Sussex’s Contemporary Art Auction

'delphinium3' by Dan Bennett

Nicholas Toovey is the painting and book specialist at his family’s firm of fine art and antique auctioneers and valuers. Here he talks about his forthcoming contemporary art auction, to be held at Toovey’s Spring Gardens auction rooms on May 28th. He also discusses the reasons behind hosting this innovative sale.

I have been fortunate to grow up surrounded by art. Regularly visiting museums and galleries from a very young age, my parents inform me that I saw some amazing exhibitions from my pushchair. I have early memories of Giverny, mainly stomping over a blue bridge rather than looking at lily pads. Similarly, I vaguely remember seeing pictures of horses in a cave at Lascaux and thinking I could do better – I couldn’t, even today. One of the earliest memories of a painting that has stuck with me was seeing Henri Matisse’s ‘L’Escargot’ at the Tate. The bold use of colour and the fact that he was in ill-health when he made this vast work has always impressed me.

Whilst I appreciate all art, through my personal exploration of its history I found one particular area that I adore above all others, the British watercolour tradition. It is arguably the first period where Britain led the way in the history of art. Our nation of artists promoted the watercolour medium to one that was worthy of finished paintings. The artists of the day infused our landscape with poetry, melancholy, reverence and atmosphere. Names such as John Robert Cozens, Joseph Mallard William Turner, John ‘Warwick’ Smith and Francis Towne have produced some of my favourite paintings. Thomas Girtin was another from this era of talented artists. He painted ‘The White House at Chelsea’, a small unassuming watercolour located down a side corridor at Tate Britain, which happens to be my favourite ever painting. I also love the patrons of this date, especially Dr Thomas Munro, who set up an informal academy at his home on Adelphi Terrace. Here he made the work of Cozens, one of his patients in Bethlem Hospital, available for study by the next generation of watercolourists.

With this love of late 18th and early 19th century watercolours, many people are surprised by my unwavering passion to promote contemporary art. In my head I hold a romanticized vision of Munro as a selfless promoter; I feel a similar self-imposed duty to promote the artists of today for the future. It was with this in mind that I created Toovey’s Contemporary Art Auctions. The auctions only include works of art consigned for sale directly from the artists, an entirely new concept that was totally unique when the first sale was held in 2006. Conceived through my desire to offer a new platform for artists to exhibit and sell their work, the sale also offers an exciting way for art-lovers, collectors and patrons to acquire contemporary art. There is nothing quite like the adrenaline rush of bidding on a lot at auction. It is the best form of gambling around, if you win you get to take something beautiful that you really wanted home with you, if you lose you don’t pay a penny!

I have organised preview exhibitions of the sales at local museums, joining the dots between artists, buyers, museums and auctions. This year the majority of entries are housed in the preview exhibition ‘Hung, Drawn & Displayed’ at Horsham Museum, which runs until 11th May. The medieval timber-framed building in Horsham’s picturesque Causeway provides a contrasting backdrop to the diverse selection of 21st century art.

Another aim of the sale is to promote the arts in Sussex and make contemporary art more accessible. My biggest concern is that for many the term contemporary art conjures visions of unmade beds or diamond encrusted skulls, this often leads to bewilderment and a misunderstanding of art today. Exhibition pieces such as these are used in the same way a car manufacturer will produce a concept car that will never go into production. I feel it is important to remember that contemporary art is simply a term that covers art created in our recent lifetime. Contemporary art therefore encompasses a huge spectrum of work, from more traditional pieces to radical and innovative art.

The auction offers a perfect starting place to venture into the contemporary art market; with 60 highly talented artists providing a wide variety of styles. The selection of 170 original works of art is a truly eclectic mix and I hope that even if you do not like some of the works, you will be able to appreciate the technique or skill of the artist. Similarly I hope you will fall in love with a few pieces and have just the right home for them, fortunately everyone has different taste and as curator I attempt to reflect that. The selection process is carefully considered and I draw upon my knowledge of fifteen years experience in the resale art market when contacting and responding to artists. I dedicate a considerable amount of my personal time to organise the event and to source a mixture of highly acclaimed names and emerging talent. I also believe art should be inclusive and so the auction caters for all budgets, with work carrying presale estimates between £50 and £8000.

