Friday, 21 December 2018

In the bleak midwinter

According to our Christmas cards I appear now to have a third reader of these scribblings. Most importantly I am informed that they also cheer him up. As a tutor at University told us many, many years ago, if something you've done makes somebody smile you can't really ask for more.

At the moment there do seem to be a plethora of negative and alarming stories out there beyond our little bubble of happiness here in the wilds of Norfolk, but I do wonder whether it was not ever thus. Our development of media and connectivity is such that we now feel more involved with bad news than our ancestors did even though that involvement is largely and fortunately, virtual.

The horrors of a hundred years ago were only too real even to those living in rural Norfolk, but the involvement was actual, with the loss of families and communities. Now our shock and rage is often focussed on events that not only are we not involved with but are not even genuinely affected by.  We love bad news and are somehow drawn to it. In the words of recently departed and wonderfully eccentric Baroness Trumpington, "Don't call for help, shout Fire! then they'll all come to have a look"

Anyway regardless of what our over-dosing on media might have us believe, nature is now turning positive. The earliest sunset was a week ago, the longest night is past and the Solstice is today.

The Solstice - the shortest day, today, when the sun reaches its lowest maximum height in the sky — after which light begins its slow climb back and night yields its reach.

Midwinter, yule, the year’s pivot, Earth’s rebirth, a dawn of hope.

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Slow you down

It's probably age, but there are moments when it feels like we're increasingly out of control. We're only in the first days of December and apparently many have done their Christmas Shopping whilst the emails for spring ranges are increasing by the day.

It's not all down to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, for here in the village we were guilty of a very early Lights Switch-on seemingly weeks ago. They look great but when you think that when they are removed in January they will have been up for nearly 2 months - that's a sixth of the year. In our defence the date was driven by the tide. Not ours, but down the road in Wells, where Father Christmas arrives from the sea and can only so do when tide and darkness coincide.

At home we went and chose our Christmas Tree 10 days ago, but it's still happily growing with its friends in a local field and won't come in the house for another 10 days. You could argue that this diminishes its significance but it will be present for a week before plus the 12 days which I think is about right and actually makes that time seem suitably different.

Here in the gallery, I succumbed last weekend and following my normal pattern installed some suitably low-key and tasteful gestures towards the festive season. This is partly peer pressure - if everybody else has lights you are likely to be thought truly sad if you're the one who doesn't - and partly a commercial reality, for without a bit of sparkle one might be overlooked.

Historically, whilst sales of ceramics and - in the days of our Norwich gallery - jewellery peaked in December, paintings saw surprising sales after Christmas. This pattern now seems to be changing, with increasing sales of art as a gift. My reading of this is that in these days of uncertainty and growing antipathy to waste and pointless expenditure, paintings and prints are seen as a gift that is more than a token, a gift that requires thought and consideration and one that may give at least as much pleasure in the months and years ahead as it does when it is first given and received.

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Writer's block?

My loyal reader contacted me noting the reduction in entries here this year, wondering whether this reflected the family changes. In actual fact I think it relates more to simply being out of the habit and possibly a slight move away from social media prompted by the way it has become very much a platform for political views of all shades and volumes.

As my visitors and the occasional customer will know, the gallery often has the feel of the village pump where friends and artists gather. There are moments where the suggestion that there should be an inscription over the door "licensed to sell art .... and listen" feel very pertinent. Rather like a visit to the hairdressers, the environment here seems to encourage conversation with unburdening of worries and uncertainties. I don't do hair, but I do offer coffee and I do listen.

Recently a number of artists have confessed to uncertainty as to what their work is about and to it's future direction. Rather like the paucity of my scribblings here, it is a form of writer's block common to all who aspire to being thoughtful or creative. My take on it is that if we didn't have these moments of uncertainty and questioning we wouldn't be much good at what we do - be it writing, painting or anything that prompts thought.

As I have noted before, the work we show varies considerably, but a common theme is that all the makers believe and hope that the best is yet to come and most have a degree of insecurity. As for social media, most of us apparently feel that if we don't engage with it you will be forgotten. In reality, I don't think this is true. Many artists achieve extraordinary numbers of 'likes' to their work on Instagram and Facebook, but that this is not reflected in sales, which of course exacerbates any underlying insecurities and uncertainties.

