THE FIRST launch of the autumn season is at Salisbury Arts Centre where sculptor Michael Pennie’s travelling show has arrived at its last station. Beginning in Corsham at the start of summer, and with a spell at Trowbridge, ‘Sculpture for Furniture’ reveals a mature artist (Pennie is in his late 70s) bursting with questions and ideas.

To say his work is fun might sound demeaning and that wouldn’t be my intention. Yet I can’t help noticing a sense of joy in his use of materials. It’s not in any way precious, his clay is earthy, his bronze is rough and aged, and his wood bears the marks of his tools.

‘Five bronzes in a bookcase’ for instance, is guaranteed to raise a smile. At first glance it is unprepossessing, disarming; the bookcase is shabby. It holds small sculptures combining green bronze, terracotta and marble. These also seem unremarkable at first glance, even casually made, but they encourage a closer look. There is something very personal about them, they are clearly mementoes with a meaning not clear, but mysterious.

At the rear of the altar stage are 250 small drawings taken from Pennie’s notebooks, and this I where you should start your tour. They are ideas simply sketched in pencil and crayon, and most of them are valid designs for 3D constructions.

These drawings are a good insight and introduction to the artist, and a reminder that the sculpture on display is just part of his output. The printed catalogue shows that more of Pennie’s work was due to be shown at the Young Gallery, including pieces that are part of the Creasey Collection, but a ‘Cancelled’ sticker has been placed over the details. Sad.

Two ceramic artists have work included in this show. Sarah Purvey makes large coil pots which become a ‘canvas’ for further surface treatment. In one case I was reminded of the texture of Anselm Kiefer’s paintings seen at the Royal Academy last year.

Jo Taylor assembles fragments of porcelain turned on the wheel into wall-mounted or free-standing constructions. They are perfect: the technique seems absolutely flawless, and they are a wonder to behold. Too slick for me though.

I can’t seem to finish an article about the Arts Centre without a moan. I counted less than ten visitors to the private view last week. I also know many interested people who say they didn’t get an invite, but believe they are on the mailing list.

They must be on the wrong list. I understand the Arts Centre has thousands of e-mail contacts, but declines to invite them all. Why? In case they actually turn up?

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