The Original White Cube Gallery

J.M.W. Turner’s watercolour of the North Gallery at Petworth

How modern the 21st century gallery interior seems to us with its light, white interiors – but is it really modern?

This week we are at Petworth House, in the company of the National Trust’s inspirational Exhibitions Manager, Andrew Loukes. The Petworth House team are preparing for their spring opening on Saturday 19th March 2016. All around us the house’s treasures are emerging from beneath their winter covers.

The Classical sculpture at Petworth
The Classical sculpture at Petworth
George Wyndham O’Brien (1751-1837), 3rd Earl of Egremont
George Wyndham O’Brien (1751-1837), 3rd Earl of Egremont

As we enter the North Gallery the deep red of the walls sets off the white of the sculptures. It is a remarkable space. The blinds are opened and the light floods in. It reminds me of a watercolour of the North Gallery by the artist J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851). The watercolour depicts the gallery luminous and white. John Flaxman’s (1755-1826) famous sculpture ‘St Michael subduing Satan’ is to the fore. The sketch is one of a number produced by Turner which he painted for his own pleasure, they illustrate life behind the scenes at Petworth House. Andrew Loukes explains “At the time of the 3rd Earl these galleries were painted white.” I remark that this must have been the first white cube gallery. Andrew agrees and adds “This is arguably the first purpose built art gallery in Britain.” He reminds me that the Carved Room at Petworth House, sometimes called the Long Dining Room, was created by the 3rd Earl from two rooms. It houses the remarkable Grinling Gibbons carvings. The room would have appeared very much as it does today although the panelling was papered and painted white. Andrew says “The effects of this white colour scheme can be seen in the palette of Turner’s paintings produced specifically for that room.” Some rooms were also painted a bright red.

The North Gallery was altered and expanded by both the 2nd and 3rd Earl’s of Egremont. The influence of George Wyndham O’Brien (1751-1837), 3rd Earl of Egremont, and his forebears is immediately apparent. The best contemporary art of the early 19th century sits alongside sculptures from classical antiquity. Andrew Loukes explains that this is no accident “This is a very personal collection reflecting father and son. The classical sculpture was predominately collected by the 2nd Earl. Under the 3rd Earl the modern was brought alongside the ancient. The house and collection influenced many of the artists of the time. It is not possible to overemphasize how important this place was, in the early 19th century, to British art –it was an unofficial academy.” The 3rd Earl was very discerning so there are no examples of work by artists like John Constable or Edwin Landseer in the collection, even though they stayed at Petworth.

John Flaxman’s famous sculpture, ‘St Michael subduing Satan’
John Flaxman’s famous sculpture, ‘St Michael subduing Satan’

John Flaxman’s ‘St Michael subduing Satan’ is still displayed in the North Gallery. Flaxman based the composition of this piece on Raphael’s painting of St Michael which now hangs in the Louvre. The sculpture tells the story of the eventual triumph of good over evil from the book of Revelations in the Bible. A youthful St Michael prepares to smite Satan as he raises his spear. It is a heroic and patriotic piece produced by Flaxman at the height of his powers.

It was John Ruskin who commented that the white walls made the sculptures look dirty and by the 1850s the North Gallery’s walls had been painted red. Petworth House is one of the nation’s great treasure houses. The house reopens on Saturday 19th March 2016. Whether you are visiting for the first time or returning to an old friend you cannot fail to be inspired by the art and history of the place. For more information go to www.nationaltrust.org.uk/petworth-house.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

Borde Hill Garden, The Legacy of a Victorian Plant Collector

Andrewjohn and Eleni Stephenson Clarke
Andrewjohn and Eleni Stephenson Clarke in the Borde Hill Italian garden
Thomas Joynes’s sculpture ‘Henosis’
Thomas Joynes’s abstract sculpture ‘Henosis’, part of the 2014 Borde Hill Garden Sculpture Exhibition
Borde Hill Garden
One of the Borde Hill garden ‘room’ beds

The gardens at Borde Hill reflect the passions of Colonel Stephenson R. Clarke who set about creating them having purchased the house and land in 1893. Between 1893 and 1937 he sponsored many of the Great Plant Collectors’ expeditions. They returned with rare specimens brought back from their travels in the Himalayas, China, Burma, Tasmania and the Andes. Many of these plant species are still at the heart of the collection which make up the seventeen acres of formal gardens we enjoy today.

