CONNECTION : OPEN 2018 up and running

The Wells Maltings, Wells-next-the-Sea

The Open I have curated for Wells Maltings, in North Norfolk is now up and running.  CONNECTION is the inaugural exhibition in the Handa Gallery and celebrates the quality and diversity of art in East Anglia today.

The Selection Team: Veronica Sekules, Tracey Ross, Catherine Mason

A call to artists with connections to East Anglia was made in October 2017, via an anonymous entry process.  We were thrilled by the enthusiastic response, indicative of the large amount of talent in this region.  A wide variety of styles, materials, methods and subject matter was immediately apparent as was the high standard of works submitted.  From over 900 entries around 250 two-dimensional works of art were selected.  The idea was based on a true Open, taking inspiration from the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, giving visitors an opportunity to view and purchase work by artists at every level of their career, from emerging talent to established figures.  Come and see!  Open every day from 10 to 6, until 30 September. Free entry.

More pictures here.

Elizabeth Monahan, Blue, 2017  First Prize Winner

Call to Artists – CONNECTION : OPEN 2018

CONNECTION : OPEN 2018  – Celebrating the best East Anglian art to launch Wells Maltings Art Space

The exciting launch exhibition at the new Wells Maltings art space, opening Spring 2018 will bring together the best artists with an affinity to the East Anglian Region within the landmark Maltings buildings on Staithe Street, Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk.  Open to all artists who have connections with East Anglia (2-dimensional work only please), submit your work here – deadline mid-March next year.  Show opens late April 2018 and will run throughout the summer.  Don’t miss being a part of this new venture.  With thanks to my fellow selectors – artist Tracey Ross, Veronica Sekules of the Groundwork Gallery Kings Lynn and Simon Daykin General Manager of the Maltings.


Richard Long at Houghton Hall Norfolk

Wonderful, site-specific Richard Long work.  Made of local Carrstone, a natural sandstone seen in this part of Norfolk particularly in domestic architecture (often called ‘gingerbread’ in N W Norfolk).  A Line in Norfolk embodies the artist’s concepts of nature combined with physical action and gives a true feeling of place.

Richard Long, A Line in Norfolk, installed at Houghton Hall, 2017

Part of the large and impressive EARTH SKY exhibition running at Houghton Hall until end October.


Roger Law

I very much enjoyed a talk given by Roger Law in aid of the Wells United Charities, in Norfolk this week.  Law, as one half of Luck & Flaw created the fantastically satirical Spitting Image for television in the 1980s & 90s.  He brought along one of his brilliantly-crafted Margaret Thatcher puppets (in all they made over 2,000 different puppets all by hand):roger-law-2However Law always made ceramics on the side (remember the ‘ugly’ mugs of politicians and royalty?) and what was most interesting was hearing him describe his recent experiences making pots in China.  These 3mm thick vessels are carved deeply into the surface by the artist with beautiful images of flora and fauna, seen during the time he was artist in residence at the National Art School, Sydney.  In fact he says he often had to reassure his Chinese assistants that such creatures as mudskippers really do exist!

Roger Law is a remarkable draughtsman and his talk was illustrated with his own sketches to illustrate the processes of making and the characters he encountered in Jingdezhen, a city famous for porcelain.  Here he is able to work with highly skilled specialists and as he says, it was “very good to learn to fail, which was impossible in the UK”.  Experimentation is difficult in the UK due to the high overheads in the industrial potteries meaning commercial interests must take precedence.

This is his postcard-sized work of art created for my recent Secret Postcards project, in aid of the Maltings, Wells-next-the-Sea.

Roger Law, watercolour & ink on card, 2016
Roger Law, watercolour & ink on card, 2016

Ninety-nine artists from across East Anglia produced a total of 123 miniature (6x4inch) paintings which we sold at a fundraiser on 6 October at Holkham Hall for £60 each.  This event raised in excess of £30K.  I worked on this project for many months and was incredibly touched by the generosity of all the participating artists including the hard work which had clearly gone into each and every card – the beauty and sheer high quality, they truly were miniature masterpieces.  Thank you again to Roger Law.

