Sunday, 20 May 2018

Coast and Field

It is not a pre-requisite for exhibitions to include the word 'Coast' in their title, but given the proximity of the gallery to the coast and the fundamental connection between our part of Norfolk and the sea, it is definitely becoming a habit.

Our next exhibition does, with Coast and Field which opens in the gallery on Friday 1st June at 6pm, and features the vibrant paintings of local (very local) artists Kevin and Ann-Marie Ryan.


At their last exhibition with us three years ago,  I referred to how best to write about successful artists on their return for further exhibitions. As I noted then ”The biographical details remain the same and in most cases the style and approach are a development of what has gone before, and which underpins their reputation  – which, of course, is why they have been invited back”  This still holds true, and amongst our regular returnees, Ann-Marie and Kevin Ryan have seen consistent success over the last 16 years.


At the heart of all their work are their distinctive palettes embuing their perception of the underlying earthforms of the Norfolk scene with a warmth that strikes a chord with many who appreciate the distinctive character of the area.  Their paintings are not normal for Norfolk.  Vibrant, rich and sometimes dark colours are not what most associate with the county and yet they are very much in tune with it.


For those who are familiar with their work, this latest collection builds on their considerable reputation.  For those who are less familiar – come and see – for almost inevitably, the limitations of reproduction tell only part of the story.

COAST AND FIELD - Ann-Marie and Kevin Ryan, June 1st to 23rd

Monday, 16 April 2018

Fragile Coast

In the two years since her last exhibition at Burnham Grapevine, Mari French has emerged as one of Norfolk’s fastest rising stars on the national art scene.


The roots of Mari French’s paintings lie in her deep-seated love and affinity with landscape and weather. Born in Manchester she grew up close to the brooding presence of the Pennine hills and then spent 15 years living on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. Her early paintings from this time reflect the locale - powerful, at times moody and always evocative. Moving to live in Norfolk, her sources of inspiration and the resulting paintings changed - the colours brighter, and the mood less intense - but still capturing the elemental forces of these wild landscapes.


Her work is constantly evolving, with experimentation employing paint, ink, collage and oil pastel. The most recent paintings reflect a greater confidence, employing bigger brushes and bolder gestures, the work freer and more expressive but still evoking the interaction of wind, rain, and light.


Having been a selected artist in the 2014 Sunday Times Watercolour Competition her work has most recently been selected for the Royal Watercolour Society 2018 Contemporary Exhibition. Always fascinating to look at on first sight, Mari’s paintings reveal more about themselves and ourselves as time passes. 

The exhibition includes over 20 works with prices starting from £400 and continues until 5th May

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

At the darkest hour

In a week's time Christmas will be done and dusted and we'll be in that strange period where the retail world will have swept all festive signs away and will be into 'The Sales' and Easter Eggs, whilst the media will review everything they can and foretell the future.

Somewhat strangely, we've already past the earliest sunset and the evening light is creeping back, minute by minute. I realise the other part of the equation isn't quite there yet, but the feeling that a corner is being turned is good and prompts the odd reflection on what its all about - particularly when out and about early or late.


It's always difficult to decide which bit of the year one likes best - I actually think some part of us is pre-programmed to appreciate the season you're in.  They all feel right at the time, partly because everything we do still inevitably - even in the digital age - relates to the season. Cold and dark in the winter, warm and dry in the summer. It's when it gets out of sync we all feel everything's not right. So, reflecting, we seem to be doing about right just now; a late colourful autumn and for the first time for a few years a bit of cold and even snow before Christmas. More remarkably, the cold has briefly departed just in time to make family and friends getting together relatively straightforward.

Accordingly and - in our case traditionally - we spent last weekend with good friends who whilst not having the good fortune to live in North Norfolk do live in another wonderful bit of England, down in glorious Devon.  My daily walks briefly disappeared and were replaced with conversation, good food and the odd glass of red! It wouldn't do all the time, but just like the season, it feels absolutely right just now.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

The proof of the pudding

Following up on my last post, I am pleased to report that the lights did indeed go on here in Burnham a couple of weeks ago. Like most of the businesses, we are aware of what's going on during the day but only manage to go and have a look towards the end, having discharged our basic function - to trade.

Based on what I heard from customers during the day, it all seemed to go down rather well, with lots to eat and drink and a mix of music on stage and strolling entertainers loose and wandering around the village. The days of the celebrity switch-on are seemingly gone for good with the re-establishment of Father Christmas at the centre of things seeming to satisfy most people's Christmas wishes.



As for the lights themselves, I remember when tungsten started to give way to LED there was a noticeable backlash and a feeling that these new-fangled things were cold and clinical and not very Christmassy. They may have been, but the world and technology has moved on and Burnham has moved with it. The LED's no longer look cold to me and crucially (by and large) they work when asked to. Just as celebrity has been consigned to history so it seems has the need to check and replace bulbs. Another Christmas Tradition that might just not be missed.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Smaller then you might imagine

A couple of years ago I wrote about the hazards and pitfalls of having Christmas Light switch-on events.  Well it's that time again, and all across North Norfolk, lights are being installed, checked and day by day, switched on - even though Christmas isn't quite just round the corner.


