Saturday, 31 May 2014

Mixed feelings

Halfway through another year of artist open studios, I must confess to mixed feelings about what has become a bit of an institution. When Grapevine first opened some twelve years ago we showed work by a relatively small number of artists, of whom a surprisingly high percentage were from Brighton and Hove. Now this is where, to my mind, the open studio idea really began to take off. A compact, intense urban environment housing large numbers of artists - and it was a prime visitor destination. The pluses are obvious - lots of choice and variety and relatively close together. With coming of area trails aimed at walking a few yards from one delight to another its success and appeal seemed assured.

However, talking to artists, many even then had their misgivings. One year was good and exciting. Two years was reassuring - the visitors came back. But after that? Why did these people come? Were they seriously looking at the art? Or were they more interested in the coffee/chat and a chance to nose about an 'artists' house? Increasingly, the more established and professional artists started to rethink. Grouping themselves to take away the personal intrusion. Bit like showing in a gallery really - and in due course Brighton began to house a few more proper galleries again.

Here in Norfolk, things have always been a little different simply by reason of the geography. Outside Norwich the artists are widely spread; they tend not to cluster. So other than in one or two places its not so easy to walk or cycle from one studio to another and this has to a degree mitigated against the Brighton effect. The artists experience is inevitably similar with many deciding not to take part each year, finding the uncertainty over visitor numbers inequitable with the disruption and intrusion. And here as well, at the upper end they tend to grow out of it.

From a gallery's point of view, there has always been unease. Why would you encourage this? It's similar to how any business with overheads would feel about competing with someone selling from the garden gate or roadside with no overheads.  And yet each year there are artists who trail round galleries they have no connection with asking for their promotional material to be displayed and are seemingly surprised that this is not seen as a great opportunity by the gallery.

For my own part, I can see some value to galleries. In the most general terms it increases interest and it attracts visitors. However for a gallery that represents a local artist, his or her open studio can albeit indirectly lead to future business for the gallery - and not necessarily for that artist. It also allows the gallery to have a look at an artists work without declaring their hand.  So - swings and roundabouts, but as a non-participant I am generally in favour. After all as one very well-known artist remarked to me,  "its what you do all day everyday, sitting there waiting for people - I just can't face it". Which is why he's an artist and why galleries exist.

Friday, 30 May 2014


In meteorological terms, tomorrow is the last day of Spring.  The statistics being trailed are all about it being the third warmest spring on record - which suggests that it has been extraordinary. But having only recently mused on the contrasts in both weather and its affect on artistic interpretations of Norfolk, personal experience is that here 2014 has been similar to 2013.

Having just had two days of unrelenting cloud and rain, the sun is out again - but looking back to this time last year I was then writing about cold, wind and rain on Overy Bank just as I could have done this week. In fact May has been as wet as January with much of that falling in the last couple of weeks. 

Talking to one of Norfolk's better known photographers - who shares my love of all things Overy - he commented how remarkably similar the light has been. One of his best known images of a storm front over the Boathouse taken this time last year was almost replicated this year.

Along the bank, the biggest difference is not the weather but the vegetation, with the Alexanders noticeably bigger and bolder. Whether this is down to warmer temperatures or a different pattern of rainfall we shall never know. It could of course be down to the fertilising effect of the surge, or maybe a different maintenance regime.  Whatever it is that the statistics suggest my guess is that most of us feel its been pretty unremarkable. A typical Norfolk Spring in fact, followed no doubt by a typical Norfolk Summer.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

I can see clearly now

In four weeks time, we are showing a small collection of paintings by an artist untroubled by style or fashion. Sister Deirdre Corfe has been a member of the Carmelite community at Quidenham in south Norfolk for over 40 years, entering a world of prayer and contemplation to live a life free of the fuss and fluff of that occupies most of our time.

Her paintings reflect this; they are neither fashionable or decorative. They do however give cause for thought. Thought about why she has painted them, why she has chosen to lead this life and whether all the other stuff - the fuss and the fluff - has any point or value.

in 2008, for her last exhibition with us in Norwich, Sister Wendy Beckett wrote; "Some art is for glancing at, and moving on: some art is for living with.  Art that is not an immediate crowd-pleaser (or displeaser) but has depth to be fathomed and experienced is a rare find, and it is this kind of art that we discover in Deirdre Corfe."  Sister Wendy concluded her comments writing "Corfe’s painting gives amazing pleasure but it is also a challenge.  It demands gently that we look afresh at the world and at ourselves."

I do not spend my life in prayer and contemplation, but even here in this privileged and beautiful bubble, life can sometimes seem complicated and confusing. Each time I meet and talk with Deirdre and look at her work I do feel challenged. Not in a confrontational way, but they do leave me quietly wondering.