'Southwater Iguanodon' by Hannah Stewart
'Chromosome' by William Harling

The Contemporary Art Auction this year includes the work of award-winning Horsham-based artist Hannah Stewart. Hannah is best known for her public sculptures, including ‘Hauling Man’, a life-size sculpture at the Tesco store in Hailsham, which celebrates the rope-making tradition in the area. ‘The St Leonard’s Forest Dragon’ in Horsham Park is also one of her pieces, produced for the town in which she was born. This year Hannah is offering three preliminary drawings for her work in 3-D, one of which is the original sketch for ‘Southwater Iguanodon’. The finished sculpture in Southwater reflects the local brick-making tradition in its base and the discovery of the dinosaur bones in the surrounding area. This drawing shows a slightly different plinth to that produced and now on display in the Lintot Square. The drawing was used for promotional material at the unveiling and provides a rare opportunity to acquire a piece of local history.

Whilst Hannah is offering preliminary drawings, fans of sculpture can still delight in a fantastic and diverse selection, including two bronzes by Hove-based sculptor William Harling. Form is paramount in William’s work, as ‘Chromosome’ exemplifies. This large 61cm (2ft) wide foundry-cast bronze group of two anonymous cloaked figures joined in a striking ‘x’ outline is testament to the sculptors’ skill and considered vision. Their faceless appearance strips the figures of all personality and individual history, hinting towards a metaphysical symbolism.

'Escalator II' & 'Scrumping' by Josse Davis

Work in ceramics is not neglected in the sale. Often deemed as craft rather than art, I choose ceramicists whose work crosses this boundary. Arundel-based ceramicist, Josse Davis, has featured in every auction to date and this year is no exception. He is the son of the famous ceramicist and artist Derek Davis and the painter Ruth Davis. Having been born into a world of colour and form, Josse was always destined to be creative. This year he is offering three pieces from his Alien-themed series, produced in stoneware with brush-drawn decoration in soot-black pigment. This humorous range of work shows how strange some of the things humans do in our day-to-day lives appear.

'Wandering Paths' by Sheila Marlborough
'West Pier, Brighton, no3' by Natalie Martin

Inherently pictures are strongly represented within the sale; always offering a mixture of sizes, styles and media, including quirky illustrations, traditional watercolours and urban-inspired oils on canvas. West Sussex artist Sheila Marlborough is offering a group of paintings including ‘Wandering Paths’. The abstract canvas is an atmospheric interpretation of a landscape that highlights her strong compositions and love of emotive colour. Sheila was elected as president of the Sussex Watercolour Society in 2005 and is also a member of the artist-led co-operative Chalk Gallery in Lewes. In contrast, Natalie Martin’s incredibly detailed and realistic paintings capture urban decay and domestic neglect in a beautiful and revered way. The subject of her acrylic on canvas ‘The West Pier at Brighton, no 3’ exemplifies her expression in art perfectly. Natalie is often described as a ‘painter’s painter’ and has had work accepted by the Bath Society of Artists, The Society of Women Artists and The Royal Academy.

I am always seeking new artists of a high calibre to keep every auction fresh and different from the previous year. A new face participating this year is Dan Bennett, another Brighton-based artist whose meticulously executed paintings on canvas are inspired by his fascination with phosphenes. These intricate swirling patterns that dance across closed eyelids have been the mainstay of his artistic production to date, often translating these spirals, dots and meandering lines into more recognisable subjects such as plants and other organisms. Dan’s work shares strong links with Aboriginal dot paintings, African body art and examples seen in lost cultures in the ancient world, such as those in the Peruvian rainforests. His painting ‘delphinium3’ is one of three works he has entered in the sale highlighting his own unique vision.

I believe art comes alive when you know more about it, I am therefore happy to relay any inherited stories I have been told by the creators. I will be available on the above viewing times to discuss any items within the sale. A fully-illustrated catalogue is also available with further information on all the participating artists and their work. Visit www.tooveys.com for further information.

Nicholas’ article was originally published in Sussex Life magazine in May 2011.

An Earthy Sussex Palette: Alison Milner-Gulland

‘Bonding’, three-plate etching
‘Bonding’ by Alison Milner-Gulland
‘Galloping Horses’, stoneware pot with Arundel red clay slip
‘Galloping Horses' by Alison Milner-Gulland

Washington-based artist Alison Milner Gulland works in a variety of media to voice her artistic imagination. Whilst her creations in oil, watercolour, collage, printing and ceramics offer different subjects and mastery, she establishes an inherent theme with lyrical and textural qualities and her rich earthy palette. Nicholas Toovey tells us more.

