Halima Cassell. Mancunian Roofscapes.

An artist fascinated ‘By the architectural shapes and the rain. How buildings collected water, sun and shadows.’

By Manchester's Finest | 14 May 2019

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Cassell was born in Pakistan in 1975, was brought up in Lancashire and wandered around Manchester with her siblings.

Her first piece of work was exhibited at Manchester Art Gallery in 2006: ‘Mancunian Roofscapes’ linked the repetitive patterns of terraced houses in a piece that now seems charmingly naïve in comparison to what was to come.

The roofs of terraced houses even then had a mathematical context to her, although the word complex would soon become an ever increasing component of work. ‘I loved maths, problem solving,’ Cassell says. And the work on exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery combines mathematics, materials and different cultures. A visualisation of complex patterns.

Cassell works in clay, stone, marble, porcelain and sometimes glass. Occasionally bronze. Although venturing into stone carving seems to have been partly the frustration of ‘spending 200 hours on a piece and then finding it cracked when it comes out of firing.’

But repairing cracks has also added an extra beauty to some pieces, repaired with resin and gold leaf. Having worked for long periods in Italy and Japan, materials influence the pieces that she creates. Italy to Cassell is stone, clay Japan. Although the origin of the clay also influences the sculpture. ‘I see a sculpture within the material.’

Clay is – I have learnt from this exhibition – different in different parts of the world. It seems obvious to me now that it would be, but not something that I’ve considered before. ‘Welsh clay cracks, I add fibres to clay from Pakistan. I have to remove bits of plastic and donkey hairs from Cuban clay.’

There’s a scientific knowledge of materials as well as an instinctive, visceral assessment. So now we have science to add to complexity and mathematics.

Cassell worked through a BTEC diploma in Art and Design at Blackburn College, BA and then MA at UCLAN, followed by a qualification in Technology for Design Makers at Manchester City College…taking in roof tops, water sun and shadows along the way.

Very much a local woman after an early life in Kashmir. She has work in many public collections, including the V&A and Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, but notably outdoor public art in Blackburn, the Ribble Valley and Liverpool amongst others.

She aims to connect nature, link cultures and a ‘dream state of creating movement.’ Shapes and patterns are mesmerising. Somehow just when you feel that you’ve worked out how the shapes work there’s another aspect to throw you off track.

And so I guess the pieces that I like best are those that are just beautiful shapes and combinations of materials that don’t present the challenge of figuring out the mathematics.

I visited the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, some years ago. Walking into Manchester Art Gallery (from a rainy Mosley Street) I was instantly reminded of that space in Qatar. Not because of the Manchester architecture (and I have used a couple of shots from Doha as a reference point with this piece) but the many, many sculptures before me.

Manchester roof tops and the Museum of Islamic Art, do, it seems, have tangible connections in the world of art.