Sussex Artist Andy Waite on the Arundel Gallery Trail

Artist Andy Waite at work in his home and studio in Arundel

This weekend sees the start of the 26th Arundel Gallery Trail and among the participating artists is Andy Waite, whose home at 54 Tarrant Street will once again be given over to an exhibition of his work.

I am visiting Andy as he puts the final touches to the exhibition. There appears to be an ordered approach, which speaks of a generous and enabling discipline. I ask him about his working method. He explains that he is content to paint in his studio for days and weeks without need of contact with the outside world. Yet the inspiration for his landscapes comes from his experience of walking in the countryside. Back in the studio, he returns to his sketchbooks and photographs, constantly in the process of creating, as well as recalling his sense of a particular moment and place in the studio.

Andy Waite – ‘Icon – The Last Farewell’, oil on scaffold board

Earlier series of Andy’s icons reflected memories of his family and friends. This latest series is painted on old scaffold boards. I am interested to understand what the gold halos around these purely imagined faces mean to him. He replies: “The idea there is that everyone is special.”

Andy’s spirituality is bound up with his relationship with the landscape and those who are close to him. These qualities are apparent in his work. Both his landscapes and icons seem to be connected with the 19th century Romantic tradition in art and literature, which witnessed a return to the hopeful belief in the goodness of humanity and the grandeur and power of nature. Its celebration of our senses and emotions sought to balance our reason and intellect.

As we walk upstairs past a series of landscapes, I remark on Andy’s depth of vision. His skilful handling of rich, layered oil paint strikes the viewer’s eye with a particular intensity as each scene unfolds in our imaginations. He responds, “Although I paint for myself, as a creative person it is always with the desire to share my experience of the world with other people. My landscapes don’t tell you the whole story immediately but reveal new insights over time.” Certainly, as you take time to stare and to inhabit his paintings in your imagination, you will find that your perception of the scene will change and evolve as more of the artist’s vision and experience of that particular moment and place is revealed. You will find an honesty in Andy’s work, which reflects both the joys and sorrows of our human experience in the world.

Andy Waite - ‘A Million Beating Wings’, oil on canvas

So what is it like for this contemplative artist to open his doors to Arundel Art Trail visitors, given that his work represents such a personal, connected view of the world and his relationship with it? “It’s actually okay,” he remarks. After a pause, he continues: “It may seem a strange thing to invite strangers into your home. Although it’s hung like a gallery, it is our personal living space. I enjoy it – people’s feedback gives you a real sense of their engagement with your work.” The relationships between the artist and the world and the artist and the patron clearly feed and affirm Andy and his work. My eye is drawn to a large canvas hanging in his studio, titled ‘A Million Beating Wings’. There is a musical quality in its depiction of this winter scene. The vanilla clouds dancing against the cold blue sky are reflected in the lake below, connected by the drama of the trees moving in the cool breeze, which you can all but hear and feel. The composition, light, palette and handling of paint is wonderful. Although abstracted, the subject is still apparent.

Andy Waite – ‘Walking through the Long Grass’, oil on canvas

Andy Waite’s work has been described as being united with the English Romantic tradition and he acknowledges this, pleased by the sense of place in the procession of artists which includes John Constable, Ivon Hitchens, Graham Sutherland and many others. John Piper considered his fellow artist Paul Nash to be part of this tradition. Nash, however, was keen to emphasise the ‘poetic’ in his work. He sought to look beyond the immediate to what he referred to as the ‘genius loci’, the spirit of the place, to ‘a reality more real’. This resonates with Andy Waite’s work. Andy describes himself as an occasional poet but I would say that the poet is at play in all his work, which is united by the ‘poetic’, whether that be in his oil paintings, their titles, his writing or his film-making. Certainly as an artist, he returns again and again to the poetry of the English landscape and the people close to him in his life.

It is not often people have such unmediated contact with an artist and it is very special to accompany Andy Waite and his work at his home. Andy Waite’s solo exhibition as part of the Arundel Gallery Trail runs from this Saturday 16th to Monday 25th August at 54 Tarrant Street, Arundel, West Sussex BN18 9DN. For more information go to www.andywaite.net or www.arundelgallerytrail.co.uk.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 13th August 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Jonathan Chiswell Jones at Chichester Cathedral

Jonathan Chiswell Jones
“To Everything There is a Season and a Time for Every Purpose under the Heavens” by Jonathan Chiswell Jones

I have long admired the work of Sussex based potter Jonathan Chiswell Jones. An exhibition of his ceramics, titled “Earth, Fire, Gold: Elemental Beauty by Jonathan Chiswell Jones”, is being held at Chichester Cathedral until 14th September 2014.

