A main reason for the long gap between my last ‘comment’ and now is that, both before and after my own exhibition (see previous blogs in July-August), I have been looking at other people’s art: a memorable summer indeed, with a plenitude of art.
At national/international level I managed to fit in visits on successive days in London to Tate Modern to view the Georgia O’Keefe exhibition followed by the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition at Burlington House. The former, I found, was one of the most interesting exhibitions I have seen, and the latter was far better, notably in its presentation, that many recent Summer Exhibitions. It is now over but the O’Keefe remains open till 30 October.
I have been fortunate too to experience a fair sample of art regionally. Without wishing to produce nothing more than a laundry list, I recall the private view (PV) of ‘the renowned annual Cley Contemporary Art exhibition’, to quote Artseast’s Visual Arts Guide 2016, which this year finally came to terms with its main location inside the church of the village of Cley-next-the-Sea. I express this view because this annual exhibition began, and made its name over a decade or so, in the stunning – in light terms at least – Salthouse church. Its enforced move was only a mile or so west but it has taken time to acclimatise to the very different architecture and light of Cley church. This year’s exhibition, the 16th, was called In Norfolk Now and was accompanied by an excellent catalogue with colour illustrations.
One of the exhibitors there this year was Michael Horn, my mentor, and he also exhibited, as a member, at the Norwich Twenty Group’s summer exhibition Eastern Horizons in The Forum, Norwich. He took me to the PV.
Snapshots of the Twenty Group’s Eastern Horizons PV in the Forum, Norwich
I found the exhibition overall of a high standard with many of the works ‘straining at the leash’, as it were, of the artist’s capabilities. It too was accompanied by an excellent, coloured catalogue.
Michael also exhibited at an epitome of the small, local English gallery, The Old Workshop Gallery in The Street, Corpusty, a tiny but ramblingly spacious venue with – never mind the art – excellent titbits to eat at the PV. One of the other exhibitors there was an old friend from National Trust days, Merlin Waterson, formerly the Trust’s regional Director for East Anglia and now a meticulous, figurative painter of churches and other edifices. It was a good exhibition, with some really interesting material in it, far better than you might expect from the obscurity of the location.
I went to Corpusty from another PV at an even more obscure hide-away, Black Barn, Cockley Cley, in west Norfolk (a name renowned in archaeological circles for its bogus ‘church’ and other ‘reconstructed’ visitor attractions, now closed I was interested to remark). Of particular interest to me was the photographic work of Justin Partyka. I had already seen some of it earlier in the summer at Aldeburgh where he exhibited photographs in memoriam Roger Deakin. Here he focused on rural scenes in present-day Norfolk and Suffolk; the photographs were neither nostalgic nor dystopian. The very ordinariness of the subjects is indeed their point. It was also very interesting for me to have a long conversation with another exhibitor, Kate Giles, whose work I have been following since becoming aware of her some years ago. She grew up in Norfolk and, after working in Suffolk, recently moved back to paint there as well as in London. Her landscapes are both visually striking and philosophically challenging: of her own work she writes ‘How to express the force distributed equally between [the land and the sky]: the physicality of distance and gravity and the tension between the where and the what?’ Her paintings at Black Barn were full of tension.
More on my own doorstep was the (now) annual exhibition in Wenhaston church acknowledging the inspiration provided by the early 20th century ‘Suffolk’ artist Harry Becker (see blogs June/July 2015). I exhibited there last year but not this (I was too late with the paperwork). This year’s exhibition was similar to that in 2015: mostly good, some excellent, work, but little very original and a general impression that most contributors were working within their comfort zone.
Then there was ‘my’ own gallery, the Halesworth Gallery, moving on to really important stuff after ‘Viewing Change’ by celebrating its Golden Anniversary, ’50 Years of Art 1966-2016′ as it proudly announced on its programme for 2016. It celebrated with an exhibition mounted by 100 artists each of whom was given an identical piece of wood 1 foot square to turn into or use in a work of art. The result was remarkable: not a single work was like any of the others and the ingenuity of some of the artists was astonishing. I thought the whole was a feat to be proud of in its own right but especially coming from an entirely voluntary organisation which runs the Gallery, manages the exhibitions to a high standard – and creates the art.
As a consumer of art I have found this summer enjoyable, even uplifting; the downside is I have hardly painted anything myself since early July. I can but hope that my personal autumn is fruitful.