singleton’s home address, by the way.)

These things are only traces. They represent what I call ‘yearning’ – the desire to be connected to our queer forebears. I explore these kinds of things in my fiction, but perhaps it’s better for us to consider a different and broader picture in a queer placement of Albert Adams’ practice. For one thing, his long-term partnership with Ted Glennon is the reason we have access to the work in the first place. The fact of Adams’ romantic and sexual life is already a frame through which I have had access his art. I find this touching, as I find the relocation of his work from London to Salford pleasing. London usually gets everything, and it costs nothing to Albert’s work to house it in Salford. It’s not anchored to place in that way. That’s not to say Adams himself is placeless, only that his work holds a strong meaning through and beyond geography – it is British art, migrant art, South African, South Asian, global majority, post-colonial, diasporic, exilic work. It is also European art, and formally trained art, it is of its time and sometimes strangely timeless.

And is it also gay art? Queer art? The position of Adams as political subject must also include his marginalised sexuality. I reflect that even if he is not exactly in exile as such from South Africa while he is painting, he has rejected its white supremacy and its attempted denigration of his mixed ancestry, besides the fact that all queer subjects have existed in some state of exile from their heteronormative societies. The political affiliations of the queer subject are fluid because our adherence to the status quo is deliberately tentative and troubled/troubling. Adams is also a terrific stylist and technician who loves exploring new skills, and his influences are broad and very apparent. Is this magpie-like manoeuvring between schools and styles a queer thing? As in, outsider? As in, a non-adherence? As in, anything you can do I can do better? The works in Adams catalogue that we think of as Expressionist seem able to both collapse and splinter identity and we have seen how restless and rigorous was Adams’ reproduction of his own face, his own body as a subject. Gender and sexuality are maybe a distraction. More interesting is this sense of multiplicity in Adams’ work, of style and point of view and influence. Something non-normative that defies the white gaze (or even gays…)

Monkey on your back

A faintly ludicrous Sherlock Holmes story, ‘The Adventure of the Creeping Man’, tells the tale of an ageing man with a much younger fiancée who succumbs to quack science in a bid to regain some youthful invigoration for his forthcoming marriage. His method is to ingest drugs derived from the bodies of primates. The unfortunate side-effects include walking around on his knuckles, scaring pets, and shimmying up the ivy at the side of his house in the dead of night. In the illustrated Conan Doyle book of my childhood, the image accompanying this story was a kind of hideous gothic chimera of the old man in full-on monkey-mode, hunched and screaming upon being discovered by Holmes and Watson. This is the image that came roaring up from my subconscious on first seeing Albert Adams series of primate images. What is the ape doing here?

Adams’ ape most likely has its origins in the childhood stuffed toy that he brought with him from South Africa to England, and which now lives, somewhat forlornly, in the archives at The University of Salford Art Collection. In Conan Doyle’s story, the primate influence inside the old man represents the lust that he hopes to revive for his new marriage. And Adams ape? It seems to shapeshift and hold multiple meanings. In ‘Ape’ (2004) the stuffed toy has been touchingly reanimated into life, long-faced, and lovingly rendered, if unfinished, with dozens of fur-like strokes, benign and likeable. But it doesn’t remain tamed. ‘Ape with a Flag on a Skeletal Figure’, produced in the same year, sees the beast riding on another creature’s back as if in a victorious death march, with a black flag held aloft, its fur a kind of wild furze, while its beast of burden is an unidentifiable four-legged living skeleton.

Albert Adams, Ape, 2004, etching.
Albert Adams, Ape with a Flag on Skeletal Figure, 2004, etching and aquatint.

These ghoulish roles are then reversed for ‘Skeleton Electrocuting An Ape’, an etching that images precisely that title, the sinister twist being that the skeleton also appears to be a post-mortem ape, animated in death, and conducting some kind of hideous painful experiment on the screaming ape, its living relative. Is the ape our metaphor, our other? The cruelty it conducts is recognisably a human endeavour, so why would any metaphor be necessary? Look again at the suffering monkey’s face too and it may itself seem more human than you first thought. What is going on in these diabolical constructs? The commentary is perverse and discomfiting. Is it about racism and/or violence, animal experimentation, or is it an accompaniment to Adams’ ongoing nightmarish imagery of carceral suffering?

This latter seems more possible when we encounter ‘Ape on a skeletal figure: Darfur’ in which the skeletal figure bears an ape upon its back that seems to be composed of only shadows. Is it a cruel spirit? Again the black flag of death billows ahead. An ape in art is often shorthand for a kind of malcontent spirit, engaged in anything from simple trouble-making to evil intentions. The stripping-down to a skeleton draws ape and man closer together, we see ourselves more clearly in one another at the level of bone. Placing our own evil outside ourselves and into the body of the ape is a diversion. What the ape represents can always be us, the old, uncivilised portion of the brain that not only bonds and breeds, but kills and screams in the forest at night. These images seem to emerge from the very back of the mind, like Conan Doyle’s monkey-man did for me. They are troublesome, and by the time they take their place in ‘Ape on a standing man’, they are seemingly the ones in charge.

Albert Adams, Skeleton Electrocuting and Ape, date not known, etching.
Albert Adams, Ape on a Skeletal Figure: Darfur, 2004, etching and aquatint.

Greg Thorpe is a writer, curator and creative producer. His art writing has appeared in On Curating, FRUIT, Feast, Double Negative, Artist Newsletter and The Fourdrinier. He has written about art for the Whitworth Gallery, Manchester Art Gallery, HOME Manchester, and Salford Museum & Art Gallery. His fiction has appeared in Best British Short Stories, Foglifter and Ellipsis. He works for Islington Mill, an independent artist community in Salford, and is currently Festival Director for GAZE International LGBTQ+ Film Festival. He divides his time between Dublin and Todmorden.

The University of Salford Art collection holds a substantial collection of Albert Adams’ work and archives, acquired with the support of the Art Fund and made possible by the generosity of Edward Glennon.

Albert Adams: In Context is supported by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art and by a donor funded Salford Advantage Grant.

Further Reading:

Harold Riley, Albert Adams: Notes about a Friend, 2017, The Riley Archive.

Albert Adams: In Context’, symposium resources, 2022.

Greg Thorpe, From South Africa to the Slade: repositioning Albert Adams, 2022, Art UK.