Art: Joe Hesketh A Pendle Investigation

One of the most famous witch trails in English history, the Pendle witches are recreated in Joe Hesketh's dark and haunting pieces titled A Pendle Investigation. It has been on tour around the country for a while but has come back to London, to coincide with Halloween and give a few lasting chills to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the trials. There is an old pumpkin still hanging around outside the gallery so you may think you know what you're getting into when you arrive. Alas you will be wrong...

Hesketh turns witches and Halloween on its head and gives a contemporary perspective to the violent story of injustice, superstition, rivalry and corruption. It's an ambitious project but Hesketh creates some unforgettable scenes layered with imagery. Alternatively beautiful and horrific, she also likes to thrown in the occasional visual puns such as the justice holding two breasts as the whole trial went tits up, just to throw the viewer off guard. There are layers of meanings in her work that is the result of paint or marks scratched into the canvas. Blended together it emphasises the horrors and silliness of it all and is a fitting tribute to an event to be commemorated and not sold as sensational for tourists heading to Lancashire looking for smells and spells...

Hesketh is a witch herself and is based in Pendle which is an interesting hook to the pieces, but her other works also on display underscore her real interest in life, people and how she is perceived, particularly as a woman. Not part of the witches series, there are other works that explore some of her other thoughts on these matters. Her works are big and attention grabbing but there is a beauty and originality in them is both intriguing and impressive. It is hard not to spend time looking at them and contemplating what riddles they are suggesting and what was going in her life at the time she produced each piece.

Joe Hesketh – A Pendle Investigation runs from 31st October through to 22nd November 2012 at The Newman Street Gallery and is open from Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 6pm. Other times can be by appointment. With thanks to Simon Desmond for the tour and insight into her work as well...

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