The Sheffield (Print) School

On Wednesday night I stepped from a moody January evening into the Millennium Gallery’s new Printing Sheffield exhibition with an expectant heart and a curious mind. People dear to me were showing work, along with folk I’d admired for ages and new talent too. How could you possibly represent the exploding Sheffield printmaking scene in a single exhibition? Whose work would hang next to whose, and would there be a Sheffield theme shared throughout? To say I had Sheffield on my mind as I clapped eyes on the tidy-sized crowd spilling out of the exhibition doors would be understating the case.

The fruits of labour of 30 contemporary printmakers began to hove into view. Spectators were by turns giddy and intent, hugely absorbed in what they had come to see. I could steal initial glimpses of prints, through heads, bodies and conversations. A riot of colour, form, text and place announced its presence as I manoeuvred my way through the clusters of guests round pretty much every piece of work. I started to get a tingly sensation: I was in no doubt that what I was witnessing here was very special indeed.

The fact is, Printing Sheffield more than does justice to contemporary printmaking and art in Sheffield right now. Landscape, street, pastoral, abstract, figurative: a panoply of styles and traditions combine to give the visitor a rich experience of the artistic prowess going on all around them in studios and attics in our city’s streets. The exhibition affords the city’s printmaking stars their rightful place, status and kudos: in a major regional museum.

I loved ALL of the work: that’s no exaggeration or sweet talking or small thing. Mentioning individual artists seems churlish, as each printmaker deserves your attention, time and understanding. But hell, it’s my blog, so I will pick my personal highlights:

Florence Blanchard’s urban abstracts, paens to science that manage to be both minimal and majestic

Paul Morrison’s frieze of golden flora, a luxe pastoral for modern times

Kid Acne’s ‘Oh My Days’ print, for the vernacular it celebrates and the specific place in time it conveys

Jonathan Wilkinson’s The Motorway and The Meadows plate, a fitting commemoration of one of South Yorkshire’s great lost landmarks (and yes, reader, I’m also married to him)

Kate Thornton’s bird-shaped map of Sheffield: a clever take on our greener-than-green city (and in spite of my inbuilt Northern Irish superstition, I’ve got a thing about birds)

James Green’s linocut donkey prints: a deft fusing of form and content, full of folk and soul

Jane Elliot’s playful contemporary pastorals of treehouses and alpine settings: ultra-delicate and oh so carefree

Peter York’s panorama woodcut of woodland for its sheer depth and texture, a love-letter to Sheffield trees

Looking at the body formed by this set of diverse printmakers, I was struck by the feeling that I was looking not just at a remarkable exhibition, but a movement. Call it the Sheffield School, or the Sheffield Print School: there’s no doubt that the community making art, prints and crafts in Sheffield is already achieving big things. Printing Sheffield emanates a huge confidence and artistic largesse. You can tell that these are artists working in their prime, they know their minds and their style, and that’s exciting and powerful to observe. I’d bet my bottom dollar (or pound single, for that matter)  that the talent Printing Sheffield shows off in one of the north’s great museums will do for printmaking doing that thing we’re not so great at in this city: putting it on the map.

Printing Sheffield is now at Millennium Gallery, Sheffield and runs till 15 June 2014. Open Monday-Saturday 10am-5pm; Sunday 11am-4pm.

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Measuring out Sheffield with coffee spoons

I am never as happy as when I’m in cafés. I am a caffeinista, you could say, always on the hunt for new places to hang out, drink mind-blowing coffee and span time, as I’m sure the line in Buffalo 66 goes (not spend time). But this blog post isn’t all about me , oh no no. It’s actually more about how a city or place’s cafés speak volumes about the cultural state of things. In other, and local, words: Sheffield, at last, is getting the café culture it deserves.

