In Haunt

Dabbling in the dark arts could be seen as particularly Gothic, and Manchester Gothic Arts Group do just that – literally. Typically referred to as M:GAG, this collective was formed in 2005 with the aims of exploring the Gothic, a range of media and encouraging artistic and spiritual expression.

The M:GAG motto, 'A POSSE AD ESSE', standing for ‘From Possibility to Reality’, underlines their appreciation of the positive power of Gothic artistry. It certainly can be seen in their latest exhibition ‘A Motely Brew’ with Carl Pugh, as part of Gothic Manchester Festival 2018, which launched on Tuesday 24th July at Sandbar, complete with DJ sets – and marking more than a decade of work from the group. 

This latest exhibition also celebrated one of the newest members of M:GAG, Carl Pugh – who kickstarted his creative career working in an advertising agency in 1980s Manchester. He is known for his dark artistry in areas of technical art and gaming, after working in the art department at Ocean Software – going on to work on the likes of Resident Evil, Dead Rising and Devil May Cry. He now aims to reveal more darkness through illustration.

But M:GAG doesn’t just explore art in its physical form, it also incorporates a variety of experiences and influences into the work. ‘A Motley Brew’ underlined this; a melting pot of ideas and a panorama of the paranormal which remained free to visitors throughout the Gothic Manchester Festival.

A range of exhibitions in the city have been thanks to the work of M:GAG over the years, including ‘Crafting the Weird’ and ‘Black is Such a Happy Colour’. These have included creative expression not just through painting, writing and performance, but increasingly adventurous forms including digital art and installation pieces.

They’ve also celebrated 'The Gothic North', with a highly popular feature in 2016. 

But how did M:GAG come about? The concept was actually born out of ArA, the Gothic club-like night which still takes place every month in Sacred Trinity Church in Salford. It was here the founding members of the group - Kolyn Amor, Matthew Carson and Liz Watkin (née Yates), came together.

With their common interests in art and expression, M:GAG was founded in 2005, with their first exhibition ‘Unmasked’ following shortly after. Differing from the imposing presence some people may associate with exhibiting, M:GAG’s exhibitions are experimental  yet accessible and friendly – daring to be different in art whilst still to reaching out to a variety of people. 

It was shortly after ‘Unmasked’ that Neil Watkin joined the group, followed by Julie Dawson in October 2016. 

Each artist involved brings a particular style, making M:GAG a group of diversity, with their work attracting a range of interest. Kolyn Amor, for example, has also been an actor and writer, channelling his creative passions through establishing 'The Altær': an ongoing creative and spiritual project. He regularly exhibits and curates around the city, and serves as artist in residence at Sacred Trinity. With works such as 'Sacrifice Your God' (2015), Kolyn’s art is visually powerful and often encourages a deeper consideration of self and spiritual identity.

Along with Kolyn, Matt Carson yvesravenart.org.uk was also one of the original ArA DJs and his artwork often incorporates layering, digital manipulation and a blend of human and natural influences in particular. Exhibiting since 2002, his work is known to reveal both the mysterious and the spiritual – and Matt is keen to explore the connection between these two factors which society often portrays as in opposition. 

After all, testing boundaries and exploring spirituality is a key theme of the work of M:GAG – and this can also be  seen in the work of Liz Watkin, who holds a BA(Hons) in Contemporary Fine Art and a Post Graduate Certificate in Contemporary Fine Art. As well as her existing experience in the details of fine artistry, Liz often works in mixed media including collage, assemblage and abstract painting. 

A number of pieces of Liz’s work also take inspiration from the Japanese idea of Wabi Sabi – the idea that beauty can be found in the imperfect.  This involves her incorporating worn and weathered objects, and using them as materials to create art which encourages introspection and thought. 

Photography also features in M:GAG, as Neil Watkin is both a photographer and digital artist. Significantly inspired by the Gothic as well as vampire and steampunk subcultures, his work often blends these displays of expression with the dramatic natural landscape. 

A key point of M:GAG also is that the members involved are diverse creatives in their own right – creating  much more than just physical artworks – as for example, Neil is also the creator of 'Charity Bizzare' steampunk adventure stories. He also directed a music video for the Gothic rock band Vampyre Heart.

Julie Dawson also holds a number of Gothic interests which inform her art, as she is a mixed-media artist actively involved in Gothic and steampunk communities. She also took part in the 2017 Gothic Manchester Festival Fashion Show, highlighting the impact of artistry in the areas of fashion and community involvement.

And what next for M:GAG? It has been a busy few years for the group, as 2017 marked 10 years since their initial ‘Unmasked’ exhibition and a key reason to celebrate ten years of artistic experimentation and intrigue. Also known for their public exhibitions and accessibility, M:GAG have shown themselves to be an innovative group making an active contribution to the artistic life of Manchester. Expect plenty more mysterious and mind-opening art to come. 

By Emily Oldfield

Photo credit: Helen Darby

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