I’m in a new film – Cley Marshes

See me speaking about the history of landscape painting in North Norfolk in the new film Cley Marshes: A Wild Vision, produced bycley film David North for the Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Cley Marshes Appeal. If you are visiting Norwich in September, do pop in to the Forum to see this inspiring film featuring Bill Oddie, wildlife experts, artists and others sharing their stories of this special place.

The NWT is the oldest of a national network of wildlife trusts.  The 400 acres of Cley Marshes were purchased by Dr Sydney Long in 1926. Long went on to found the Norfolk Wildlife Trust with Cley becoming the Trust’s first nature reserve. For generations this site has enjoyed a worldwide reputation as a superb site for watching birds and experiencing nature. The appeal is raising funds to purchase an additional 143 acres – this is a unique opportunity to ensure that coastal land from Blakeney Point to Kelling would all become one continuous nature reserve. Find out more about my landscape art project, Spirit of Place.

Book Review: The Art of Jeremy Gardiner Unfolding Landscape

JG bookMy review of Jeremy Gardiner’s beautifulnew book is out now in the Art Quarterlymagazine. Read a PDF here.

Jeremy Gardiner (1957- ) aims to help us experience the changing face of the earth through his art and to this end has spent decades exploring the ancient history of the Jurassic Coast. This book calls his art A vision of landscape as an inscribed tableau of ancient geological or man-made patterns (Peter Davies). The results of Gardiner’s study of place lie within this handsome hardback, which situates him firmly within the history of the great English tradition of landscape painting stretching from Constable to Nash.

See also my previous article about Gardiner’s digital art practice here.

Landscape and the London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony

Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not. The Tempest Act 3, Scene 2

image from the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony gallery:

I was thrilled to see Danny Boyle’s Isles of Wonder spectacle that was the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Olympiad use landscape to such great effect. The opening scenes representing historic rural Britain were the archetypal bucolic idyll of wildflowers, thatched cottages, milkmaids and shepherds tending animals, cricket on the green and villagers dancing round the maypole, all watched over at one end by a mound representing Glastonbury Tor capped with a giant oak tree. It called to mind J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Shire, inhabited by hobbits and Richard Adams’ Watership Down. Fluffy white clouds drifted by (apparently equipped with real water), although they weren’t really needed as a real rain shower only just finished as the show began.

Thomas Gainsborough Mr and Mrs Andrews, oil on canvas, about 1750. In the National Gallery London

Only missing were Gainsborough’s Mr and Mrs Andrews, the Suffolk landed gentry posing under the sheltering embrace of an old oak tree on their estate. The oak here signifies stability and continuity, and a sense of successive generations taking over the family business. The landed gentry have even been compared to the oak, holding Britain together. (see: Hagen, Rose-Marie & Hagen, Rainer (2003). What great paintings say. Taschen. pp. 296 300) An apt symbol for a country struggling in recession in the 21stCentury?

When the Industrial Revolution started, presided over by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the green turf was peeled away by villagers to reveal blackened ground, giant chimneys rose up and promptly began to smoke. The dark satanic mills were upon us as men sweated and laboured at machines in the cause of progress. (Although I didn’t see any starving orphans.)

The film sequence which started the performance proper, (entitled Green and Pleasant Land) was itself a journey from country to city, showing footage of the Thames flowing from its source in the Gloucestershire countryside through to the East End and arriving at the Stadium.

This Opening Ceremony was produced to show the world what Britain was, is and could be and it used landscape to do it to an estimated worldwide television audience of one billlion. Declaring yet again that landscape is fundamental to British identity and can act as a potent symbol both at home and abroad. When you think about it, what else could Danny Boyle have chosen as the emblematic basis on which to project H.M. The Queen, James Bond, the NHS, Mr Bean and Last Night of the Proms? (To those who object to a Britain portrayed by such cliches, I say  at least he didn’t choose Benny Hill!)