I’ve lived in Sheffield 14 years now (shhhh!) and while that’s not a lifetime, it’s a fair swathe of adult life. For a very long time,  I would wager, there was no café scene at all. Rare and wonderful joints like Casablanca’s – as it was known in my time in Sheffield – (also went by the name of Mr Kyte’s; now The Green Room) gave us hope, but for the most part, coffee and conversation took place in terraced houses, bars and greasy spoons. The super-duper Showroom, of course, has held its own for 15-20 years now as a home for all things artistic and a place for the countercultural to meet. A honorary mention must also go to Bukowski’s cafe/wine bar which existed decadently and dangerously for a flash in the early 2000s, when it felt that Sheffield was really having a Bacchanalian/Berlin moment (cf Absynthesis in the Drums).

But while I’m tempted to get all misty-eyed about those rollicking film/art/spoken word times of the mid-noughties, I’ve got a serious point to make here. I do believe Sheffield’s got a new spring in its step, a South Yorkshire swagger, that shows its growing self-belief. We have serious creative, craft, entrepreneurial and food communities here now who are taking risks, getting noticed, going places.  Creatives, thinkers and doers need places to meet and talk. That’s what cafés have traditionally been about, for centuries.  A space for socialising, conversation, community. There’s finally an air of transformation about our city, as neighbourhoods start to sprout the cafes (and shops) that locals want in places like Heeley/Meersbrook, Abbeydale/London Road (see ohgosh’s ace map) and Sharrow Vale. Even though there’s still argy-bargy aplenty about the future of the city centre, The Moor development’s taking shape and interesting things are happening again on Division Street (parts are still a battleground).

My point is, Sheffield’s evolved culturally over the past few years, no doubt about it. It’s in part due to the efforts of the City of Culture bid, that was a game-raiser, and it’s also down to a collective of creative thinkers and doers who get their hands dirty doing things, connecting people, making a living and supporting one another. We have food bloggers like Feast and Glory who do excellent work promoting the city’s food scene and pioneers like Our Favourite Places who celebrate our culture tirelessly. *Obviously* the Glastonbury Arctics-generated 0114 hashtag had a hand in things as well.  And the Jessica Ennis afterglow. The fact is,  for the first time, it feels like Sheffield no longer Manchester or Leeds’ poor relation, and the café society that’s emerging is a big, traffic-stopping neon sign that proves it.

Here are my favourite new cafés round and about:

Homemade by Thelma’s

Recently relocated from Sharrow Vale to bigger premises smack bang in the middle of Nether Edge, Homemade by Thelma’s is my idea of the perfect café.  Three veggie salads a day to die for, hearty US and Mediterranean-style sandwiches, and divine cake. Think Ottolenghi meets Nigella: what a heady mix. Bistro nights will be starting up soon too, and packed they will rightly be.

Tamper, Seller’s Wheel

A stylish, post-industrial coffee bar in the heart of the CIQ, with New Zealand creds and seriously cool coffee. The service is splendid, the crockery has vintage touches, and the coffee is probably the best in the city. Food is imaginative, brunchy and artesan. Arrive early. It gets busy. What can I say? It’s top-class.

Amici & Bici

Occupying the pleasing corner spot between Abbeydale and Chipping House Road, Amici & Bici is the Sheffield outpost of the growing trend of bike cafés sweeping the nation. Superb coffee, doorstep sandwiches, comfort food in mid-century modern-inspired surroundings.  Plenty of high chairs too, which is handy if you have small kids. I like it. This corner of Abbeydale should definitely be able to support Amici and Bragazzi’s.

Cafe des Amis

A Turkish/Mediterranean café  that’s brought decent coffee, wifi and falafel to a long-starved Meersbrook massive. The coffee’s strong (can you handle it?), the service’s zippy and the food is Turkish with a French twist. Ideal for family lunches or solo missions with laptop/time out alike.

Cafe Ceres

Not strictly new, but Café Ceres opened new premises on Hunter’s Bar roundabout last year. It gets a special mention in my café  list because their all-day veggie breakfast is awesome, the aesthetic is all gingham and teacups, plus they have a capacious upstairs, which is dead handy given just how thriving  Sheffield’s cafe society can be of a time-pressed lunchtime.

One last plea to independent coffeehouses across the city and further afield: don’t forget the baby-changing facilities!  Many of your daytime customers are going to be parents on leave, after all.

And remember: anytime is coffeetime…

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