Steyning Art Trail

Looking towards the Downs by Alison Milner-Gulland
Looking towards the Downs by Alison Milner-Gulland

I arrive at the Washington home of Sussex artist Alison Milner-Gulland to find her busy in her studio preparing to exhibit her work as part of The Steyning Art Trail which takes place on the May Bank Holiday and following weekend.

Alison explains how, in addition to the numerous places where artists will be exhibiting their work in Steyning, the trail will include venues in Washington, Ashurst, Bramber and Upper Beeding. She is excited that the Frankland Arms, under the new stewardship of Matt and Yan Shepherd, have agreed to exhibit her work as part of the Steyning Art Trail.

Alison’s work draws its inspiration from the Sussex landscape, especially the ancient Downs. As in the landscape we see here she often depicts light moving through trees and grass which invites you to journey in and through the landscape. Through her eyes we see the sweeping chalk curves, ancient tracks, rolling hills and far-reaching views of the South Downs committed to paper and canvas from memory in her studio.

At first glance her work is accessible and uncomplicated but over time it reveals layers, subtle details and evolving depths highlighting the talent of this artist. It is often infused with classical, mythical or natural inspiration.

Music too informs Alison’s palette and fluidity of line which can move from the representational to the abstract.

Her method of working is both joyful and reflective. Alison’s paintings and prints often go through a series of re-workings creating a layered and poetic interpretation of the world around us.

A Still life in Alison Milner Gulland’s studio
A Still life in Alison Milner Gulland’s studio

My eye is taken by a lyrical mixed method Still Life which rests on a chair in the studio. The colours are strong and there is life in the outline of the wine glass, bottle, paper and jug filled with summer flowers. I ask Alison if this will be in her show, she replies as she always does “Oh, I don’t know if it’s finished yet I’ve been reworking it. It’s an overpainted collage. Don’t touch the paint is still wet.”

With a number of canvases under our arms we walk across the meadows filled with wild flowers. We clamber over a stile to arrive at the Franklin Arms in Washington where we are greeted by the new landlord Matt Shepherd. He explains how he and his wife Yan are once again placing the Frankland Arms at the heart of this Downland village community. Matt explains that he was born and brought up at Bury so Sussex and her landscape run deep with him. He is enthusiastic about being part of the Steyning Art Trail and about Alison’s art.

Sussex artist Alison Milner-Gulland at work in her studio
Sussex artist Alison Milner-Gulland at work in her studio

I am looking forward to seeing Alison Milner-Gulland’s work hung and for sale at the Frankland Arms and to sampling the pub’s warm welcome, cellar and food. To book your table telephone 01903 891405.

Alison Milner-Gulland’s work and The Steyning Art Trail are always a treat! It runs on the weekends of 25th to 27th May and 1st to 2nd June. To download your free brochure and to find out more visit www.steyningarts.co.uk.

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.

Alison Milner-Gulland ~ Painting Icons for a Modern World

Alison Milner Gulland at home at the foot of the downs

This week I am with the Washington-based artist, Alison Milner Gulland, whose exhibition of Icons is being held at the parish church of St Nicholas, Arundel this coming weekend. Alison gives voice to her artistic imagination through the media of oil, watercolour, collage, print-making and ceramics. The lyrical and textual qualities of her work combine with her rich earthy palette to unite subject and medium.

‘Madonna and Child’ by Alison Milner Gulland

Alison Milner Gulland’s inherent themes and subjects include: landscapes, music, musicians and Icons. I ask Alison where her inspiration to paint Icons comes from. Talking about the ‘Madonna and Child’ illustrated here she answers “The inspiration for this Icon came from a sketch I made at a Sussex Historical Churches Trust talk at St Mary’s in West Chiltington.” I ask whether the image appeared in her imagination. “Yes” she replies emphatically and continues “The scratched, leaf tendrils are inspired by the medieval wall paintings there. I find shapes in things.” The tenderness of St Mary the Blessed Virgin and the Christ child is conveyed with an arresting clarity. Mary’s eyes are averted from us, she is lost in thought whilst the baby Jesus holds us with the intensity of his loving gaze. I adore that this scene is united with a particular church in Sussex. Alison’s Icons follow in, and draw inspiration from an ancient tradition. However, the methods she employs to create these images marks a distinct departure. This ‘Madonna and Child’ for example employs print, paint and collage to great effect, whilst the reds and blues show a faithfulness to the colours traditionally employed in depictions of St Mary.

‘The World Looks on’ by Alison Milner Gulland

In contrast to the serenity of this scene is the less traditional Icon ‘The World Looks on’. Alison comments “I was inspired to create this work by the charred panel on which it’s painted.” She explains that the images came out of a deeply held concern for those caught up in conflict and in particular for two young men she had met in a Syrian bazaar selling jewellery. She had questioned the authenticity of a piece they offered for sale. This chance meeting and exchange led to Alison finding herself being dragged up a mountain by the two men to watch the setting sun, their lives united by this shared moment. And so this Icon reflects Alison’s continuing concern for these two young men and her hope that they are safe in the tumult of conflict in their country. But the image also speaks of conflict in broader terms. Beneath the military helicopter the dove, a symbol of the Holy Spirit, hope and peace is wounded. An angel holds out her hands in a gesture of concern and blessing whilst rioters in this country and combatants abroad fight and destroy in the sight of the whole world, in the sight of all of us.

The process of painting Icons is often termed Icon writing. Writing an Icon is described as a form of prayer, each brushstroke inspired by a form of meditation and reflection. Alison’s working process reflects this. Those that write Icons speak of the importance of being at peace with themselves. To me there is a quality of prayer in these Icons and Alison is at peace in her art and her landscape.

Her Sussex downland landscapes are inspired by memories of riding on horseback through the countryside. “In my imagination the rhythm of the horse combines with the movement in the landscape” she explains. Imagination and memory synthesize enabling her to commit the Downs’ enfolding curves, ancient paths, chalk, pasture and fields to canvas and paper. These landscapes like ‘Moonlight’, illustrated here, are rhythmic. They express something of the ancient and the present.

‘Moonlight’ by Alison Milner Gulland

Alison’s Icons invite us to take time to reflect on the needs and blessings of the world, and the part we must play in it. They stimulate thoughts in our imaginations and our hearts and as   they do so we find we are engaged in a silent conversation giving expression to our hopes and concerns – which of course is prayer. Perhaps an Icon by Alison Milner Gulland might speak to you and afford an invitation to meditation and prayer at home.

Icons can be viewed at St Nicholas’ Parish Church, Arundel between 9.30am and 4.30pm from Saturday 28th September to Tuesday 1st October 2013. I hope to see you there!

Alison Milner Gulland’s works including musicians and landscapes are also being shown at the Menier Gallery, London as part of The Society of Graphic Artists 92nd annual open exhibition from 30th September to 12th October; also at the Hop Gallery Lewis and the Moonlight Gallery Hove this autumn.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 25th September 2013 in the West Sussex Gazette.

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.