In the Old Morgue in Stonehouse, a six-foot queen looks down on an ancient game. As she stands tall and commanding, players compete until victory is declared with the death of a king. This is chess: both the opening of an intriguing art exhibition and a blitz tournament attracting club players from all over Devon and Cornwall. For everyone taking part this is not just a game.
Believed to have originated in India in the 7th Century, chess has been played as a battle of wits for more than fifteen hundred years. Now an exhibition by artist, Miranda Housden, “Players”, promises to be psychologically compelling. A celebrated sculptor of more than thirty years, this is Miranda’s first exhibition as a painter. Her friend and former lecturer, Andrew Stahl, artist and Professor at the Slade School of Fine Art, says a new body of work by Miranda is always an occasion:
“Miranda is an out-of-the-box wild and completely inspirational crazy artist with an instinct for surprise and massive celebration.”
It’s likely that the Players exhibition will live up to Andrew’s expectation: she has depicted each of the thirty-two pieces on a chess board as a representation of someone she knows, transferring her emotions and memories associated with each of her ‘subjects’ onto canvas.
“Behind each painting,” says Miranda, “is a real person and a relationship that is constantly at play. Exploring scale from the towering bishop to a minute pawn, it is the six-foot black queen – my mother – who dominates.”
Miranda’s inspiration for the ‘chess’ paintings began during Covid following a conversation with a stranger online. Imagining the pieces as real people, Miranda started to think about how, over a lifetime, people drop in and out of our lives becoming more, or less, significant:
“I started working on this in lockdown,” she says, “and spent many months selecting characters, agonising over relationships, and swapping people in and out of the game.”
Just as the game inspired the exhibition, so the exhibition now returns to the game. Miranda has invited chess clubs from across Devon and Cornwall to do battle under the paintings on the opening night. Phil McConnell, Secretary of the Torbay Chess League (covering the South Devon area), says the games will be fast and furious:
“Typically, a traditional game of chess lasts more than three hours but with Blitz Chess it’s reduced to about ten minutes: it’s really exciting to play and really exciting to watch.”
The competition is also hotting up, says Phil, because of the trophy:
“Chess trophies aren’t normally very exciting!”
This one is unique. It has been designed and made by Miranda’s close friend, the internationally renowned glass artist, Gill Mannings Cox, who is herself depicted in the exhibition as one of the two black bishops (the other ‘is’ her friend Andrew Stahl from the Slade). For Miranda, however, it is more than just a prize, and will be presented in memory of her grandfather, Richard, who taught her how to play the game when she was a young girl. Now more than fifty years later, her grandfather is back in the room as the white rook along with thirty-one extraordinary paintings which collectively convey that life is more than just a game. Players the exhibition by Miranda Housden opens on Friday the 19th of May with a private view in The Old Morgue in Stonehouse during which the chess tournament will take place.
The exhibition runs until Saturday the 22nd of July. For more information visit mirandahousden.com