The custodianship of this remarkable house and garden is now in the hands of Colonel Stephenson R. Clarke’s great grandson Andrewjohn and his wife Eleni. Like their forebears they are passionate about Borde Hill and its gardens. Eleni, a geologist and trained horticulturalist, admits that it is the gardens which inspire her. She explains “Over recent years we have embarked on a program of intensive new planting regenerating existing beds with perennials, grasses and lots of new trees.” She and her team of dedicated gardeners have worked hard to add even more colour and interest to both the gardens and parklands throughout the season. Eleni enthuses “Colour, texture, smell and light are so important. The gardens must be alive to delight the senses of the visitor.” As you walk around the garden your senses are arrested and delighted. The gardens were first opened to the public by Andrewjohn’s father, Sir Ralph Clarke, in 1965, a tradition which he is proud to continue. This botanically important Grade II* listed Sussex garden is made up of a series of ‘rooms’ and vistas which still speak loudly of the Victorian plant collector. Each enthrals the visitor in turn.

The gardens are complemented by forty exciting sculptures from fourteen artists represented in the 2014 Contemporary Sculpture Exhibition. The work is for sale. Amongst my favourites is the abstract sculpture shown here. Titled ‘Henosis’, it is the work of Thomas Joynes. In classical Greek the word for oneness and unity is henosis. In Platonism the goal of henosis is union with what is fundamental in reality. The artist’s attention to materials, texture, light and form frame the Italian garden and its vista beautifully. The influence of organic, natural forms is apparent in Joynes’ work and is particularly appropriate in this context, uniting us with this garden and parkland landscape.

Andrewjohn and Eleni Stephenson Clarke are clearly united to the procession of their family’s ambitions, life and history in this place. Their day often starts at six or seven in the morning as there are always things to do. But when you are on the right path in life there can be an ease to hard work. Eleni concludes “We are very aware of the wonderful heritage of this living collection’s past and our responsibility to replace or propagate the rare.” Andrewjohn and Eleni’s stewardship is deserving of our thanks. Their passion and dedication are keeping this remarkable collection alive in every sense as a rich botanical resource for us all.

This Bank Holiday weekend treat yourself to a visit to the remarkable Borde Hill Garden, Borde Hill Lane, Haywards Heath, West Sussex, RH16 1XP. You will take home wonderful memories and who knows maybe even a sculpture! For more information on opening times and forthcoming events go to www.bordehill.co.uk.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 21st May 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Life as Art: Olivia Ferrier

Olivia Ferrier detail of 'Soldier Crow'
Detail of 'Soldier Crow', bronze, produced in an edition of 9, by Olivia Ferrier

Many artists invest their work with autobiographical elements; this becomes the artist’s voice that unites their body of work. Olivia Ferrier is an award-winning Brighton-based sculptor working predominantly in bronze. She draws on her own experiences travelling and living around the world to create her work. Nicholas Toovey tells us more

Olivia Ferrier: 'Horse Head', bronze on a reclaimed Sussex sea groin, produced in an edition of 9
'Horse Head' by Olivia Ferrier
Olivia Ferrier: 'Dryad', bronze, produced in an edition of 9
'Dryad' by Olivia Ferrier
Olivia Ferrier: 'Three Crows on a pair of gates', Bronze with gold plate on a teak and iron gate, unique
'Three Crows on a pair of gates' by Olivia Ferrier

Olivia grew up near Powys, Mid Wales. Her professional artistic career started with a Foundation course at Northbrook College, Worthing, followed by a three-year BA (hons) degree in Ceramics from Bath Spa University. A three month residency in India followed at the Sanskrit Kendra where she first was introduced to foundries and casting. During her three years in Australia she began to seriously exhibit and sell her work. A change in circumstances meant that in 2006 she decided to return to Britain and after a summer studying at the Florence sculpture academy she moved back to Wales. On her return she was still interested and curious about metal casting and worked for a local foundry ‘Castle Fine Arts’. The encouraging staff not only educated her but provided her the freedom to experiment out of hours on her own work, gaining techniques in casting, mould-making and patination (a tarnish that forms on the bronze to create various finishes).