Gainsborough’s Mr & Mrs Andrews has been called the “Perfect image of rural England.” (Waldemar Januszczak Every Painting Tells a Story, by ZCZ Films for Channel 5) But the couple only make up half the picture. What Gainsborough’s painting actually shows is the land, fields cultivated using new methods. Mr Andrews is showing off not only his new wife and his land, but perhaps most importantly his utilisation of the latest techniques of agriculture. Higher economic productivity is the source of his wealth. So that ultimately this is not a picture about the past, but a glimpse into what the future holds for the countryside on the cusp of the Industrial Revolution. This will mean hardship for the majority of the rural population, not least due to the enclosures acts (deportation was the sentence for poaching) with the result being a general move off the land towards crowded urban areas where work was to be found.

Danny Boyle’s Olympic interpretation of Britain today began with idealised images of the countryside then moved through to an urban experience with a boy-meets-girl storyline told through the characters’ use of texting on their mobile phone. Throughout it used digital technology to spectacular effect in the lights and staging around the arena, featured electronic music, and even Britain’s role in the development of the Internet (Sir Tim Berners-Lee made an appearance seated at a desk in front of computer). All of this whilst the audience itself was busy Tweeting, photographing and uploading via mobile phone. It came as no surprise therefore to see the athletes parade onto the ground with their digital camcorders and phones held up high to capture that very audience in the act of filming them.

A Bigger (Digital) Splash

David Hockney, perhaps Britain’s most famous living artist, has never been one to shy away from the use of new technology. Whilst a student at the Royal College of Art he embraced acrylic paints when they were still quite new in the 1960s and has used the photocopying machine and a Polaroid camera to create collages, exploiting the unique characteristics of each of these mediums. Recently Hockney has turned to the iPad and this month’s image, from a group called The Arrival of Spring in East Yorkshire, was made on the iPad, printed out on a large scale and is currently on show at the Royal Academy, London. Read the full article here:  See also a related post here:

Wonderful new Graham Sutherland show at Oxford

A marvellous new exhibition of around 80 pen & ink drawings, watercolours and gouaches has just opened at Modern Art Oxford. These rarely seen works on paper, borrowed from private collections and mostly regional museums (no doubt where much of it has been residing in storage for many years), demonstrate Sutherland’s almost obsessive drive to paint his subject the English and Welsh landscape, over and over again each time capturing something new  a subtle change in form, or light or colour. Sutherland’s post-war thorn cross & head paintings, his giant tapestry at Coventry Cathedral are well-known, but in this show we see a quieter side to him and through careful curation are able to learn about his working methods.

The exhibition has been selected and curated by George Shaw a painter whose own work centers on depictions of Tile Hill, a post-war council housing estate on the south side of Coventry where he grew up (and in my opinion, the artist who should have won the Turner Prize this year). By reconsidering Sutherland through this painter’s eyes we also understand more about where Shaw is coming from in his own work, which uses hobby Humbrol paints to talk about his sense of memory and loss within decaying suburbia  a place with nothing but recent history. Shaw says, ‘It is not about place  it is quite abstract. The painting is of how far away you are from there. It is a tethering so you know how far you’ve come.’ [quote from Daily Telegraph Review, 3/12/11, p.7]

Scenes from the Passion: The Fall, 1999, copyright George Shaw, courtesy Wilkinson Gallery, London. (From the Herbert Gallery website)
Scenes from the Passion: The Fall, 1999, copyright George Shaw, courtesy Wilkinson Gallery, London. (From the Herbert Gallery website)

All of this raises interesting and timely debates around a sense of place. According to Shaw, Sutherland was an artist as much rooted in the past as in the world before him  a world forever unfinished. Shaw’s world is also unfinished (he is now nearing his 180th painting of Tile Hill). He uses his place  Tile Hill as his device on which to hang timeless painterly concerns, and so doing he tells us something of the anxieties of 21st century living.


George Shaw I Woz Ere at the Herbert Gallery until 11 March 2012