When its cold, crisp and bright as it is today, it doesn't seem that strange, but on mild days with leaves still on the trees it does seem just a little early. For most of our neighbours, thinking particularly of Wells and Holt, the organisation and installation is, I think, if not in the hands of the local Town Council very much supported by them. Here things are a bit different; Burnham is smaller than you might imagine - we are not a town but just a slightly larger than average village. We have a Parish Council but the traditional Christmas Lights have always been a matter for the Traders Association, indeed I believe this is where the origins of that body can be found.

Each year in the time we have been here there has been a question of costs and management. There are a surprising number of businesses here but as time has gone past, an increasing number are staffed by those who live elsewhere and the original direct connections and community links have diminished. Fortunately largely through the efforts of a very few over the last couple of the years, some of the installation costs are now more manageable, but as somebody noted this week "they don't switch themselves on" and the Christmas trees themselves need to be funded, purchased and installed.

The Parish Council are of course involved but the fact remains that without the time and effort expended by one or two individuals sorting every thing out, Burnham's lights simply wouldn't happen and another little bit of community life would fade away.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Role reversal

In a previous world I was an urban designer. I know and I apologise, although actually some of what we worked on was good. Some of it was however too radical for conservative clients, both public and private.

Nearly forty years later, the world has now moved on. The idea of retail parks in edge of or out of town locations - closely followed by new business centres alongside - and then the explosion in online shopping, means town centre shopping is now more or less irrelevant. Niche destinations remain viable either because the destination is attractive in itself or because they offer small specialist and unique services. 

The small town 'shopping centre' built in the 60's and 70's has by and large had its day. Nobody wants them and fewer and fewer go there. All across the country there are towns and cities desperately trying to reverse the tide.  Funding and re-branding ain't going to fix this. As one of my colleagues memorably advised one of the regeneration agencies we were working for way back then, "it's like a dog chasing a motorcycle - it wouldn't know what to do with it if it caught it". History suggests there is some truth in this - sadly the country is littered with regeneration schemes that didn't actually fail but just spluttered and subsided back from whence they came.

The answer is to change the way we see these unloved towns. Nobody wants to shop there so we need to reverse things - live there. Convert the unloved shops to residential and community use, maybe put care facilities in the centre so those in need don't depend so much on others to take them there. It's worth remembering this is not rocket science; historically it was done the other way round with housing being displaced for retail. 

Towns are increasingly like Polo mints - with a hole in the middle. Instead of building further and further out making a bigger and bigger hole we need to abandon our perception of 'town centres'. In many cases they already simply don't exist. We need human scale development to live in at the centre with the other stuff round the edge. The latter part has already happened but so far we've failed to act on the consequences of this.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Great expectations

Sometimes weeks come and go with not a lot happening outside the daily routine in the gallery and then occasionally it all happens together on the social front. Last week was just one of those weeks and it prompts me to note just how expectations on eating out locally have soared in the last few years.

Restaurants go up and down but the choice round here is impressive and almost without exception you can be sure of a good evening. Of course if you look on the review sites there is always someone who seems to have a shockingly bad experience and who wishes to tell the world all about it.

In the course of visiting three of my favourites in as many days last week, the food and cooking was about as good as I can remember and in each case service was exemplary. The one that sticks in the mind definitely came up with the goods on the food front - partridge (new to me) that was just beautiful - but which also inadvertently provided the most entertaining evening watching the team deal unflinchingly with a set of customers that they surely hoped not to have at all, let alone in one evening.

To be clear these people were not offensive or worse, just really difficult to please. It was half-term but I'm not sure that really made much difference. Firstly, there was a pleasant looking chap who wouldn't have booked if he'd known he was going to sit on a dining chair; he expected arms and it was really going to spoil his evening. Then was another man who felt it quite inappropriate that there were children present after 7. In their defence they were well-behaved and utterly unobtrusive. Then a family group who weren't quite sure where they wanted to sit, with the alpha male making sure everybody knew that. And just to complete this collection, a large entirely male group, all in later life who didn't seem to all arrive at the same time and seemed slightly puzzled by how they were accommodated.

Nobody shouted, nobody swore - although I imagine some of the team serving them may have been quietly going outside to vent their spleen - and I'm pretty sure that at the end of the evening they actually enjoyed it. It wouldn't be a surprise though to find maybe one or two will have written less than positive comments up for all to see. Social media is a terrible thing.

Some of you who read this will know where and when... and should any of those who cooked for us or brought it to us read it, you know who you are and we do appreciate what you do!