In 2008 Olivia decided to move to Brighton, her brother and sister had lived there when she was younger but her siblings had since moved on. Knowing the town she was drawn to the sea and the creative air of the town. Instantly feeling at home in Sussex, Olivia cannot understand why anybody wouldn’t want to live in Brighton, she quips the weather is better in Brighton than in Wales too. Does Sussex inspire her? Olivia is inspired by everything, her eye often catches an otherwise disregarded object or source for a new idea, she purchased pieces of the collapsing West Pier which she hopes to turn into something at a later date. A work in progress is a bronze parrot that will finally be covered in bright spray paints inspired by the graffiti in Brighton’s North Laine. Her work is inspired by her travels and her attention to details that others may not see.

The majority of her work is still cast at ‘Castle Fine Arts’, combining creating the bronzes with visits to her family in Wales. Olivia’s work is chiefly based around figures and animals (predominantly birds) cast in bronze using a lost-wax casting technique in small editions. This allows her to incorporate found or sourced objects into her sculptures, such as feathers, flowers and other textural items. These forms are often skeletal-like as the artist wishes to capture the essence of the animal or bird. ‘Horse Head’, for example, uses castings of tack including a horseshoe to create the finished sculpture. ‘Soldier Crow’ incorporated castings of small army figures and a toy tank to create the overall bird form symbolising the premature loss of life through conflict. Crows are a recurring source of inspiration for the artist, a bird often associated with bad omens in the Western World. Inspired by her travels in India, particularly the holy city of Varanasi, which she describes as a “melting pot where death and life come together”. Her experiences here, created a different and more hopeful attitude towards mortality contrary to the European views of the subject “I have been inspired by the spirituality in India and the belief in the cycle of life, death, life”. These sculptures could be viewed as strange and macabre or, fragile and beautiful; to quote Aristotle “The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance”.

The sculptor, Olivia Ferrier

As an artist, her work is undoubtedly autobiographical, investing each piece with parts of her life, including her family, travels, reactions, feelings and histories expressed through shapes, forms and symbols. Olivia became a mother for the first time last year and her work will develop in excitingly different ways as a result. Since moving to Brighton her sculpture has been increasingly well-received gaining Olivia the Alec Trianti Special Sculpture Award, Falle Fine Art Award and the Art London Award reinforcing her status as a sculptor of note.

Olivia will be exhibiting new works in a group show with six other Sussex artists at The Gallery, Cork Street, London, between the 31st April and 5th May. Her work can also often be found at Will’s Art Warehouse in Putney, and at The Sculpture Park in Surrey.

For more visit www.oliviaferrier.com

Nicholas’ article was originally published in Sussex Life magazine in April 2012.

Click on an image below to enlarge

A Sense of Play: Paul Cox

'Sea saw' bronze by Paul Cox
'Sea saw' bronze by Paul Cox

The art world has been accused of taking itself too seriously, so it is refreshing to discover an artist whose work has a tongue-in-cheek approach. Nicholas Toovey meets Paul Cox, an award-winning sculptor whose work is based around play.

