Beauty in the details: British artists create miniature masterpieces

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When art galleries and museums closed last year, Simon Martin offered a solution that ended up attracting the best of British art: he called on 30 of Britain’s top artists to create works that fit in the palm of your hand.

“Luckily most of them said yes,” he said. As it happens guest host Peter Armstrong.

Martin is the director of the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester, West Sussex, where in June, the work will be exhibited in a miniature gallery.

The paintings, photographs, ceramics and sculptures themselves are all less than 20 centimeters, and the gallery itself should be about the size of a refrigerator.

Maggi Hambling’s piece Naked Night is one of the works on display. (Pallant House Gallery)

“I think artists, they’re intrigued by things like that,” Martin explained. “They love this idea of ​​playing with scale and trying to condense ideas – often quite complex – into a fun way to create works. And I think for a lot of people it provided something of a little lighter in this terribly horrible time.”

Damien Hirst created a miniature painting for the exhibition. While his spin paintings are normally about three meters wide, Martin says the artist has managed to recreate his signature style of swirling colors on a smaller scale.

Lubaina Himid is also featured in the miniature art gallery. She was the first black woman to win the Turner Prize in the UK in 2017. Himid’s paintings focus on cultural history and reclaiming identities.

“She created this beautiful collage painting on wood panel, which is figurative and such an upbeat and luminous painting,” Martin said.

“It makes you smile, you know? At the same time, there’s a playfulness to it, but actually some of the works still have a pretty serious intent.”

All artists have donated their miniature art to the permanent collection of Pallant House Gallery. Their work will be exhibited alongside two other miniature art galleries, together presenting a time capsule of 80 years of British art.

The piece created by Lubaina Himid for the show. (Pallant House Gallery)

Martin originally came up with the idea based on the other miniature pieces.

“I [thought] it could be a really interesting thing to revisit, 20 years later, to ask artists today.”

His aim was also to inspire people in the UK art world to keep working during the pandemic. In April 2020, Martin was “struck” to see people “suddenly unable to work in their studios”.

“Everybody had to be home and a lot of artists were trying to homeschool their kids. And I was like, ‘Well, what’s a manageable project in this situation? How can people- they still be creative on a manageable scale?’

“In the midst of a pandemic, being able to create a work that will collectively create an exhibition, that will have a long-term future, I think is also a very beautiful thing to do.”


Written by Mehek Mazhar. Interview with Simon Martin directed by Chris Trowbridge.

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