Monday, 31 July 2017

A morning out

One of the few downsides to life here is the difficulty in escaping to visit events in the local art world, as - somewhat inevitably - they tend to be open at the same time as the gallery here. Prompted by various recommendations - and also by the fact that it was the last chance - yesterday morning found me in Holt, visiting just 3 of the attractions of the Festival.

First port of call was 'Benton End & Friends", an exhibition of Loan paintings and sculpture telling the story of Cedric Morris and Lett Haines, their informal art school on the Suffolk/Essex borders, the gardens inspired by Giverny, cookery, visitors, and their artistic friends and their art and influences. 

This prompted fond memories of the late Michael Parkin, the original stimulus for my fascination with 20th century British art and who, a dozen or more years ago, set out to remedy my parlous lack of knowledge of the period. Before Michael's involvement, Cedric Morris was to me, completely unknown, alongside many of his other passions including Claughton Pellew and Kathleen Hale. With hindsight it is amazing our friendship survived such an unpromising start. A reflection of this ignorance was such that on one occasion, at Michael's behest, I collected two unwrapped paintings in central London and put them, unsecured, on the back shelf of the car, to drive back to Norwich. Only subsequently did I learn that these were two works by Cedric Morris which can now reasonably be assumed to be 'significant' and worthy of rather more care and attention. Michael, of course, was unimpressed by my after the event concerns.

This small exhibition typifies the breadth and depth of the Norfolk art scene; discreetly located in a Holt backwater and of real interest and quality but so easily missed. To prove this last point, in conversation with the curator, I learnt that around the corner in a similarly discrete location was another Loan Exhibition, this time featuring East Anglian master, Edward Seago. Much of what was to be seen there was I think on loan from Norwich Castle Collection, but of particular interest because of its departure from 'typical' Seago.

Lastly, just a mile down the road, and disconcertingly deserted was an exhibition of the shortlisted entries for the Sir John Hurt Art Prize in the foyer of the Auden Theatre. 

As ever with these competitions it's fascinating to see what has been selected, what wins and in the case of selling exhibitions, what sells. The winner this year was Chloe Steele with her work "Beginnings End', and amongst a very variable group of work an understated pastel of Cromer from Malca Schotten, an evocative linocut from Vanessa Lubach and a very striking oil of the quayside at Wells by Susan Isaac - a pleasingly confident approach to this much painted scene - were the works that stood out for me.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Simply sublime

Another feature of summer life here in North Norfolk is the range of musical events on offer within a very short distance. In the last 10 days or so without very much effort you could have heard and seen a wonderfully vital performance of Handel's Susannah at South Creake, joined the throngs in Holkham Park to see the great Tom Jones, listened to Piano Trios by Beethoven, Shostakovich and Ravel, taken in a little jazz/funk at the Hoste, or been transported back to the 16th century in Salle Church.

I chose the latter and what a delight. Not for me the the masses trying to get in and out of Holkham, but rather the sublime choral music of Byrd and Orlando Gibbons in the quintessentially English setting of Salle Church. Superb, truly divine music. Stunning singers, the William Byrd Choir, in a stunning setting - a cricket match taking place earlier, just across from the West end.

One of the true glories of Norfolk, and dating from the 15th century, the Church of St.Peter and St.Paul is amongst the finest in the country, built in Barnack stone transported from Peterborough in the early 1400's, the tower is a landmark for miles around, and the focus of a number of paintings by Gerard Stamp, perhaps captured best in his powerfully evocative 2012 watercolour.

And as ever, there's more to come; Diva Opera this weekend followed by the rising star of the Southrepps Music Festival and then the jewel in the musical crown with the North Norfolk Music Festival from the 15th August. 

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Loose connections at Cley

Each year at the start of July, North Norfolk sees one of the more interesting initiatives in the local art world, bringing contemporary art in all its forms to an area where there is no public contemporary art gallery. This year, as last, the event is in the beautiful setting of St.Margaret's Church above Cley-next-the-sea.

Going along to the opening evening last week, I was immediately struck by the difference between last year and this. Each year the curator is different and accordingly different criteria are applied to the selection procedure. This time, the theme is 'Connectivity' and whilst I appreciate the thinking behind this, to me this was not particularly evident in some of that selection. The word 'local' could be equally applied and of course at this point you enter the world of many, if not most, of the galleries along the coast. That said, the exhibition is well-worth a visit - there is some superb work here and much that would not be readily found elsewhere.

Purely personally, it is the ceramics and textiles that are the most interesting - and as is often the case it is the more thoughtful and less obvious works that leave the deepest impression, and it is here you sense fundamental connection.

The two dimensional work - other than those few who have used stone and earth for pigmentation and texture - seemed to struggle to achieve any real sense of connectivity and I was left puzzling in a number of cases as to why they had been selected; nothing wrong and very competent but why? I obviously need to go and have another look. In practical terms, the impression at the opening was that there were maybe fewer present than previous years - but maybe that is the price of selecting fewer of the local 'names'. Certainly the Norwich art community seemed to be less in evidence.

Regrettably the one thing they didn't miss was the opening itself. My hearing is not perfect by any means, but standing relatively close I - and apparently those around me - couldn't hear what was said. Speaking in Church is itself an art form and this eluded those who spoke; too fast for the echoes and given we couldn't hear, too lengthy. Of the shouty alternative 'critic', the less said the better.

Cley 17 continues until 6th August