Playful art exhibition coming to gallery in tribute to artist

Art by Elly Thomas and Adam James

Elly Thomas' Untitled, 2019, left, and Adam James' An Extension of Us photographed by Tim Bowditch. - Credit: Elly Thomas / Tim Bowditch

A new exhibition launching in Hatfield next year will posthumously celebrate the work of an artist.

UH Arts presents Play Full from Tuesday, March 2 to April 17, 2021, in both physical form at the University of Hertfordshire and as a digital exhibition.

The two-person exhibition celebrates the playful works of artists Adam James and Elly Thomas.

It's especially poignant as one of the exhibitors, Elly Thomas, died earlier this year.

Art by Elly Thomas

Elly Thomas, Untitled, 2019, Papier-mache, latex, fabric. Photography courtesy of the artist. - Credit: Elly Thomas

Play Full will be the first major exhibition of her work following her passing in the summer.

UH Arts began working on this exhibition over a year ago, before COVID-19 turned the world upside down.

The exhibition was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic and tragically in July, Elly passed away at the age of 42 after a long illness.

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Head of UH Arts, Annabel Lucas, said: “We are deeply saddened by the loss of Elly and are committed to delivering the exhibition she would have wanted.

"We look forward to celebrating her remarkable artistic practice through this exhibition, developed in collaboration with her friends and family.”

The show considers the relationships between art, play and playfulness, and invites the viewer to pay attention to these integral, yet often overlooked, components of our culture.

Consisting of soft sculpture installations, drawings and video works, the exhibition showcases playfully constructed installations that consider the importance of play in our lives and in the wider social context.

The Hatfield-based university's arts and cultural programme is continuing with a blended approach for the foreseeable future, with the exhibition running alongside online events and artist interviews.

In addition to the physical exhibition, UH Arts is delivering a dynamic programme of events – providing opportunities to develop fresh perspectives, new skills and alternate ways of working.

The programme includes a digital version of the exhibition, with ‘Curators’ Introduction’, ‘Meet the Artist’ videos, and ‘Create It Share It’ activities, alongside a live workshop about the notion of play, designed to encourage creative thinking and collaboration between participants.

Curators of the exhibition, Inna Allen and Elizabeth Murton, said: “Playfulness is about being present, responsive, and open to the moment.

"After such an intense period in our lives, this exhibition embraces joy, pleasure and fun.

"This is a rare opportunity for us to bring together the works of two artists who capture the essence of play, and we can’t wait to see how our audiences respond.”

In Elly Thomas’ installations, sculptures function as toys, animated through a variety of processes.

Using methods of childhood play, Thomas’ work explores the creativity of an adult artist, rather than processes tied to the past.

Art by Adam James

Adam James' An Extension of Us. Photography by Tim Bowditch. - Credit: Tim Bowditch

Adam James is a British artist based in Sweden. He graduated with an MA in Fine Art Printmaking from the Royal College of Art, London, in 2007.

He is set to finish his PhD in Fine Art from the University of Kent in 2021.

James has exhibited widely across UK and Europe. His most recent solo show, All of Us are Myself, was exhibited at The Wellcome Collection, London in 2019.

The playful approaches adopted by Adam James and Elly Thomas create unique and inviting works that will transform the gallery into a playground of art and allow viewers to rediscover their hidden playful selves.

  • The Play Full exhibition will be on display in the Art & Design Gallery on the University of Hertfordshire's College Lane Campus in Hatfield from March 2 to April 17, 2021.
  • Access may be limited due to restrictions relating to COVID-19 at the time.
  • The digital exhibition will be available at 

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