John Hitchens – Aspects of Landscape

Artist John Hitchens in his Sussex studio © Anne-Katrin Purkiss

Nothing can prepare you for the scale, drama and beauty of John Hitchens’ work in the opening rooms of this important retrospective exhibition Aspects of Landscape at Southampton City Art Gallery.

Born in 1940 John Hitchens has spent most of his life living in the Sussex landscape which continues to inspire him. The retrospective coincides with the artist’s 80th birthday.

The exhibition begins in an intimate room displaying painted stones and sculpture. It adds to the sense of drama as you enter the first of the main galleries. Seven paintings of extraordinary scale explore the landscape one informing the other. A clump of naturalistic, abstract, hewn vertical landscapes create a layered perspective uniting the works and gifting the viewer with a sense of inhabiting, of being present in a landscape.

The views from Duncton Hill, a period of aerial photography over the South Downs and a love of maps with their contours were the catalysts for these increasingly abstract landscapes from the last twenty years. Forms are reduced to a series of lines, dots, circles and patterns which provide motifs for the shapes created by ploughing and harvesting. Stubble was the origin of the dots and the black areas in the compositions recall burnt stubble, a sight no longer part of our landscape. Many of the pictures are textural, the earth hues painted on a base of sieved sawdust bound together with PVA. As you stop and stare subtle details reveal themselves. They reflect our human relationship with the land and our influence on the landscape.

The chronology of this beautiful and imaginative show works in reverse. We progress back through the years discovering each phase of this important artist’s oeuvre until we arrive at the beginning and his more representational paintings. Throughout his career John has often renewed his exploration in art by putting to one side those things which have been central to his work, brushwork, the relationship of the sky to the land, in order to develop and evolve his artistic voice and creativity. Although these points of decisive change can appear revolutionary this is a processional artist whose art remains about the landscape he is rooted in.

His early work was painted en plein air but today John works in his studio giving voice to the unspoken conversations between found objects, nature, the landscape and music in his art.

John Hitchens has described how, in order to move forward, he got rid of the skyline by ‘tipping the land up’.

John Hitchens’ prodigious creativity is born out of a generous discipline of ‘looking quietly’. He describes painting as a ‘calling’. His artistic practice is driven by both curiosity and delight in the familiar woods, fields, coast and Downs of Sussex. His life and art lend credence to the truth that you can journey far by remaining in the same place.

Our thanks must go to the artist John Hitchens and Dan Matthews, together with his team at Southampton City Art Gallery, for this exceptional show.
Rarely has a body of art, an exhibition, moved me so deeply.

John Hitchens – Aspects of Landscape is this summer’s must see show and has been extended until 3rd October 2020. To find out more and to book your free tickets visit www.southamptoncityartgallery.com.

Sussex Artist Alison Milner-Gulland – A Life in Art

The artist Alison Milner-Gulland in her studio

A retrospective exhibition ‘Alison Milner-Gulland – A Life in Art’ opens at the Horsham Museum & Art Gallery on Saturday 7th March 2020. This gifted Sussex artist has been reflecting on her creative life as her 80th birthday approaches.
Alison Milner-Gulland, like the seasons of the year, returns to a cycle of subjects that have always inspired her: the ancient, Sussex and the Downs, iconography, Russia and the Middle East, Oxford, antiquity and the human form, and music. As this retrospective exhibition illustrates one informs the other.

Alison Milner-Gulland’s oil painting, ‘Buddington Bottom’

These subjects directly record the artist’s life and her experience of the world. Alison will often re-visit a piece and re-work it many times reflecting the layers she perceives as she interprets the world around her. Alison’s work is not linear, she zig zags about so the date of a piece is not always relevant or remembered, her pictures develop and evolve as she continues to work on them giving expression to her connectedness with the world she inhabits.

For more than a decade my brother, Nick, and I have visited Alison at her studio which nestles at the foot of the South Downs. Nick describes it as “An amazing space – well-organized chaos, framed works are hung wherever wall-space permits or stacked on the floor. After being greeted by the family’s Jack Russell terrier, Dotty, and navigating a maze of pictures, mounting materials and packaging you come to the main work area of the cottage studio. Here an architect’s chest conceals 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 her nearby chickens, geese, guinea fowl or sheep are heard from outside. Negotiating the livestock and braving the elements you come to a separate studio dedicated to Alison’s 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 abstracted landscape designs scattered amongst them.”

Alison Milner-Gulland’s ceramic pot, ‘Galloping Horses’

Alison has been drawing since she was old enough to hold a pencil.
From her teens until only a few years ago Alison regularly rode in the South Downs committing to memory the play of light and the elements on the landscape bound up with the movement of her horse. The elevated perspective that riding affords is evident in many of her landscapes. Alison has often remarked how in her imagination the rhythm of the horse combines with the movement in the landscape, a theme which recurs in her work.

