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Why Warhammer belongs in an art gallery

Here's what I learnt as an exhibitor at Art in Miniature, the first major exhibition of Warhammer and other minis in a mainstream art gallery.

Warhammer Art in Miniature exhibition - Paintor figure, a lurid pink cartoonish entity against a pale mint green background, painted by Louise Sugden

Is building, converting, and painting Warhammer art? I think so, and the 2021 Visual Arts Centre in Scunthorpe, UK, agrees. On August 5 it launched Art in Miniature, the first exhibition of fantasy miniatures in a mainstream public art gallery, introducing art aficionados, families, and even the Mayor of Scunthorpe to an artform they’d never seen before.

I was lucky enough to be an exhibitor in the show itself, one of over 25 artists, makers and miniature painters who contributed work. I had some amazing discussions with other exhibitors at the launch party: what the event means for them, what artistic recognition means for Warhammer, and how galleries could benefit by building closer ties with the mini-making community.

Warhammer Art in Miniature exhibition - part of the exhibition in the 2021 Art Centre in Scunthorpe

Laurence Senter, known as Baharroth The Cry of Old Paint on Instagram, makes incredible multilayer dioramas featuring Warhammer and other miniature bits – the fine art world would recognised his work as ‘assemblages’.

He said that the exhibition introduces the craft of converting and painting miniatures to a new audience that had never considered it before: “‘There is this entire community of passionate painters and modellers, people of absolute talent that are effectively invisible to those outside of that community.”

Senter added: “This exhibition, and those like it in future should shine a light on people and allow them to share their art and their talent.”

Garath Jones, aka That Beyond The Light on Instagram, specializes in creating beautiful scenes from the dark future in confined spaces, wonderful pieces in wooden boxes, metal tins, and anything that can be saved from the scrap man. He’s what you would call a “traditional” artist, as well as a miniature painter, but this was his first gallery exhibition.

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Jones echoed Senter’s points, saying that the exhibition breaks down preconceptions about miniature painting: “‘This show shows people that miniatures aren’t just toy soldiers that geeks play with, that it’s an art form”.

For him, that’s part of an even wider cultural issue: “A lot of things can be art, and can be so accessible; this exhibition shows people don’t need to think that there’s a barrier that can stop them from being an artist.”

Warhammer Art in Miniature exhibition - Kragnos, a gigantic centaur-like creature, painted by Joshua Clough

The white-walled gallery often appears to be a special space reserved for high culture. Not only does that keep Warhammer out, it also spreads the myth that art and creativity are just for ‘real’ artists, not something that anyone can do, something that grows out of any creative activity. Gareth says that the Art in Miniature exhibition “shows that anyone can be an artist”.

Warhammer Art in Miniature exhibition - a winged Stormcast eternal painted by Kerriss Brown

Featured artist Kerriss Brown of Let’s Make It Orkie points to the communal aspects of the miniature making art-form, and how healthy that is for a creative: “I’ve always been an artist, but being a miniature painter brought me a new level of creativity and community I had no idea I needed. The wargaming community has opened my eyes to fresh new ideas”.

Senter echoed the sentiment about the community, saying that he had made more friends as an adult through miniature art than anything else. He’s made global connections via the Warhammer fandom: his amazing diorama, The Coronation of Guilliman, which received a finalist pin at Golden Demon 2023, is now in the hands of  Legendary Wargame in Bangkok, Thailand.

Warhammer Art in Miniature exhibition - a huge gargant figure painted by Josh Clough

The local Lost Legions Wargames and Roleplay Society deployed in full force throughout the exhibition to run demo games for kids and families; they could be found painting faces and helping new hobbyists paint miniatures. The local community clearly enjoyed the exhibition a lot.

Anna, of Lost Legion, said that the club is a support network. Children and adults alike find a smile, a warm welcome and a shoulder to lean on when times get tough. She reported that members of the club had suffered hard times and blows to their mental health, with the isolation of the pandemic, the loss of loved ones, and moments where they didn’t know where else to turn – Lost Legion offered support. It’s a very close-knit creative community.

Warhammer Art in Miniature exhibition - Szarekh the Twice Dead King, a robotic necron overlord on a floating dais flanked by floating monoliths,. painted by Josh Clough

Warhammer and miniatures can be something to marvel at. They’re a means to meet new friends and creative collaborators. They might also offer the safe space you need to cry over hard times, or a chance to laugh for the first time all week. It’s a kind of art that is extremely communal and open to anyone. That doesn’t just have a place in an art gallery; it makes an art gallery better.

If you can’t make it to the UK to visit Art in Miniature, you can look forward to a video documentary about the exhibition later this year. Wargamer has covered plenty of creative miniature conversions and paint schemes over the years you should definitely check out: a Space Marine painted in negative, a daemon prince made from kitchen foil, pride flags reinterpreted as Space Marine color schemes, a recreation of a meme with real-life flamethrowers