Here are some more drawings from my coastal sketchbook.
I haven’t done any painting for months so it’s about time I started thinking of my next project. I want to make a series of abstract coastal paintings that will express my love and sense of connection to the beaches of Worthing, and I’ve made a start with ideas in a sketchbook with drawing, painting and collage.
These mass-produced utilitarian timber groynes on the beach at Worthing were constructed to defend the coast from the forces of the sea. It takes about 20 years of erosion by weather and water for the timber to be transformed into a variety of beautiful sculptural forms. Sadly, the weathering doesn’t stop, and sooner or later, these beautiful shapes and textures will disappear.
This is an exhibition about notions of flow: the mental state of total engagement; the movement of the sea and the sky; and the passage of time. It’s a brilliant theme that brings together a variety of work by the Saltgrass Artists – a group of six Sussex-based artists who recently graduated after years of part-time study as mature students.
Denise Strange and Lee Rousell are both painters inspired by the Sussex countryside, but their work is very different. Denise works in the English landscape tradition, and her paintings have a sense of space and light. They reveal her love of nature, and of specific places, and her sensitivity to moods created by light and weather conditions. Her focus is being in the moment, creating a mood of calm, solitude and sometimes mystery. In contrast, Lee’s paintings are much more abstract expressionist: he uses a bold colour palette, thickly-applied paint and gestural mark making, which results in a restless picture surface that speaks of inner turmoil.
Sue Coleman takes an interdisciplinary approach to her work, producing drawings, etchings and photographs as well as sculptures and installations. What links it all together is her exploration of the tension between human activity and the natural world, between growth and decay. In this exhibition, she is showing some fascinating photographs of found urban objects, and an installation of green oak, pebbles and sand, called Longshore Drift, a reference to the endless movement of sand and stones along the coast.
Multi-media artist Sam Kennedy uses vintage imagery and fragments of ephemera to create intriguing collage images that suggest a flow between the present and the past. Collage as an art form has a fine pedigree, with its roots in Dada and Surrealism, and Sam continues the tradition of deconstruction and re-assemblage, bringing diverse elements together to create new narratives with layers of meaning.
Nikki Wilson’s photographs capture lyrical details of church interiors, highlighting the beauty of quiet corners of these buildings, which bear the traces of generations of worshippers. Until recent times, the parish church lay at the heart of the ebb and flow of community life, and Nikki’s pictures offer us the chance to focus on physical elements of ancient churches that also have a spiritual resonance.
Dee Hilder works in many different media and for this show she has created a series of etchings, drawings and felted paintings inspired by the ebb and flow of the sea around the beach at Old Shoreham Fort. Repetition, movement and spontaneity are notable features of her work: her graphite images look very much like automatic drawings, and there must be an enormous element of chance involved in the making of her beautiful calico dye pieces.
Saltgrass Artists: Flow continues at the Skyway Gallery, Shoreham-by-Sea, until Friday 17 November.
I managed to catch Bloomsbury Art & Design at the Courtauld Gallery before it finished last week, and must admit that I was a bit disappointed. The Courtauld holds one of the most extensive collections of works by artists from the Bloomsbury Group, many of which were bequeathed by the art critic Roger Fry to the newly formed Courtauld Institute of Art in 1935. Unfortunately, I didn’t read the online blurb properly: instead of an exciting exhibition, I got a one-room ‘special display’, which was fine as far as it went, but didn’t really satisfy. But the Courtauld is an academic institution first and foremost (making the information panels pretty dry) and its incredible collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings plus its amazing gallery within Somerset House make up for any lack of block buster-type exhibitions like those offered by such stars of the artworld as the Royal Academy and the V&A.
The special display presented a selection of Bloomsbury paintings, prints, designs and ceramics relating to the Omega Workshops, a business enterprise offering hand-crafted household items, set up by Roger Fry and his artistic young friends, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. In 1911, Fry and Vanessa began an affair (Vanessa had been married to Clive Bell for four years, and Fry’s wife Helen had been committed to a mental asylum in 1910 and spent the rest of her life there). Fry’s heart was broken when Vanessa fell in love with Duncan Grant (whose previous lovers included his cousin Lytton Strachey and the economist John Maynard Keynes), but despite this, the three remained good friends.
Fry had gained a reputation for promoting continental avant garde art: in 1910, he rocked the London art establishment when he curated Manet and the Post-Impressionists, and again two years later with his Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition. Edwardian society was staid and oppressive, so this introduction to contemporary European art (specifically the works of Cézanne, Van Gogh, Matisse and Picasso) had a profound impact on young British artists, particularly the painters of the Bloomsbury Group. The artists and writers of the group were bound together by their desire to break down the conventions and double standards of their Victorian parents’ generation. They wanted to create a new way of living, based on personal, artistic and sexual freedom. The painters in the group moved away from academic representation to create works of bold colour, expressive brushwork and loose drawing, and they extended their painting activity to interior decoration, seeing no divide between fine and applied art.
The Omega Workshops were founded in 1913 and Fry, Bell and Grant began producing furniture, carpets, ceramics, textiles mirrors and light fittings that would rival the old-fashioned, mass-produced goods currently available. Fry declared ‘We have suffered for too long from the dull and stupidly serious,’ as the Workshops produced objects in a variety of styles, influence by Post-Impressionism, Fauvism and Cubism. The work was highly experimental and the focus was on decoration rather than design: pieces of furniture were often bought in and then decorated at the workshops, to create Omega products. Several different artists became involved, and everyone worked collaboratively, marking the finished objects with the collective omega symbol (the last letter of the Greek alphabet) rather than individual signatures. Vanessa also designed a range of dresses in Omega-designed fabrics, rejecting the tight corseting of high fashion for Bohemian drapery. After six years of trading, a series of poor financial decisions and internal conflicts, Omega Workshops Ltd. was liquidated. It had been a brief flowering of creativity, during which Fry, Vanessa and Grant explored abstract design and championed a new modern style, and the influence of the Omega Workshops was significant in the following decades, and the Bloomsbury style still has great appeal today.