I got a text from a friend telling me that I should try and catch a pop-up exhibition of paintings on the third floor of 54 Port Street, above the vintage clothes shop. It seemed unlikely, but I’m never one to ignore a tip from a trusted source. So, I went along.
The artist is Ollie Bennison and the title of the show is DOOM LOOP. When I arrived the show of around twenty works in a clean white space had the added advantages of no other visitors at the time and a couple of benches for sitting and contemplating the paintings.
Having the time and space to look and contemplate is always good, but from even the first viewing it was easy to see that the purely abstract work is of a very high quality, with a sureness of touch and awareness of colour that made the visit well worthwhile.
There’s a title board – Doom Loop – and a list of 50 or 60 words and phrases that encapsulate the chaos of time between March 2020 and now.
When they are all put together it really has been a mess – from Covid to Ukraine and everything in between – for over two years. And yet the list was obviously compiled tongue in cheek and in some peculiar way almost humorous.
When I caught up with Ollie later that day he told me that he was asked to write some words introducing the exhibition, didn’t want to be pretentious or arty farty and just wrote down the things that had sent him to his basement in Didsbury to paint during that time.
But what is most remarkable is that Ollie hadn’t painted anything at all until just before the first lockdown.
“I trained as an architect, my BSc at Sheffield Hallam and then a Masters in Liverpool. I’d never painted anything, didn’t follow the Manchester art scene. Had no interest really. Then one day at the end of 2019 I just went down to Cass Art on Oldham Street and bought a load of painting gear.”
“I still don’t really know why, it was out of the blue. But it equipped me to paint during lockdown and the doom that overtook us. In furlough I painted every day for four months.”
We talked more about his architectural training and ultimately, he agreed that a semestre of his training had maybe sunk subconsciously into his mind. That semestre was in Berlin and then more specifically at Anhalt University in Dessau – with its Bauhaus buildings on campus.
‘The cradle of modernity,’ where each and every branch of art and design found new direction a century ago. Of course, Ollie was studying architecture but, he said, “I guess the whole atmosphere and creativity I experienced there had sunk in in different ways. Because I hadn’t painted previously, I had no restrictions. Working as an architect I had always been technical, but I just became more and more loose putting oil on canvas and acrylic on steel. A mate of mine wasn’t furloughed, was working at an air conditioning firm in Trafford Park and brought me offcuts of plywood to paint on. I love the materiality of surfaces.”
When contemplating Ollie’s paintings perhaps the most striking thing is that although purely abstract, there is an inherent structure to them. The technical then combined with dropping all of the restrictions that are a necessity in planning and architecture.
They are beautiful paintings and Ollie seems a little bemused himself about how he has created them. But then he is a newcomer to the fine art scene, with no preconceptions.
Doom Loop – Ollie’s first show – is only on until May 29th. I’m sure that other opportunities will arise to see Ollie’s work, but a visit to 54 Port Street this week will be well worth making.