‘Deep in the Downs #1’, mixed media on canvas
‘Deep in the Downs #1’ by Alison Milner-Gulland
‘Moonlight’, mixed media on canvas
‘Moonlight’ by Alison Milner-Gulland

Alison has been drawing since she was old enough to hold a pencil, but did not intend to become an artist, despite her mother being an accomplished painter and her aunt being a talented botanical artist. It was a move of house and school that steered her away from her father’s scientific interests to an artistic path. It was under the tutorage of her Art Master, Edward Holmes, that she became inspired. Today, Alison feels fortunate to have studied under an encouraging teacher, still subconsciously adopting elements of his teachings, particularly in the use and mixing of colours. She continued her education in art, studying painting and theatre design at Birmingham College of Art and Craft and later printmaking at Brighton and Northbrook. More recently she has added another facet to her output in the form of ceramics, working intuitively this is, she admits, learning by trial and error.

She has taught art in several counties, but Alison feels ‘Sussex chose her’; bringing up her family with her husband in the county and living in a handful of picturesque Downland villages. Does Sussex inspire her? Without question, both in her palette and often with subject matter. She has owned horses since being a teenager and until three years ago, regularly rode up the Downs, quickly discovering that she could not persuade her horse to stand still for long enough to make sketches. Instead Alison committed the movement of the downs and that of the horse to memory. From the elevated position she could see the sweeping chalk curves, with its ancient trackways, rolling hills and far-reaching views, later transferring these thoughts and images to paper and canvas.

‘Cellist’, stoneware pot with oxide and incised decoration
‘Cellist’ by Alison Milner-Gulland
‘Reflection’, mixed media on paper (including reclaimed water-damaged work)
'Reflection' by Alison Milner-Gulland
‘Star Madonna’ by Alison Milner-Gulland
‘Star Madonna’ by Alison Milner-Gulland

Her studio nestles at the foot of the South Downs in the small village of Washington. Inside is a well-organized chaos, framed works are hung wherever wall-space permits or stacked on the floor. After being greeted by the family’s 15 year old pet dog, Harriet, and navigating through a maze of pictures, mounting materials and packaging you come to the main work area of the cottage studio. Here architect’s chests conceal numerous unframed prints, stacked on top of these are further prints, oils on canvas and works in progress, beneath works drying on a washing line. Occasionally the sound of nearby chickens, geese, guinea fowl or sheep are heard from outside. To fresh eyes it would be difficult to believe that disaster had recently struck this room, but drawers are now half-full or containing materials instead of finished works. It has only been a few years since a torrent of water, reaching over a foot high, swept through the studio. This half-hour of devastation resulted in nine bonfires of ruined art. Numerous works on paper and canvas sentenced to the pyre, pictures that on occasion dated back to her student years. Some pictures were partially salvageable and Alison has now reworked many fragments of previous pieces into new reinterpretations in collage and on canvas.

‘Brighton Life Drawing’, mixed media on panel
‘Brighton Life Drawing’ by Alison Milner-Gulland

Negotiating the livestock and braving the elements gains access to a separate studio dedicated to her work in ceramics. A colder but brighter and neater space, inherently slightly dusty from the powders, glazes and clays used to create the work. Along two walls are shelves displaying recent vessels, mostly figurative or musically inspired, but with a few trial abstractive landscape designs scattered amongst them.

She has exhibited her work extensively in Great Britain, including a highly successful exhibition featuring a collection of Russian inspired art in the ScotlandRussiaForum during the Edinburgh Festival last year. Alison also makes regular appearances in the annual arts festivals of Arundel, Brighton, Oxford, and Washington. Work by Alison has been purchased by New College, Oxford and Worthing Museum and Art Gallery for their permanent collections, with other works in private collections around the world.

The artist in her studio

Alison is also an active member of the Sussex Watercolour Society and this year will be exhibiting with other members in Henfield and at the Hop Gallery in Lewes. She has also recently been invited to exhibit with the Society of Graphic Fine Artists in London and often shows with the Southern Ceramics Group.

Alison’s paintings, prints and ceramics all reflect the beautiful rural countryside surrounding her studio, infused with classical, mythical or natural inspirations. The variety in media and style means her art fits into almost all interiors, from country cottages to feature walls in contemporary spaces. At first glance her work is accessible and uncomplicated, but over time, the layers, subtle details and evolving depths of the art come to the fore, highlighting the talent of this artist.