Last week I wrote about one of our nation’s most famous potters, William de Morgan, who had such a formative influence on the 19th century Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain and a strong association with William Morris. He produced lustre wares, finding inspiration in Persian and Hispano-Moresque ceramics.

Like de Morgan before him, Jonathan Chiswell Jones is a master of carefully integrated patterns. These designs employ motifs drawn from nature, as in the dishes shown here with their reserve panels of flowers and fish.

Fish Bowl by Jonathan Chiswell Jones
Fish Bowl by Jonathan Chiswell Jones

William Morris famously said: “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” Good advice! Jonathan acknowledges the influence of the ideas of John Ruskin and the example of William Morris and says, “My aim is to make practical and beautiful porcelain and lustreware for use in the home. Making lustreware is a process of hand and head and heart; it is the challenge of practising a craft which utilises all my faculties.”

The dish inscribed “To Everything There is a Season and a Time for Every Purpose under the Heavens” draws its inspiration from that wonderful passage in the Old Testament from Ecclesiastes, chapter three, which has given such comfort to successive generations when they pause to reflect on the seasons of our human lives. The verses describe how God gives each of us things to do in his purpose and how we are to enjoy life as a gift of His Grace.

Born in Calcutta in 1944, Jonathan Chiswell Jones first saw pottery being made on the banks of the Hooghly River, where potters were making disposable teacups from river clay. He was one of Lewis Creed’s pupils. Lewis Creed was a young art teacher at Ashfold School, Handcross, who wanted to introduce his pupils to the joys of making pottery. Inspired by these early contacts with clay, Chiswell Jones has worked as a professional potter for the past forty years. In 1998, he was given an award by Arts Training South, which encouraged him to go on a course about ceramic lustre. He began to experiment with the thousand-year-old technique used by Middle Eastern potters to fuse a thin layer of silver or copper onto the surface of a glaze. This layer, protected by the glaze, then reflects light, hence the term ‘lustre.’ The lustreware on show at Chichester Cathedral demonstrates its continuing ability to capture our imaginations. Clay and glaze, metal and fire combine to produce pots which reflect light and colour, a process in which base metal seems to be turned to gold. Jonathan Chiswell Jones notes: “I am proud to stand in this lustreware tradition, with its roots in the Islamic empire of the 10th century, its appearance in Spain and Italy in the 15th and 16th centuries, its revival in the 19th century by Theodore Dec in France and by Zolnay in Hungary, and in this country by William De Morgan, and more recently by Alan Caiger-Smith.”

15th century Bell-Arundel Screen
The 15th century Bell-Arundel Screen restored to the Cathedral in 1960 in memory of the life of Bishop George Bell by Rev. Walter Hussey

How fitting that, following in such an ancient tradition, Jonathan Chiswell Jones’ work should be displayed in our timeless Chichester Cathedral. William Morris defined art as “man’s expression of his joy in labour”. There can be no doubt that creating beauty in the world is part of our human purpose in this life.

“Earth, Fire, Gold: Elemental Beauty by Jonathan Chiswell Jones” is being held in Chichester Cathedral’s Treasury (next to the North Transept) until Sunday 14th September 2014. While you are there, take a moment to go to the Southern Ceramic Group Summer Exhibition in the Bishop’s Kitchen, adjacent to the Cathedral, sponsored by Toovey’s Fine Art Auctioneers.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 30th July 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Jonathan Chiswell Jones at Horsham Museum & Art Gallery

'Fox and Hare' by Jonathan Chiswell Jones

In 1954, a young art teacher called Lewis Creed at Ashfold School, Handcross, wanted to introduce his pupils to the joys of making pottery. He had little equipment at the school, but obtained clay from Keymer tiles and was encouraged by the head of Horsham Art School to fire the children’s pots in the art school kiln. In due course, the school itself got hold of a wheel and a kiln, and was able to do everything on site. 60 years later, the fruit of that teaching can be seen in Horsham Museum and Art Gallery’s new exhibition ‘The Alchemy of Lustre’ – an exhibition of lustreware by ceramic artist Jonathan Chiswell Jones.