The exhibition is brought alive through Alison’s comments – reminiscences which inform and accompany the works on display.

At first glance Alison’s work is accessible and uncomplicated, but over time the work reveals layers, subtle details and evolving depths, a spirituality, all of which serve the talent of this gifted artist.

Each of the works reflect the layered rhythm of this artist’s life. Her practice is reflective and always layered. This visual-poet in the landscape allows us to glimpse our place in the procession of human history, and something beyond our immediate perception of the world.

It is these qualities which gift Alison Milner-Gulland’s work with such a particular and distinctive artistic voice.

Alison Milner- Gulland – a Life in Art opens on the 7th March and runs until 27th June 2020 at Horsham District Council’s Horsham Museum & Art Gallery. This is an exceptional exhibition and entry is free. To find out more visit www.horshammuseum.org.

Dixon’s Gavel Bash!

Buddy Holly and Waylon Jennings by Simon Dixon

Nick Toovey will once again be wielding his gavel on contemporary art, but instead of hosting a self-representing artist sale, he will be conducting a contemporary art auction to raise funds for a much loved and celebrated Brighton-based artist, the ‘daddy’ of pop art, Simon Dixon, on Thursday 29th September at the Naked Eye Gallery in Hove.

'Dixon' by Antony Micallef
'Dixon' by Antony Micallef

A host of artists originating locally but of national and international renown have donated works to raise funds for Simon’s therapy and care in his battle against cancer. The auction includes works by Antony Micallef, Simon Dixon, Sarah Shaw, Ian Hodgson, Chris Kettle, Charlie Day, Tori Day, Paul Ostrer, Sam Hewitt, Jim Sanders and Graham Carter. The auction will be a rare opportunity to buy works of art from a gallery with the price tags decided by the bidders and buyers.

Auctioneer, Nick Toovey, said ‘I can’t wait! The auction includes works from so many of my friends from the Toovey’s contemporary art auction days, not least Simon himself, who really needs some help with what he is going through at the moment.  I love the community spirit of the art world and this auction exemplifies it.’

On the evening of the sale, the ‘Tree of Temptation’ will offer luxuriant treats donated by local artisans and businesses to buy and take home, but with a twist – find out more on the night!

Artwork offered for the sale can be previewed from 3rd September at the Naked Eye Gallery, 5 Farm Mews, Farm Road, Hove, BN3 1GH, where the auction itself will be conducted by Nick Toovey Thursday 29th September. Doors open at 7pm with the auction starting at 8pm. If you can’t make the auction but wish to try and buy, there are other ways to bid. Please ask for more details at the gallery.

Please visit the Facebook event page for further information.

Dada plus eight

'Terrarium II' by Chris Kettle

It’s been a decade since Toovey’s held the first ever auction of Contemporary Art consigned by Self-representing Artists. Due to other commitments the sales have been postponed until further notice, but those looking to get their Contemporary Art ‘fix’ have the perfect opportunity in Hove during the next fortnight.

Nick Toovey with artist Sarah Shaw

I was fortunate enough to be invited to a preview of the exhibition at the Naked Eye Gallery curated by Stefanra Dal Ferro that runs between the 11th and 24th December. The exhibition showcases eight different artists all of whom have the same 1.5m x 2m area to display their art. Curator Stefania states ‘Rather than the lines in the gallery separating the pieces, I wanted to create a sense of them melting together; simultaneously fighting differences and celebrating individuality.’ All the artists have responded by filling their space with one or two showstoppers.

In the show, five of the eight artists had been included in at least one of Toovey’s Contemporary Art Auctions. It was nice to see a familiar eclectic mixture of styles, palettes and media all in a single venue and equally good to see the artists themselves.

'Wires' by Sarah Shaw

The exhibition walls were full of contrasts. Leaping into focus as you walk through the doors is an amazing Simon Dixon of Bo Diddley, popping with colour this acrylic on canvas sings against the unobtrusive grey background. Beside this is ‘Wires’ by Sarah Shaw, a work that she describes as a cathartic experience to produce. I had a good catch up with Sarah, and was pleased to hear the positivity around her recent competition entries, solo shows and other exhibitions. Sarah’s art features on the soon to be released cover of Daughter’s album ‘Not to Disappear’ released by 4AD and a new print will be launched soon to coincide. As an artist she has always been one to watch and I am delighted people are sharing my enthusiasm for her work.

'Otherwise the stone would carve the tool' by Jim Sanders

The inimitable Jim Sanders was offering two works, both breaking away from his usual palette of black, grey, white and red with bold splashes of colour. Jim was as upbeat as ever and I was reminded of the time I visited his house to write a Sussex Life article and being blown away by what I saw. Discussing this with another artist we both agreed that his home is akin to a ready made museum of his own work, quite an immersive and incredible experience for anyone lucky enough to visit.

