SUSSEX ARTISTS LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
“I’m not keen on artists who produce the same kind of artwork year after year, knowing full well it will probably sell. It is boring.”
Anyone who is of the opinion that The Association of Sussex Artists (ASA) merely promotes watercolour landscapes of the Sussex Downs, might be relieved to read the words of association chairman, Terry Copping.
In August, the ASA held its 101st exhibition at the Drill Hall in Horsham. In the past, the association might have been accused of playing it safe and not keeping pace with contemporary tastes. Abstract work was lacking, whilst paintings of kite-flying on The Witterings were not.
But those visiting every year may well have noted an increase in more contemporary styles in the work on display, and growth too in the sculpture and ceramic offerings.
Terry said: “Art is subjective, of course, but there is still an area of society that doesn’t accept modern artwork. That’s an age thing as much as anything. As much as I get fed up with looking at them, the middle range pictures, such as landscapes and harbour scenes, still sell very well. So you can’t take that situation away, but I would like to veer towards more contemporary styles.
“There are some rather nice abstracts in the exhibition this year, which are very well done, but they are in the minority. However, there is a more diverse selection here than there was in 2012. Many of what are, in my view, the best pieces, will not sell. Claire Phillips is the best artist here, again in my opinion. Her work is magical. But it is not art which is necessarily instantly appealing.
“People want paintings that can go in the lounge and will match the sofa, and when you lose some of your commercial cloak, you will run into the fact that it is going to be harder to sell.
“We are not the Tate Gallery, I realise that. But when there is no advancement in an artist’s technique, year after year, I can’t really forgive that. I think you should always be pushing on.”
Encouragingly, a good number of new artists are coming through, giving fresh impetus to the ASA exhibition. Partridge Green artist Claire Phillips was showing a painting from her current project inspired by her visit to an orphanage in India, whilst Wendy Standen’s remarkable pastel work included ‘The Proprietor’, a portrait of a man in charge of a shady saloon in Tombstone, Arizona.
Alison Sibley’s detailed architectural watercolours provided a diversion from the more traditional landscape images, whilst Ako Danes’ Far East-influenced pictures also caught the eye. The ASA is now working hard on bringing new, young artists into the association.
Southwater-based Derek Golledge, one of the district’s more renowned and accomplished artists, said: “I’m constantly on the lookout for good artists. When I come across a good artist, I send them an ASA schedule and hope that they submit work. We go through a strict selection system and a good number of pieces are rejected.
We have seven people who look at work individually and make up their own mind on whether a piece should be included in the exhibition.
“If six or seven like it, then it’s in, if it’s five it is doubtful, and if it is four or less, it is rejected. We’re very strict on this process. But our main focus is on bringing in new blood because without that, this exhibition will eventually die. We have to encourage new artists, and there are some fine ones out there. This year, we’ve seen Pam
Gowing, a Horsham-based still life artist, really come on. She put four paintings into the Southwater Art Club Exhibition at ridiculously low prices and they were gone in a flash. Having said that, I bought one of them!
“Jennifer White is another who has come on leaps and bounds, especially with her pencil drawings. Jennifer’s picture of the First World War-era horse and cart is beautiful; one of the finest pieces in the exhibition.
"When Horsham Station was being refurbished, huge amounts of artwork was exhibited by Collyer’s students. They also held an impressive exhibition at the Capitol. There are some talented youngsters out there and I would like to encourage them to submit artwork and potentially even join the Association.
“Should they join, they will have on their CV that they were a member of ASA and that helps enormously if you can show that you have been accepted by a society as a professional artist.”
Another area that the Association is hoping to expand is sculpture and ceramics. Michael Oakey produces sculptures based on Ancient Egypt. This year was the first time he had exhibited as a member of the ASA and is encouraged by the variety on offer. “I entered last year as a guest, as you don’t have to be a member to exhibit here’” he said.
“The Association were keen to have more sculptors involved, and so after last year’s exhibition I was made a full member. I thought ‘I have to get something in for this year’. I had two pieces finished and managed to finish a third a day before the deadline. All of my work is based on limestone and sandstone, and has grown out of my love for Egyptology.
“It appears to me that the sculpture side of the exhibition has been gradually increasing, although I’m sure it won’t even take over the painting side. It’s nice to have a balance and personally I like seeing a good variety of styles and materials on show.I think Sussex is fairly traditional, so a lot of the paintings, in particular, are figurative. But I think the exhibition caters for a wide range of tastes."
The Sussex Artists website isn’t particularly enthralling (come on ASA – how about a gallery!) but for details of becoming a member visit www.sussexartists.org