Going with the Flow

Features

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.

Art on the Pier

Reviews

During a recent stroll along the seafront, I came across Art on the Pier, an exhibition of work including a series of displays by children from local schools. The kids had been briefed to ‪creative selfies in a variety of ways with a variety of media: photography, collage, drawing, wax resist, clay, fabrics, buttons, wood and wire. The results are brilliant.

I found some really fine photographs by local artists on another part of the pier. The creators of this art on the pier thing are Nadia Chalk and Vanessa Breen, who are professional artists, designers and art educators. They set up a not-for-profit company called Creative Waves, to bring some inspiring public art into the Worthing and Adur community. Well done to them, I say – it’s great to see the arts are alive and well in this dreary old town.

http://www.creativewaves.co.uk

Painting the Family Album

Features

I remember, when I was a little girl, on Sunday afternoons at grandma’s bungalow in Findon Valley, she’d take a stack of photo albums out of the dresser and we’d look at the pictures together. I wasn’t that fond of grandma but I loved looking at those photos of my mum as a child or as a beautiful young woman, and pictures of my dad looking so handsome with his RAF moustache, and pictures of my grandparents when they were young, and their parents and brothers and sisters and aunts, going back through the generations to strange-looking people in Victorian clothes.

These albums eventually came to me – and they’re particularly precious now that the people in them are nearly all dead and gone – and they’ve become a source of inspiration for my painting. After concentrating on landscape for some years, and having recently been inspired by a Gerhard Richter exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, I looked again at these old photos and decided to paint from some of them.

The first one I chose was a picture of my parents on their wedding day, and I was really pleased with the resulting painting, which seemed to have layers of meaning to do with British post-war austerity (it was 1950 and my mum wore a demure tailored jacket and skirt rather than a fancy wedding dress), love, youth, romance, the conventions marriage and of photography. The original small-scale photograph of a big moment in the lives of two ordinary people becomes something different when turned into a large oil painting. That’s what I like about painting: it turns the world into something else.

Images are very powerful. Photographs have a special power. Take a picture of someone or some moment that’s precious and you feel as though you’ve caught the essence of something forever. You’ve captured the feelings you experienced with that person in that place, and you keep it so you can experience those feelings again each time you look at the picture. The power of images is obvious when things go wrong and the memory of someone in a photograph is painful or something you’d prefer to forget: you might feel the need to physically destroy that picture, in a symbolic way removing that person from your history.

My father was something of an amateur photographer in his youth. He developed his own films with a home-made enlarger in a make-shift darkroom. His photos of my mother (before she was my mother) reveal his passion for her. She was beautiful and glamorous and some of the photos he took of her reveal how was mad about her he was. In the early 1950s, just after they got married, they took photos of each other, looking very stylish in the fashions of the time, and obviously happy with their newly-wedded life. Photos of them in later years often show signs of the strain between them. Sometimes the smiles are false.

I wonder about the convention of smiling for family snaps. In the early days of photography, before it reached the masses, people didn’t smile (long exposure times or trying to keep a sense of dignity?). But with Kodak and the Box Brownie, suddenly everyone was supposed to look happy in family photos. If you couldn’t raise a natural smile to reflect your joy, you were instructed to say ‘cheese’ to fool people into thinking you were enjoying yourself. Why? Something to do with middle class ideas of the happy family, that life was good and the world was a lovely place.

Photographs are a crucial part of creating your persona. How you look in photos is important. Everyone wants to look good, don’t they? But the image we have of ourselves may not match the image produced by the camera: if you’re lucky, it might flatter and make you look fabulous. More often (in my experience) the camera will catch your bad side, or your good side from a bad angle, and you end up looking fat and ugly and like your grandmother. This is the kind of photo you dismiss, saying it’s nothing like you because it just doesn’t match the picture you have of yourself in your head. The scary thing is that this is the sort of photo other people say looks just like you.

Feature first published in Dulwich On View.

Back to the Beach

Reviews

Back to the Beach is a seaside-themed exhibition of work by members of local group, Worthing Art Studios, currently showing at Worthing Museum. Participating artists include: Barry Williams – super photographs and brilliant mini conversation pieces in old mackerel tins; Sarah Sepe – colourful, joyous lino prints / collages; Naomi Frances – wonderful creations made from mirrors, shells and stained glass; Mary Crabb  – unique basketry items, like beautiful little lobster pots, made from cane and  coloured wire; Wendy Whiting – a single vivid, abstract, atmospheric oil painting.

 

The exhibition is on until 22 August: don’t miss it.

Body Parts

Reviews

In another gallery I discovered the permanent exhibition Medicine Now, which presents a range of exhibits and art works exploring ideas about the body, genomes, obesity and living with medical science. As well as anatomical models revealing neatly-place internal organs and a plastinated body slice, à la Gunther von Hagens, there’s a shocking sculpture of a gruesomely bulbous human creature called I Can Not Help the Way I Feel by John Isaacs, and a see-through woman whose insides light up when you press a button. But the best for me was the slide show of brilliantly-coloured scanning electron micrographs – hypnotisingly beautiful.

An Idiosyncratic A to Z of the Human Condition continues at the Wellcome Collection until 12 October.

Being in Worthing

Features

The beach smells of rotting seaweed and dead fish. Flies buzz. A crow picks over the pebbles, looking for rubbish to eat. The amusement arcade is noisy and it smells of adolescent boys and dirty coins and candy floss. Just like funfairs. They make me feel sick. And I don’t like being drunk in the afternoon. Go back to the B&B for a nap. Later, look for a pub with a beer garden. The pier’s all lit up, and there are pretty coloured bulbs strung between the streetlights all along the prom. Jack Jones is on at the Pier Pavilion. Crossing the road is easy.

Extracts from The Worthing Sentinel

1851 Margaret Brown, 15, was convicted of begging and sent to the house of correction for fourteen days. Worthing magistrates said the town was infested with vagrants, and it was their job to assist the police in ridding Worthing of them.

1945 The Mayor of Worthing, JA Mason, said of the south coast railway: ‘We have five stations and we are ashamed of every one of them. The first impression people get of a town is the station, and I could imagine a great many of them going back on the next train.’

1946 Mrs Effie Methold, honorary secretary of Worthing Council for Social Service, said: ‘We have been besieged with elderly people who have lived on small incomes in boarding houses or small hotels and have been asked to get out to make way for the holiday visitors with more money.’

1953 When Worthing Corporation officials travelled to London to discuss with the Government what could be done about the town’s terrible seaweed problem, they took with them a paper bag full of dead flies which had hatched in the dreaded weed.

1977 Worthing Borough Council agreed to purchase a framed photograph of the Queen to mark her Silver Jubilee – but only if it didn’t cost more than £60.

First published in DayFour magazine (2003 and 2004)