Chris Kettle chatting about his impressive oil on canvas 'Terrarium II'

The work of David Levine, Joseph Rossi and Alex Binnie were no less impressive as I moved around to ‘Terranium II’ by Chris Kettle. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again, there is no contemporary artist offering such an interesting twist on the Still Life genre like Chris. His attention to detail combined with his unique vision delivers works that are simply breathtaking. I was buoyed to hear that his work was gaining a strong reputation and prints of his work were selling out fast. As a result a new series of prints are just about to be launched.

Then my circuit of the room was completed with the ultimate quirkiness of Paul Ostrer. As always, his work was beautifully executed and indulgently brilliant. The collective group of the plus eight emphasizes how much talent there is on our doorstep, and that Sussex could truly become a center for the arts. The quote of Mattie Stepanek in the exhibition brochure was perfectly apt: ‘Unity is strength… when there is teamwork and collaboration wonderful things can be achieved.’

The exhibition also provided me with the opportunity to meet some fascinating new people – not least the amazing framer Tim Harbridge, based in Montague Place, Brighton, and the equally brilliant Vaughan from Tin Dogs, who looks after a number of artists by reproducing their works as sumptuous screen prints.

So if you are in Hove in the next two weeks be sure to pop into the Naked Eye Gallery in Farm Mews, BN3 1GH, to see the Dada+8 show!

Borde Hill Gardens at the Heart of the Arts

Andrewjohn and Eleni Stephenson Clarke open the 2015 Borde Hill Garden ‘Sculpture in the Garden exhibition’

This last weekend I found myself returning to Borde Hill Gardens, near Haywards Heath in West Sussex, as the guest of Andrewjohn Stephenson Clarke and his wife Eleni. These generous custodians have worked hard to put Borde Hill and its famous gardens at the heart of the arts in West Sussex. Borde Hill Gardens are celebrating their 50th Anniversary of being open to the public.

Andrew Bernardi and the ‘1696 Stradivarius’ at Borde Hill

Much has been written about the importance of the gardens and plant collection. Between 1893 and 1937 Colonel Stephenson R. Clarke 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.

As the Friends of the Shipley Arts Festival gather at Borde Hill Andrewjohn welcomes us in the panelled Drawing Room. He explains that his family have owned Borde Hill since 1892 and says “Although my family extended the house and this room I think my great-grandfather was more interested in the gardens than the house. When he came to Borde Hill the land gave him the opportunity to plan, layout and plant the garden.” Andrewjohn speaks with a gentle pride and understanding of his own place in the story of Borde Hill. As he does his love for it and the desire to share it with others is apparent.

Andrew Bernardi, Artistic Director of the Shipley Arts Festival, leads a trio of remarkable musicians which includes the cellist Jonathan Few and pianist, Maria Marchant. The concert opens with two Debussy pieces written at about the time that Andrewjohn’s grandfather purchased Borde Hill. There is an intimacy in this setting as the delights of the concert unfold.

‘Respond 1’, by Angela Conner
‘Respond 1’, by Angela Conner

The textural melodies and rhythms of the music take me back to the week before when I joined my friends Andrewjohn and Eleni at the opening of their 2015 Borde Hill Sculpture in the Garden Exhibition. We gathered in the Italian Garden for the opening, as sculptor Angela Corner’s ‘Respond 1’ rose and fell responding to the forces of nature and the flow of water. The piece brings your senses alive to the play of light, sound and movement as you respond to the sculpture and the setting.

As I continued around the gardens the sight and scent of banks of bluebells, contrasted against the bright new leaves on trees, the giant rhododendrons and magnolias, made me feel more fully alive. The sculptures, like Guy Portelli’s ‘3 Blue Pokers’, are framed beautifully by the plants and gardens in this ever changing setting.

The Gardens extend into traditional parkland and woodlands, where the variety of micro-climates have contributed to the best collection of ‘champion’ trees (the tallest and largest girth) on privately-owned land in Britain. These ‘champion’ trees, together with many other exotic specimens, provide a canopy for spring flowers in Warren Wood, which is over 100 year’s old, and Stephanie’s Glade.

Andrewjohn and Eleni have placed Borde Hill Gardens at the heart of our community and the arts and their generous spirit and dedication is deserving of our thanks and support.

You must treat yourselves to an outing to Borde Hill Gardens. The 2015 Sculpture in the Garden runs until 1st September 2015 at Borde Hill Gardens, Borde Hill Lane, Haywards Heath, West Sussex, RH16 1XP, For more information on opening times and forthcoming events go to www.bordehill.co.uk or telephone 01444 450326.

For information on The Shipley Arts Festival concerts click here.

Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 13th May 2015 in the West Sussex Gazette.