Visual Arts: Crafting a new reputation

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Craft is often seen as the poor relation to fine art. Yet in their new show, Jim Partridge and Kate Blee prove themselves to be artists of note and not just a tablemaker and a milliner

The debate between art (that's fine art as in painting and sculpture) and craft (the more useful arts like furniture-making and ceramics) is an old and largely pointless one which, I'm sure, doesn't cause either Jim Partridge or Kate Blee too much concern. He works with wood; she with textiles, and they're both too good at what they do to worry about the terminology. It is, however, one of the art world's larger stupidities that things with a practical purpose (you can sit on or at some of Partridge's larger pieces and wear some of Blee's smaller ones) are often seen as humble cousins to works that offer a purely visual pleasure.

This is nonsense, of course, but it's the sort of nonsense that sticks and so their work is undervalued. Sure, Partridge is a fine craftsman: a maker of tables and turner of bowls, but at heart he's a sculptor of the highest order. His forms are simple; carved and gouged from fallen oak and scorched or limed, and often coloured on the inside. All his work, even the smallest bowls, have a great physical presence, but with this comes a lightness and a poise more usually associated with Eastern cultures. On the evidence of a new exhibition, which has just opened in London, he's a major artist.

Partridge shares the show with Kate Blee and it's a neat pairing, his monumentality offset by the delicacy of her painted silks and wools. If she worked on canvas she'd doubtless have a reputation as one of our better abstract painters, but as it is you can pick up a decent sized work for a few hundred pounds. And yes, if you want, you can wear it.

Jim Partridge & Kate Blee, Contemporary Applied Arts, 2 Percy Street, London WI (0171-436 23344) to 1 Nov

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