Paul Cox in front of 'Ahoy'
Paul Cox in front of 'Ahoy'
'Token' polychrome resin by Paul Cox
'Token' polychrome resin by Paul Cox
'Looking for the promise land' stoneware with glaze and oxides by Paul Cox
'Looking for the promise land' stoneware with glaze and oxides by Paul Cox
'City Cuts' corten steel and Polyurethane paint by Paul Cox
'City Cuts' corten steel and Polyurethane paint by Paul Cox
Detail of 'Colour of Shade' by Paul Cox
Detail of 'Colour of Shade' by Paul Cox

Paul was born in Sussex and lived in Partridge Green throughout his childhood. He recalls being painfully shy whilst attending Steyning Grammar School, but it was here that he was encouraged to explore art. Loving the hands-on approach he says “art was the only thing I excelled in”, perhaps the freedom of this subject acted as escapism for the young dyslexic student. With the support of his encouraging parents, Paul then fell onto an artistic path, relieved and pleased that there was a route he could explore. He attended a foundation course at Northbrook College before attending the Winchester School of Art leaving with a BA (hons) first class degree in Fine Art Sculpture. People soon started to talk about his work and through his art he had the voice to communicate without actually saying a word. With every new skill, material mastered or method of working came more enthusiasm and self-belief. A postgraduate MA followed at the Royal Academy Schools. Attributable to the great tutors and the knowledge and confidence they imbued upon him, Paul embraced his new visual vocabulary and was excited by it.

Having left the county for his education, Paul returned and settled in Newhaven and states “if you have ever lived near the Sussex coast something always brings you back to the area”. Here, his double garage is his studio and the front and back garden become an ever changing exhibition space. For Paul his sculpture is part of him and therefore it is not unusual to have it surrounding him, passers-by who gather around his front garden however, are obviously not quite as used to it. Does Sussex inspire him? Definitely, he loves the landscape, particularly the Downs, the fields with ploughed tracks forming natural patterns, the richness of colour, particularly in spring with the lime greens contrasting with the blue skies. He loves it all, including the more industrial side of Brighton which has a magical reflected light from the sea. Paul is a part-time tutor at Northbrook College where he teaches full-time foundation students and runs an evening course in sculpture techniques. Becoming a teacher proved to himself that his childhood inhibitions of speaking in public are pretty much a distant memory.

Paul works in a very visual way, “I collect my everyday experiences in notebooks in the form of drawings, notes and scraps of paper. I believe it is important to ‘play’, physical or intellectual play is involved in anything that is created. With an open mind to materials and a persistent investigative attitude anything is possible. I like to be surprised; many great things have come from mistakes and accidents”. Always wanting to see a sculpture in three-dimensions he makes small models which he can later scale-up. Using cardboard, bubble wrap and paper, Paul creates the moulds for his final vision, turning ephemeral material into valuable works of art. From such small beginnings works such as ‘City Cuts’ have begun, the finished version reaching over 2 meters high and weighing literally a tonne. His largest work to date was ‘Ahoy’ a 6.5 meter high bulbous ‘toy’ boat perched on a table beside a chair, this 6 tonne sculpture has travelled across land to its new home in the Cafesjian Center for the Arts in Yerevan, Armenia.

Paul’s sculpture and drawings generally have underlying humour portrayed in varying degrees of subtlety. Even those that may seem serious might have been made in a quirky way or have a twist of sorts. One of his main stimuli for creating is this injection of humour – it makes him smile to bring visions from his own world into ours. His offbeat approach is a considered contradiction to some other art that leaves him cold, mainly due to its dry and sometimes uninviting facade. Paul has produced corporate commissions since leaving the RA Schools, but recently he has been asked to produce commissions for private individuals. ‘Colours of Shade’ was a sculpture for one such project and he enjoyed the challenges of working to a “down-to-earth” realistic budget yet still creating a sculpture that fulfilled the collectors requirements.

Art should provoke emotions and enrich our lives. Paul offers sculpture with an undeniable boyish charm that is infectious to the onlooker. It is virtually impossible not to smile at, or interact with, his idiosyncratic style. Paul’s sculpture thrives on a sense of play, but his work should not be disregarded as a novelty. He is a dedicated artist who consciously chooses not to take himself too seriously, providing a breath of fresh air to the contemporary art market.

For more visit www.paul-cox.co.uk

Nicholas’ article was originally published in Sussex Life magazine in March 2012.