Nicholas’ article was originally published in Sussex Life magazine in April 2011.

A New Generation of Still Life Study: Chris Kettle

'Botanica' by Chris Kettle
'Botanica' by Chris Kettle

02 'My Counterpoint II' limited edition print
'My Counterpoint II' by Chris Kettle
 'Titanica' oil and varnishes
'Titanica' by Chris Kettle
'Hubris' oil and varnishes on canvas
'Hubris' by Chris Kettle
'Afterglow' oil and varnishes on canvas
'Afterglow' by Chris Kettle
The artist in his studio
The artist in his studio

Nicholas Toovey meets a Brighton-based artist handling a classic subject matter in a revolutionary new way.

Chris Kettle has spent most of his artistic career reinterpreting the age-old genre of Still Life.  Heavily inspired by Peter Doig, the Dutch Old Masters and the installation art of Damien Hirst, this unusual grouping of styles fuse to create edgy, urban and contemporary paintings.

The artist’s creativity can largely be attributed to his mother’s influence; she attended the Royal College of Music before starting her family.  She allowed Chris to advance and flourish, swapping his music lessons for art lessons, encouraging him to explore his natural talent.  Chris obtained his degree in Fine Art at Cardiff and always wanted to live life in a big city.  His grandfather was a fisherman on the Sussex coast and his mother had lived in Littlehampton.  During the 1960s Chris’ father rode a Lambretta around Brighton in an age before helmets and the artist admits he fell for the romance of inherited stories when choosing Brighton above Bristol and London.  He now lives with his partner and is bringing up his daughter in the place where he feels more at home than anywhere else he has ever lived.  Does Sussex inspire his work? Not particularly, he admits his art could be painted anywhere, but Chris feels that the sea does influence his work in allowing the space for the freedom of thought.  He believes that Brighton is one of the few places where you can be yourself, a diverse city that encourages experimentalism.

His Hove studio is light, clean and contemporary, with an unmistakable hint of fresh oil paints and varnishes lingering in the air, he shares the studio with fellow artist Simon Dixon.  Chris’ current body of work focuses on things that sparkle and contrast, beside his easel is a small bookcase of choice trinkets, akin to Magpies’ treasure, orderly and neatly arranged, looking like installation art in itself.  Beside this is a table littered with tubes of paint, sponges, brushes and a huge stack of photographs of flowers.  A few currently available works hang on the wall, including ‘Botanica’, a fluid, yet almost photo-realistic study of a silver and glass vase issuing an orchestral explosion of flowers. With his distinctive dripping varnishes and touches of luminous colour it is beautifully presented in an ebonized wood frame of solid proportions.  Below is a small stack of other wrapped works, some recently returned from a show in Gstaad, others ready to send to the Opus Gallery.  Chris’ work is often sent all over the world for various group and solo exhibitions, including New York, Milan, Switzerland and London, where he has hung alongside the likes of Tracey Emin and Antony Micallef.  He can also sometimes be found in the Brighton gallery Ink’d as well as selling directly to his database of private collectors.

Chris describes his paintings as ‘journeys’, a culmination of exploring new avenues, constant editing and organic reworking, a process that means it can take up to three months to complete a single work.  The finished paintings are imbued with presence and emotion, a harmony of various flowers or fruit contrasting with mysterious glistening vessels.  These antique metallic elements are meticulously sourced for their visual aura and their possible enigmatic past.  The dripping varnish on occasions adds a feeling of recovered treasure pulled from the deep, hinting towards a nautical inspiration.  The varnish is the final act of freedom for an artist that is constantly striving and experimenting to improve his output.  Chris recognises that his career started as a whisper, but through self progression he has found his inimitable voice and judging by the current body of work it is big, punchy and powerful.

His latest venture is a limited edition print that he is publishing himself, produced to a high quality in an edition of just 20, ‘My Counterpoint II’ is the inaugural outing of an annual print of the artist’s favourite painting from the previous year.  By publishing it himself he can keep the cost lower than his other limited edition prints, offering it exclusively via his own website.

Chris Kettle deserves to be the next ‘big name’ in the contemporary art market, his subversive approach to the often overlooked subject of Still Life uniquely infuses the classic genre with a modern twist that brings the subject refreshingly up to date for a new generation of patrons.

Visit www.chriskettle.co.uk for more information and to see more examples of his work.

Nicholas’ article was originally published in Sussex Life magazine in March 2011.