Perhaps then, as long as these feelings are kept in proportion, social media can be a force for stimulating creativity and development, whilst the more negative aspects can always be assuaged by looking and enjoying - maybe even purchasing - art. And to leave my loyal reader happy here's something that should soothe the most savage breast.

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

A week is a long time

Change is all around us and the pace seems to be accelerating. Everything is uncertain. Talking politics? No, nature. For even this seems to be slightly more chaotic just now.

Just a week ago my early morning walks were serenely calm with sunrise and mists floating over the landscape.

There haven't been any notable extremes in either temperature or wind and yet in the last week most of the autumn colour has disappeared, seemingly overnight. Just a week ago the beech trees were in their full glory and looked set to continue for a while.

This morning, at about the same time and the same place, it's all gone – well nearly. The trees are largely bare and the colour has disappeared.

I'm not suggesting anything unexpected has happened; it is after all late November which by most peoples reckoning is the end of Autumn. It's just that the change seems sudden, or maybe faster than some years. We missed out on Spring this year, going straight from the chill of the beast from the east to high Summer, or so it seemed, so maybe this is the continuation of that, with Winter having blown in from the North Sea. Or maybe not.

On the basis of last week's chaos in the world of politics and today's position, we simply don't know. It might be warm and sunny by the weekend or it might be snowing – in both the political and natural worlds. We can be fairly sure though that the leaves won't be back on the trees, at least not until after next March.

Monday, 20 August 2018

Going green - the wonder of grass

10 days ago the world was still brown. We'd had rain - actually quite a lot of it at the end of July - but nothing seemed to have changed much. The lawn was still like coir matting and even the deep-rooted weeds were looking tired. And then almost imperceptibly the world started to change; just a hint on Wednesday, the merest suggestion on Thursday and then by Friday, green re-entered our dry world.

Curiously some of the first signs were not acvtually grass, but in the dust and gravel along the side of Norfolk's rural roads where grain spilled by contractor's trailers, having first provided a feast for the wood pigeons, burst into unexpected life. And now just a few days on the verges are definitely turning green - you can almost see them growing.

As for the lawns, even though we know - and are always told - not to water them as they will recover in September, this year did seem to be stretching our belief. But the grass is growing - and we're still in August. What a wonderful thing!

Thursday, 26 July 2018

Hot off the press

Just four months ago it seemed like Spring would never come. In some ways it never did and we leapt straight from the freezer onto the barbecue. For us lucky enough to be here in North Norfolk there have been few complaints, sea breezes making our lives disproportionately easier than those who live and work in cities. However, it is now finally getting to us here, with everyday seeing the fire service rushing to extinguish another field fire, whilst most gardeners hereabouts are starting to realise the havoc being wrought by such a long period without rain. Sadly, I imagine the coming months will also reveal how many trees have succumbed.

For the gallery, the good weather has brought more visitors but even they are now starting to find it a little warm, particularly in the middle of the day. Our artists are similarly affected - the memories of being too cold to work now seem like a dream - and many are understandably taking time out from the studio.

Particular problems face the printmaker, with inks adopting unusual characteristics in persistent conditions of high temperature and humidity, even if the maker can cope. Fortunately for us, our current exhibition of wonderful prints by Louise Davies was made before the onset of the current heat. Louise is one of the artists who has shown with us for many years, firstly in Norwich and subsequently here in Burnham. Her work is characterised by vivid colour - hot reds and oranges and also the cooler greens and blues - and offers the chance to acquire some seriously good art at very affordable prices.

Writing about the process of her work Louise says "My prints are created from immediate drawings that I do from my sketchbook. For me, the sketchbook is a vital tool for the beginning of my work. I feel very connected to the landscape and to the seasons and try to convey the feeling, shapes, lines and colours of being in the landscape either at a certain time of day or at a certain time of year.

My prints are often created with three plates and sometimes include a collagraph. I love colour and use the different plates, with Aquatint, to pursue a final print, which I hope will have luminous colour and depth in it. The proofing stage can take weeks as I keep trying different colour fields. It can therefore take a while to finally finish the image. My overall mission is to make something that I feel has a balance pictorially. Nature seems to do this effortlessly and this is what I would like to achieve in my work"

The exhibition "A feel for the land" was due to conclude at the end of the month but given the interest - and the weather - we have decided to allow it to run on into August, with the closing date being posted on the website in due course.

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