Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Isle of Light - a personal view

I have known Gerard Stamp for over 20 years, first as an acquaintance, then a friend.  For the last 11 years I have had the privilege of not only showing his work but talking with him on almost daily basis about his hopes and, at times, fears.  He is, self-evidently, a perfectionist.  Sharing as we seem to the creative mind’s insecurity, he is never completely satisfied and always striving for more.

In those last 11 years I have also probably spent more time looking at and talking to people – from knights of the realm to art critics, to the famous and to students - about his work than anybody other than him. Because of the subject matter I am often asked whether he is an architect or particularly religious. In fact he is neither and for most people this is irrelevant. What he does have and what is so easily understood and appreciated is a unique ability to capture that sense of peace, tranquillity, time passing – have it what you will – that we all, religious or not, recognise and feel in our churches and cathedrals. As Judi Dench put it, "there is a sense of timelessness about his work which draws us in"

But above all is the light. Light playing and glancing off stone and glass, leading us on, and round and up. We all see it, many of us try and capture it through our cameras and phones, but this man can do it through that most challenging of media, watercolour. And on a monumental scale.

Over the years, I have watched and listened and talked and yet to me – probably more familiar with his work than many – it remains a mystery and a wondrous mystery. Yes, his technique is painstaking and his skill consummate but it is that ineffable and inexplicable ability to turn the intangible into the tangible that is fundamental. One might reasonably expect to have become conditioned to this – to no longer be surprised, but this is not the case. With each painting, I still experience that thrill first felt some 12 years ago when he made that leap from competence to miraculous, the same thrill that others tell me they feel when they first see his work.  With each exhibition I wonder whether he can continue to satisfy himself as well as his audience, and on each occasion, from York to St.Pauls, to Norwich and Exeter, and now to a shared love, Ely, our mutual doubts have proved without foundation.

This latest collection is to my eye, remarkable. Ely is wonderful – but also challenging.  Anyone who looks up at the Octagon or catches a distant glimpse of the Cathedral rising out of the fenland mists knows they are in the presence of something awe-inspiring and wonderful.  And quite how I still don’t know, but Gerard has captured this.

Isle of Light is in the Lady Chapel of Ely Cathedral from Saturday 24th September to Sunday 2nd October and is open from 10 to 4; normal entrance charges apply.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

It's that time again

Every year, just about now, Norfolk changes. It becomes very different to the rest of the year and for just a few short weeks, it's busy. You meet cars on roads that are normally quiet, the footpaths that are usually deserted are being pounded by feet and it's not possible to book a meal anywhere.

I'm not opposed to this or indeed discomforted it. It's just that even though it happens every year it always comes as a shock. And just as you come to terms with it and adjust your life style accordingly, it's gone again.

Visitors usually say "I expect this is your busy time" but in reality whilst footfall goes up, art sales are not particularly dependent on the holiday season, at least not in the sector in which we operate. Historically we have seen better January's than July's and as a neighbouring (well 15 miles away - which is neghbouring here) gallery once said to me there is no rhyme or reason to sales and there is never anything to be learnt from looking at what it was like this time last year, or 5 years ago, or 10 years ago. Every day is different and pleasingly unpredictable.

That said, the first part of the summer has despite the weather and the general chaos in the wider world seen some very pleasing sales. Our joint exhibition of Sally Scott's paintings paired with the intense colours and clarity of Jane Cox's ceramics fared well and brought in a number of new clients who apparently liked what they saw. Following this, Salt & Sand - a new collection of work by Mari French - was equally well received despite opening on the evening of what turned out to be one of the most unsettling and largely unforeseen events of the year.

We are now into our Summer Exhibition which this year includes two artists new to the gallery, Richard Bond, winner of Paint Out - the Plain Air competition in Norwich in 2015 and Ruth McCabe with her watercolours exploring the changing ecology of East Anglia's wetlands. In both cases these artists were introduced by other artists who already show with us here.

Going back to where I started, September sees us out on our travels again. This time we are heading for Ely, with our next major exhibition of Gerard Stamp's works in the wonderful setting of the Lady Chapel of Ely Cathedral. Even though it's two months away, the release of the catalogue on-line has prompted a number of purchases already, so if you're interested in taking the plunge, sooner rather than later seems to be the clue.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

In pursuit of Spring

103 years ago, in March 1913, Edward Thomas - later to become one of the greatest poets of the 20th century - set out from London heading southwest to Somerset in search of Spring. The result of this journey was In Pursuit of Spring, reprinted and re-issued earlier this year, providing a fascinating insight into life in England before the First World War.

The Guardian re-traced some of his journey and published comparable views showing what they look like 103 years on.

