Penny, Lally and George MacBeth: ‘Horror Vacui’

Sunday, 19th April – Friday, 1st May

At the Glorious Gallery this week is ‘Horror Vaccui’ – a fascinating exhibition that explores our fear of the void. Those that adored past exhibition, ‘Gilding the Lily’, will be thrilled to know that mother and daughter Penny and Lally MacBeth are back, this time joined by Lally’s brother, George.

As you near the gallery door, you’re met with a black, vintage frame holding Penny’s intriguingly-titled poem, ‘Thoughts on Finding the Family Archive in a Leaking Shed’. As explained by Lally in our previous interview, the family dug out a huge archive of family photos, some dating back to the 19th century! Reflecting on this treasure chest of memories, Lally went on to create ‘Everything I Have Ever Lost’ – a charming, hilarious and heart-breaking list of everything she’s ever, well – lost. On the opposite wall sit simple portraits of some of the objects, and encased below, sculptures of the items – such as loose change, lipsticks, pencils. On the other wall, many of these items are written, giving a glimpse into Lally’s world. Of the things she’s lost, some are: ‘Stuart the Caravan’, a Lapis Lazuli ring, her (stomach-dropping) passport, and ‘Henry, Harriet and Henrietta the Goldfish’.

‘I face my fear of the void by imaging everything that I have ever lost reunited’ is written in Lally’s hand, the start to her explanation of her work – uplifting and poignant all at once.

Just by the door hangs Penny’s portrait of George, the deep green of his jacket looking plush, eyes staring straight out behind thickly-rimmed glasses. In his hand he holds a magazine titled ‘Horror Vacui’, with a female celebrity on the front. Her face has been crossed out with red, the title explaining: ‘The Prince of Principle: Portrait of George MacBeth Refusing to Promote Vacuous Celebrity’.

Penny’s other paintings include ‘Portrait of Lally MacBeth in an Idealised Landscape’, showing Lally in a floral headdress, red lips pursed in a sighing pout, hand to her forehead. The vibrant pinks and yellows stand out against the deep navy background, and the eyes are soon drawn to the circles beside Lally, one showing one of Penny’s trademark flowers, the other the ‘idealised landscape’ – a castle on a hill, with boats on the sea behind it, sunny skies above. Turn to the opposite wall and you’ll see the same castle, although bigger, this time framed by gold-lined flowers and a heart.

Ever true to florals, Penny has covered two more canvases, the night-sky background theme running through them all. On a completely different note (or maybe not?) is George’s paintings, the first hanging by the window.

George’s focus for this exhibition is politicians – mainly their vacuous personalities (to use that word again). Acrylic on canvas catches them doing day-to-day things like buying ice-cream, sitting on public transport, or taking a picture with a member of the public. Below his art work sit several poems by Penny, her words as explosive as her art. The poetry spans the very personal to the more abstract, with the ‘Artist Statement’ poem sticking with me all day.

When I first arrived at the Glorious Gallery this weekend, Penny and Lally were sitting on the floor, having just finished setting up. Penny pointed out how open this exhibition was for interpretation. Walking around the room, half of me wanted to ask what each piece meant exactly, while the other half realised that sometimes, the beauty is in feeling your own way through.

Keep up with Penny’s work here, Lally’s here and George’s here.

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