Breaking free and feeding the soul

Walter Oltmann’s exhibition Armour and Lace: a Bestiary at Goodman Gallery 

I’ve taken a very welcome enforced break after a hip-replacement just over 4 weeks ago. A week of lots of sleeping and binge-watching Britbox. being waited on hand and foot (literally) by the wonderful Liz at Lancaster team: Thank you Mr. T, Thandie and Catherine. It’s been sobering how dependent one is with 2 crutches and limited bending!  However, I was not going to miss Walter Oltmann’s extraordinary exhibition before it closed on 30th April. You will find his work in various public collections and coming up at auctions. 

Goodman Gallery has a great new look. Well … new for me that is, as someone who has spent 2 Covid-restricted years starved of public events and gallery visits. 

Great place to relax, browse some books for sale and have a cup of coffee
Coffee bar and airy counter to sit at
Not being allowed to drive yet, I was kindly dropped off by a friend. So needless to say I had forgotten my mask. and had to do some serious improvising.  Hooking  slippy-slidey long scarf with the temples of my glasses (bet you didn’t know that’s what the arms of spectacles are called!!), lenses misting up, holding and focusing my Iphone camera, all the while trying to negotiate my two crutches. Only for Walter!


The title summarized the show beautifully. Most of the images allude to armour, either in the sense of protection – spikes, prickles, wiry extensions, thorns, quills; or disguise and camouflage – insect-like colouring and body parts; or in the sense of being subtly threatening – bulky, literally faceless figures in huge menacing body suits (both fully in the round wire sculptures and wall hangings, as well as two dimensional oils, pastels, lithographs, ink and watercolour). 

Carapax (Darkling): anodized and spray painted aluminium wire, copper wire and glass beads 210 X 105 X 50cm The copper around the absent face gives the figure an ‘other-worldly auratic glow”  (from the Exhibition handout)
Detail of Carapax (Darkling)
Detail of Carapax (Darkling)
Plexus red permanent ink on paper 152 X 102cm

With a detail below.  Fine wiry spikes bleed from body to exterior like capillaries that have escaped the physical containment of skin; allusions to body parts suggest sutures and aggressive invasion. Concepts of “inside” and “outside” are subverted. 


Oltmann is known for his extraordinary craftsmanship and his time-intensive and physically demanding creative process.  He manipulates tough wire to produce large scale works in a way which imitates weaving or crocheting, subverting both the idea of sewing and crocheting as a domestic female activity, and the idea of the medium being soft, gentle and easy to work with in the way thread is. 

Spray 1 2021 Aluminium wire 200 x 200cm

With details:







Spread 2020 aluminium wire 250 x 400 cm with a detail below. There are further unexpected contradictions here. A table cloth for the expected ‘spread’ of food is embedded with goggas and creepy-crawlies!! And the association of bedspread and insects is equally unsettling.
Detail of Spread
Sungazer one of three Sungazers on the back wall 2022 anodized aluminum wire and bitumen paint, each one ca 260 x 410 x 7 cm  Here the spiky protection on the representation of a real animal, Smaug Giganteus, is combined with the suggested delicacy of a lace aura or surround.


Bestiaries originated in the ancient world (the sphinx is the most obvious ancient example), but were made popular by monks in the Middle Ages.  A bestiary was like an encyclopedia of animals, both real and imagined, which provided allegories offering moral lessons (the unicorn). The bestiary presents an imaginary world where (as in the mermaid) “borders between the human and non-human become permeable” (Oltmann exhibition info page). Oltmann’s images, which combine insect/animal characteristics with human forms, explain this part of the exhibition title. 

Typical part-animal part-human medieval manuscript illumination which draws on the language of bestiaries.
Carapax (Zygen) anodized aluminium wire 230 x 140 x 38 CM

Oltmann’s commentary on environmental threat

Again from the Exhibition info page:

Oltmann’s images of dead or near-dead creatures … serve as memorials to animals that are not only dying, but literally “dying off” ie on the edge of extinction. Images of fossils and skeletal remains similarly function as symbols of posterity. As portraits of loss, they are meditations on the consequence and impact of environmental stress. 

The pangolin is one such endangered species. 

Rover 2021 aluminium wire 36 x 88 x 9cm

With detail: 

Detail of Rover. This is like chain-mail – no imitation of fine lacework here.
Trace 2021 White gel ink on brown Fabriano paper 49 x 67.5cm

The skeletal remains of Rover is a suitably thought-provoking way to end these reflections on a powerful, beautiful and utterly memorable exhibition.  


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4 thoughts on “Breaking free and feeding the soul

  1. Lovely blog thanks Liz. Sorry I missed the exhibition. It looks and sounds fascinating. In your scarf, fixed by the temples of your glasses, you could be one of the armoury exhibits yourself.

  2. Hi Liz, thank you for another great article and photos; Unfortunately I have missed this exhibition but your passionate and detailed article is like a personal guided tour. Thank you for being so brave in attempting it with crutches and sharing. Best wishes

  3. What a fantastic exhibition that was, I can only imagine the strain he put on his hands.
    Sorry to hear you have been lying low but hope by now you are well on the way to feeling normal again. Take care.

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