Reassuringly and surprisingly, the remarkable thing is not just how much is recognisable but remains substantially unchanged. Other than a few cars and road markings to be seen in Bridgewater much remains the same. Trees have come and gone and in one instance - on the Quantocks - largely bare hillsides have become woodland; not what we might expect. It is very easy to think the world is changing faster and faster and usually for the worse, but here the evidence suggests otherwise.

Not only the landscape remains, but a hundred years on and despite our fears and uncertainty over our climate, Spring still arrives in Britain from the southwest and progresses north and east at between one and two miles an hour. Thus we might reasonably expect to witness similar stage in growth and activity around a week later in Norfolk as opposed to London. Making that journey a couple of weeks ago, the visual evidence was there to be seen. In just 125 miles the season had changed. In Norfolk, Spring was just showing; in southwest London it had happened and in some cases was looking a little past it.

Two weeks on and Spring is here in northwest Norfolk if not quite yet in northeast Norfolk. It is that subtle. Plant growth and trees coming into leaf are a little late - maybe a week or so - this year, even after the very early daffodils prompted by the unusual warmth of December and the absence of any real cold during January and February might have suggested otherwise.

Even with this week's untimely incursion of arctic air, in another couple of weeks, the bluebells in the woods 30 miles away in northeast Norfolk will be in bloom and the sweep of Spring across England will be complete again.

A hundred or so years ago Thomas wrote, "This year she peeped out in February, and coldly wept through March, and in April burst upon us in all her dancing splendour, so that old men have shaken their heads and declared that there never was such a Spring".

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Spring on the marsh

I have always loved this time of year in Norfolk, still bare and spare but with real if subtle signs of spring. Nowhere captures this feeling than on the marshes along the coastal path.

Just three short weeks ago, stepping down off the bank was to risk losing a boot and any semblance of being in control. Most walks involved at the very least an undue amount of slipping and sliding if not much closer contact with our best liquid mud. A couple of weeks of blocking high pressure and much of the mud has dried out to provide at least a hard crust and there is - maybe briefly, it is still March - a more predictable surface underfoot.

Other than our own peculiarity, Alexanders - which this year have started into their headlong growth rather earlier than usual, much of the plant growth is still just in winter mode. Not so with the birds who are doing what they normally do at this time and are clearly already well into the nesting season, and because spring growth has yet to provide cover, rather easier to spot.

The last couple of days served to remind us again that Easter in Norfolk often provides more in the way of weather than Christmas, but even with the return of wet and cold it does just start to feel a bit like Spring.

Friday, 26 February 2016

Coming home to roost

Nearly a year ago I wrote about a planning application for what most of us would regard as factory farming, a large - very large - poultry unit close to Sedgeford. It caused real concern to the local community on many fronts; the way the application was dealt with, the proposed use and the environmental impact. Like many things I subsequently lost track of what happened with it other than being aware that it didn't appear to have happened.

As is the way with these things, it hasn't been built but it definitely hasn't gone away. It's back and still causing substantial concern in its new improved 'reduced' form. I may be naive but my cursory inspection of the current application suggests that the reductions might soon be added back if it were approved. Indeed the changes are so simplistic that it requires little imagination to see what could eventually happen.

On the basis of the many well-researched and valid (in planning terms)  objections, it would be good to think it will not be approved but I am not holding my breath.  Objections on beauty, calm and the merits or otherwise of the proposed use sadly carry little weight, however strongly they are felt or expressed. Objections on grounds of conflicts with adopted plans and policies are of course considered - and there seem to be plenty here - but this kind of proposal does tend to keep coming back.

Closer to home, the long awaited car park for Burnham will reportedly be up and running by Easter. Just like the chickens this may be another project that will come home to roost. It has been talked about for a mere 50 years or so and unlike the poultry has (or had) the support of the community. Indeed in the published village plan it was one of the few projects that was generally wanted. It must therefore be disconcerting for the Parish Council who have suffered the slings and arrows of public comment during a very full and extended consultation to be now faced with justifiable - if after the event - concerns over safety in terms of its siting. The focus of these concerns is that the pedestrian connection to the village leads directly into the main traffic pinch-point at almost the narrowest point on the road where there is no footpath and no way of providing one.

The introduction of the parking restrictions that will accompany the car park - again the subject of a very full and extended consultation and negotiation - are now being seen as increasing the risk. Fewer cars parked on the road encourage faster speeds; the recent introduction of a 20mph limit seems to have actually led to more speeding in the bits where its possible and is pretty well impossible to enforce.

Hindsight is a marvellous thing, but listening to comments in a meeting earlier this week, it is clear that however full the consultation most people don't understand what a plan or project involves until it is actually there.  I suspect that if the whole project could be started again there would be some support for moving things round - siting the housing where the car park is, recreational space where the housing is, and parking where the recreational space is.  But that's with the benefit of hindsight and would probably have required another 50 years consideration.