It’s February, a month of renewal – and love, apparently. Hard to remember these things, when we are reminded, every nanosecond it seems, of an impending apocalypse. Even if you are canny enough to avoid social media, you’ll still be subject to streams of interruptions.
Exploring these themes is the show It’s Here Somewhere. “In the middle of trying to figure out what to say to you about this, I could hear my mum asking me about insurance. It’s modern-day life,” laughs artist Steve West as we talk about the show, which takes place at Espresso Library and runs until 20 February. “That change of concentration and situation is magnified with social media. I don’t subscribe to that, I try to minimise my own exposure to it,” he says.
Luckily for us, Steve has been able to step away and is back making new art after a ten-year break, using the floor to work and using acrylic, spray paint and screen print to create his stunning abstracts; work that somehow transforms the complex nature of life today into pieces that invite synergy, edge and originality. A visual sound clash of harmony meeting chaos.
“I like the finished pieces to have some sort of rhythm, to be in some sort of balance, yet with a narrative running through – to keep the eye moving,” Steve says. “My paintings are possibly too balanced, but they need to be resolved. That’s the best way to go through life, a bit like a builder would do, but with abstract language rather than bricks and mortar.”
Bright bold colour fills Espresso Library, singing with the joy of fresh renewal. “That constant change, trying to balance things. Resolve things. Making those priority decisions, harmonising and balancing the abstract – is what I am reflecting,” Steve says. Visual slices of optimism, perhaps reflective of Steve’s rejection of the echo chamber, a boombox, it seems, of modern-day life’s ‘series of crescendos’. “I don’t understand why I am so unusual in rejecting it all,” he says, genuinely mystified. “I need solitude to make art.” Go visit – you’ll forget about Armageddon.
Another welcome, magical treat for your diaries is a talk with Menna van Praag at Waterstones on 5 February. She’ll be discussing her new book The Sisters Grimm, a feminist retelling of fairy tales. Part of a rising literary trend that also gave us Madeline Miller’s Circe; this space where magic and ancient myth meets feminism and fiction is exactly what we need in a world dominated by warring patriarchs.
Menna’s writing has long sung with a touch of the ethereal, taking us off to a Cambridge that is full of magic, but with The Sisters Grimm you can feel poetry, too, pushing through the prose – a fresh edge to her work, emboldened, perhaps by its sparkling, feminist undertones. As “The Sisters Grimm are daughters of air – at least they begin that way – born of dreams and prayer, faith and imagination, bright-white wishing and black-edged desire,” she writes. Perfect for snapping up at this time of year, which starts with Imbolc on 1 February; traditionally the festival of Brigidh, patron saint of poets. Mother’s Day is also around the corner, and this reads like a love letter of sorts to daughters and to motherhood itself. “For, to conceive a being who can bear and birth life herself needs a little something… extra. Every daughter is born of an element, infused with its own particular powers.” A novel full of fallen stars, thieves and possible murderers, a reminder that without the darkness, there can be no light.
So that’s settled then. In dark times let’s hear it for love and optimism. Enjoy Cambridge Queer Valentines at Cambridge Junction on 13 February, in aid of the Kite Trust. A night of acrobats, comedy and contemporary dance – this sounds brilliant. Or watch out for arts charity Rowan’s next exhibition at Chesterton Community College. After the success of their first charity art exhibition in February 2019, over 120 canvases have been created by artists keen to get involved with Rowan, which supports adults with learning disabilities. The event shows a range of artists from all backgrounds, working across many media on 120 16x12in canvases – an invitation for artists to celebrate their worlds – whether a person, place, occasion, hobby, love or passion. With the last show raising £5,000, this is a fabulous way to support Rowan – a Cambridge-based arts centre and charity where artists and craftspeople work with people with learning disabilities. They provide a safe, creative and unique environment where students thrive and grow artistically and in confidence and self-esteem. Visit rowanhumberstone.co.uk for more information, or support the exhibition to help create a better world, on 8 and 9 February.