From Elegance to Urban Decay

I managed to catch the final weekend of this year’s Open Houses event. With 14 different trails showing work by over a thousand artists across Brighton, Hove, Ditchling, Rottingdean and Newhaven, I needed to decide which area to visit, and how far my feet would be able to carry me. I chose the Brunswick Town trail: I’d always wanted to see inside the swanky white stucco houses lining the Regency squares and crescents of Hove, so my first visit was to a spacious ground-floor apartment in Adelaide Crescent, home to artist Julie Devine and exhibition space to a variety of her artist friends.

After climbing the black-and-white tiled steps and walking into the house, I found myself in the darkness of the hallway. It was a dramatic setting for work by Dijon Hierlehy, who creates paintings with light – lots of tiny dots of light shine through a black layer, and the result is quite magical, like a picture made of sparkling diamonds. Leaving the darkness behind, I went into the front room of the flat, and my expectations of Regency elegance were not disappointed. There was a mile-high ceiling with decorative cornice and chandelier, an enormous window with painted wooden shutters, and a grand fireplace. A wonderfully bohemian atmosphere was created by an animal-print sofa, extravagantly-patterned wallpaper on the chimney breast and by the paintings, drawings, photographs, ceramics, sculpture and textiles on display here and all through the house. I particularly liked the vividly colourful images of mother and child by Kristin Watt-Bonar, who also makes beautiful ceramic pieces; and Colin Chetwood’s sculptural light, made of copper and fuchsia-pink tissue paper.

Julie invited me to explore the garden, so I went out the back door, down the staircase and into a delightful little town garden, its lush and well-grown plants making it feel very secluded and other-worldly. I followed the gravel path around the trees and shrubs, enjoyed the sculptures by Milly Welby, and then had a look inside the summer-house, which was furnished with comfy chairs, a curtained divan and an oriental carpet. It was lovely, the garden was lovely and the house was lovely.

Lansdowne Mews was the next stop on my trail, to see Adrian Walker’s latest work. I’d come across him in Brighton’s Arty Magazine a couple of years ago and I really like his paintings: they’re very Turneresque, and I’m a big fan of Turner’s later work. Adrian is an established artist who’s had loads of exhibitions in the UK and elsewhere. His studio is in a dilapidated courtyard reached by an alleyway down the side of a pub – a far cry from the comforts of Adelaide Crescent. This looks like the kind of place where you might have to suffer for your art.Going into Adrian’s studio was like going into another world: it was full of light, not bright or harsh, but hazy and soft, just like the light in his oil paintings. It was visually peaceful, the collection of his work creating a sense of clarity and unity. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. There was no one else in the studio so I was able to have a long chat with Adrian, who seemed like a really nice guy. A brilliant painter and a bit of a hunk. For my next visit, Adrian suggested I see Dion Salvador Lloyd, another abstract painter who won last year’s Best Artist Open House Award. Eventually, I had to tear myself away from Adrian and his gorgeous paintings, and set off on a long trudge through the rain.

Bedraggled and wet, I arrived at the Hove home of painter Dion Salvador Lloyd, but there was a warm welcome from him and Emma, who made me a lovely cup of tea, which I enjoyed while looking around. This was a professional exhibition of brilliant work in a delightful house. Dion’s wonderful abstract paintings were displayed alongside a fascinating collection of objects: ceramics, sculptures, animal skulls, dried flowers, shells, pebbles, tin toys. Everything was perfectly placed, creating a contrast to the dramatic turbulence of Dion’s large oil paintings. His work is full of elemental nature, its power and chaos suggested through thickly-textured painted surfaces, and in this open house domestic setting, I felt I’d had an immersive artistic experience.

By the time I reached my last open house at 9A Hove Place, the sun was shining. I followed the signs through a front garden/vegetable patch, went down some steps and round a corner, into the basement of a grand Victorian villa. Mike Daniels and his wife Tamar were the hosts, and their passion for ceramics was obvious from the quantity of beautiful pieces displayed throughout their spacious flat. There were shelves and cabinets of tiny miniature pots, large ceramic sculptures, wavy teapots, all sorts of jugs, mugs, dishes and vases, in muted earth tones or bold Bloomsbury-style colours, or with iridescent glazes. I later found out that many of the potters showing here sell their work through Miar Arts, an online gallery and shop run by Mike. As well as ceramics, this open house offered some unusual items, including quirky little wooden wind-up automata, featuring a dancing skeleton and a chorus line of OXO cubes. Brilliant.

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