1 CLARENCE ST | NE2 1YH | TUESDAY – FRIDAY | 11AM – 4PM | SATURDAY 1 – 4PM |
PAINTING FOR FUN (AND FREE) TUESDAYS | 10AM – 12PM and 2PM – 4PM |
Part of The Biscuit Factory collective that sits at the top of The Ouseburn, The Holy Biscuit is a two-room art gallery and arts organisation based in a refurbished Methodist Church. Whereas The Biscuit Factory can tend to feel like an enlarged artistic shop, The Holy Biscuit loses any sense of consumerism and focuses on the exhibition of contemporary art. They determinedly connect community, contemporary art, and theology under the same roof through their exhibitions and events that range from film screenings to communal meals, talks, events, discussions, workshops and classes. Although funded by and focused on Methodism in the North-East, they work with and welcome people of all faiths – and none. Other than their architectural base, I wasn’t even aware that they were a Methodist organisation until I looked up their history after my visit. The Methodism backdrop is an entirely welcoming one, not exclusory.
It’s a quick 20-minute wander down from Jesmond, and the current exhibition, The Holy Biscuit Student Open Call 2017 makes for a nice little activity, as the artists can be found in the rooms exhibiting their work to talk through it with visitors.
Also, next up to try out is their super fun idea that runs every Tuesday, from 10am-12pm or 2pm-4pm, called Painting For Fun. It’s completely free of charge; all you have to do is rock up in some clothes you don’t mind getting covered in paint, and you’re able to sit around with some friends or meet some new people whilst having a little oil painting session. All the supplies are provided by The Holy Biscuit. I have zero artistic talent, but they insisted anyone is welcome just as a fun activity to do with friends, even if we’re limited to painting stick figures. The reviews are exclamatory, as many members of the local community have used it as a process of mindfulness and an activity to structure their lifestyle.
Back to the current exhibition that’s on. In the first room, what I initially took to be contemporary sculpture and artwork I was never going to quite ‘get’, and imagined I’d whiz around in a few minutes, was totally transformed by the kind invigilator’s illuminating words. Who I thought to be the attendant on duty, was in fact the artist Janice Palmer, who explained the main ideas behind her work for me.
In response to the open brief of ‘Newcastle’s Ouseburn’, Janice created a series of pieces which make use of materials that represent the old industrial legacies of the Ouseburn – the glassworks, the lead industry, and the coal industry. Old glass pharmaceutical bottles, lead sheeting, and wood from the rotting husks of barges used to transport coal up the River Tyne make up the basis of the work. She told me how the site of the old Northumberland Glassworks factory is now the foundations of the much-loved gig-space and pub The Cluny. A photograph of her leadworks piece is in situ at its old home, now the adorable Ouseburn Farm. Before the farm was able to sell the produce grown and fed to the animals there in their little café, the entirety of the soil had to be filtered and cleaned due to the generations of lead contamination from the leadworks. Old plaques by the banks of the Ouseburn mark the site of the old glassworks. Janice’s description of her artwork is fascinating through its insight into the area’s performance in Newcastle’s industrial revolution. Her input adds such dynamism to an exhibition which I probably would have whipped around in 5 minutes otherwise. In another series, she explains how the materials used to make cubic boxes and the quotations underneath them each reflect a different period of her life – my favourite is one which represents the birth of her first daughter: birch wood, for rebirth, and the quotation below from the Italian poet Arrigo Boito, in Verdi’s opera Falstaff:
When I saw you
I fell in love, and
Because you knew.
Janice is a mature fine-art student at Northumbria University, hence featuring in the student open call. She is certainly not a ‘student’ though; some of her work is currently exhibited in the Alnwick Woodland Walk, at Alnwick Castle’s famous garden.
In the next room, Joy Labinjo’s stylised portraits are eye-catching and wonderful, dominating the satirical series titled ‘Ladies Who Lunch Paint’.
It’s a teeny little place, run by a lovely bunch of genuinely welcoming individuals. Pop in for a quick browse, or check their full schedule of events online below.