Walking through Sheffield railway station and exiting via the back is something I have only done before to get the tram out to Meadowhall but if you cross the tracks and turn left you find yourself in the shadow of the majestic ‘streets in the sky’ that is Park Hill. If you follow on up the road, within minutes you are at the door of the impressive Scottish Queen Gallery located within Park Hill.
Park Hill is a Grade II listed building (and incidentally the largest listed property in Europe) originally built as a ‘walkway in the sky’ (wide enough for a milk float) where Sheffielders living in city centre sub-quality housing in 1961 (overcrowded back to back houses many with outside toilets) were rehoused.
Now Park Hill is a tale of two halves. One half, including the Scottish Queen Gallery, has been stunningly transformed by Urban Splash into trendy urban dwellings. Despite Park Hill being purchased for a nominal £1 in 2005, the new apartments start at an inflated £145,000 and 600 people should be living here by the end of the year. Their colourful panels of red, orange, yellow and green echo a Mondrian painting. Meanwhile the other half of Park Hill, over to the right, remains undeveloped and unloved with smashed windows and metal grilles in abundance patiently awaiting regeneration.
I have to remind myself that I am in Sheffield and not Shoreditch as hipsters who have already moved in next door walk their dachshunds past the debris that evokes a past in which Park Hill became synonymous with drugs, destitution and crime.
The space outside the Scottish Queen Gallery has been beautifully landscaped and planted with flowers and grasses giving an impressive foreground to the Sheffield panorama beyond. Inside the gallery we see the unadorned walls and structural features of the building laid bare. The current exhibition there is no wealth but life / Peter Doig printmaker is a collection of prints owned by one Sheffield resident, Tim Dickson, who has written an informative leaflet to accompany the show telling us that Printmaking for Peter Doig is not just a by-product of his painting but integral to his working process.
The prints exhibited have their origins in film, photography, painting and advertising, however they have been reconfigured from their original context to give new and alternative interpretations. The prints reveal a rare insight into the history of Peter Doig’s art career; from the monochrome prints of the nineteen eighties including Naked City (1986), that reveal his interaction with cityscapes over continents, through to present day works made in his home in Trinidad.
If you are familiar with Peter Doig’s paintings you will recognise their origins in some of these prints, as his completed paintings are often developed from an image that was first made as a print. This is evident in Lapeyrouse Wall (2005) where a man is carrying an umbrella as he walks the length of a wall; this is further developed in the painting of the same name from 2008.
A recurring presence in his paintings is the figure with long dark hair, so it is no surprise to see the same figure here in his prints. Also ever present are canoes. Looking at those canoes I think wistfully that I too could sail away to a distant and less stressful land just as Doig, now living in Trinidad, has done. We can see glimpses of Trinidad as Doig often shows us the view beyond his window in his art works. So it is appropriate that these stunning works on paper sit in a gallery which is all about the views beyond the gallery. How fortunate is Sheffield to have such a fabulous, spacious and light gallery space overlooking the city centre? And what a coup to have the UK’s first exhibition of Peter Doig’s printworks!
Park Hill is an ever present structure that dominates the Sheffield skyline (that some refer to as a monstrous blot on the skyline; not a view I share) but Sheffield residents rarely see it close up. Visiting this gallery and this great exhibition is a good excuse to make your way up to Park Hill and there is the added bonus of a bird’s eye view of the city.
There is no wealth but life / Peter Doig printmaker is on until 24th October at The Scottish Queen, 21-24 South Street, Park Hill, Sheffield S2 5QX. The gallery is open Thursday-Saturday 12-5pm.