Backlit exhibition draws inspiration from the life of Samuel Morley


The name Samuel Morley may not be instantly recognisable to many people but he is one of Nottingham’s most influential sons. Born in the city suburb of Sneinton in 1809, Morley was a textiles manufacturer whose family firm, I. & R. Morley, helped to establish the region as a world leader in the industry. Not only that but he was also an MP and philanthropist who campaigned to abolish the slave trade and put on ‘penny lectures’ to make education accessible to all.

Now Backlit, an independent gallery on the edge of Nottingham, is planning to revive public interest in Morley with a new exhibition called House of the Flying Wheel.  The gallery is housed in one of I. & R. Morley’s former factory and warehouse buildings and the exhibition, which runs from 7th June to 7th September, takes its name from the company’s famous logo.

The inspiration for House of the Flying Wheel comes from gallery director Matthew Chesney who has become fascinated by the history of the building and the life of its former owner. It features works by an array of established and emerging artists including Turner Prize nominee Yinka Shonibare MBE (RA), along with Darren Banks, Mark Davey, Tracey McMaster and Julian Wild. Working with different media, they have all taken Morley as their starting point to explore themes such as colonialism, race, identity and industry.

Matthew says: “The whole premise of the exhibition is to build a contemporary portrait of Morley and his thriving business and we are using contemporary artists to do this. Over time, he has been forgotten – it’s really sad that he has drifted away.”

Image courtesy of Yinka Shonibare MBE (RA)

Image courtesy of Yinka Shonibare MBE (RA)

And in the spirit of Morley’s philanthropy, the Backlit team will also be offering a series of workshops for the public priced at just 20p (a penny in old money) which will run alongside the exhibition.

Outside of Nottingham, Morley’s influence can also be seen in London and it is thanks to his generous support that the capital’s Morley College was founded. Over the years, great artists such as the composer Gustav Holst, writer Virginia Woolf and artist David Hockney have all contributed to the life of the college – which makes the new exhibition at Backlit all the more pertinent.

Rhiannon Jones, who is the gallery’s marketing manager, said: “I have realised that many of the institutions that I’m connected with were somehow funded or supported by Morley. He has affected our day-to-day lives without us realising it – he’s almost like this invisible force.”

Backlit, which was established in 2008 by 25 artists from Nottingham Trent University, was set up as a space for emerging artists to exhibit their works and to curate for the first time. It also boasts studios for artists, hosts events and organises educational workshops for the community. The gallery is open Thursday – Sunday, from 12noon until 5pm during exhibitions. Further information is available via the website.

Backlit is hosting a FREE launch party and preview for The House of the Flying Wheel on 6th June. For tickets click here.  

Posted on 30 May 2014
Featured author: Catherine Allen Marketing Assistant

Arts fan, runner and cyclist who has been living in Nottingham for more than a decade. Loves real ale, craft beer, good food, travelling and sausage dogs.

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