'Homage to Islam' by Jonathan Chiswell Jones

Born in Calcutta in 1944, Jonathan Chiswell Jones first saw pottery being made on the banks of the Hoogly river where potters were making disposable teacups from river clay. He was one of Lewis Creed’s pupils and, inspired by that early contact with clay, he has worked as a professional potter for the past 40 years. In 1998, Chiswell Jones was given an award by Arts Training South, which encouraged him to go on a course about ceramic lustre. He began to experiment with the thousand year old technique used by Middle Eastern potters to fuse a thin layer of silver or copper onto the surface of a glaze. This layer, protected by the glaze, then reflects light. Hence the term ‘lustre.’ The lustreware on show at Horsham Museum and Art Gallery demonstrates this almost magical transformation, whereby clay and glaze, metal and fire combine to produce pots which reflect light and colour, a process in which base metal seems to be turned to gold. Of this process Jonathan Chiswell Jones notes:

“I am proud to stand in this lustreware tradition, with its roots in the Islamic empire of the tenth century, its appearance in Spain and Italy in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, its revival in the nineteenth century by Theodore Dec in France and by Zolnay in Hungary, and in this country by William De Morgan, and more recently by Alan Caiger Smith.”

50 pieces of Jonathan Chiswell Jones’s creation will be on display in ‘The Alchemy of Lustre,’ which opens at Horsham District Council’s Horsham Museum & Art Gallery on 20 March and closes 30 April 2014. All of the artworks will be available for purchase, including the option to buy via Own Art.

Eric James Mellon (1925-2014)

Eric James Mellon
Eric James Mellon painting a pot in his studio

It was my great pleasure to count the internationally acclaimed, Sussex-based artist Eric Mellon as my friend. Eric is most famed for his work as a potter and his pioneering use of ash glazes, but he also worked as a painter and printmaker. Eric was both artist and artisan.

Over many years Eric strived to be able to transfer drawings onto his predominantly stoneware pots and dishes. He was always counter-cultural and believed strongly in the importance of narrative and fine drawing. His subjects drew on his Christian faith, stories from classical antiquity and his pleasure in the world around him. He also delighted in the human body, particularly the female form, which he depicted with honesty and fondness.

Eric James Mellon Jessica in a Hat
Eric James Mellon - 'Jessica (in a Hat)', stoneware bowl with brush-drawn decoration and bean-ash glaze, 2005
Daphne and Apollo by Eric James Mellon
Eric James Mellon - 'Daphne and Apollo', stoneware pot with brush-drawn decoration and Philadelphus-ash glaze, 2005
Chalice by Eric James Mellon
Eric James Mellon – stoneware chalice with brush-drawn decoration and bean-ash glaze, 2011

Years of research and experimentation into ash glazes brought him worldwide recognition as an artist, a ceramicist and a scientist. The ash glazes, especially those created with the ashes of certain bushes, prevented the lines of the brush drawings on his ceramics from bleeding during firing.

For Eric, his art was his calling. He embraced this path and everything in his life was bound up with it. Eric would recall how as a boy all he wanted to do was “to be an artist and to draw and paint”. At the age of 13 he won a place at Watford School of Art, where he studied until 1944. From 1944-1947 he attended the Central School of Arts and Crafts, where he met his lifelong friend, the Arundel-based artist Derek Davis. It was with Derek at a party held for art students that Eric met his wife-to-be, Martina Thomas. Martina was passionate about fine art and worked as a painter while Eric brought art and craft together through his pottery, drawings and prints. In the early 1950s he set up an artistic community at Hillesden, Buckinghamshire, with Derek Davis and fellow artist John Clarke. It was in 1951 that he began working increasingly as a potter. He married Martina in 1956. She was a gifted and talented artist and exhibited at the Royal Academy. They had two children, Martin and Tessa.

Eric, always an enthusiastic and generous teacher, ran summer art schools for some thirty years. In 1958 he set up a pottery at his home in West Sussex, where he worked for 56 years. To visit Eric’s studio and home was to be exposed to a lifetime of artistic endeavour and a riot of pottery, paintings and prints. He would say: “When I get up in the morning, I want, by the end of the day, to have created something new.”

Often we compartmentalize our lives but with Eric art and existence intermingled; for him, work and life were one. So when you visited him, he would hold you with that particular care, keen to know about you and your news. Fondly and inevitably, though, your life in that particular moment would become bound up with his vocation – his art – for it was this that rooted him in this life. Later, in 2011, Eric wrote, “It takes many years to learn to draw, but eventually the pencil becomes a friend and, in a few minutes, moments in life can be recorded; these I call ‘frozen time’, as the sketches are no longer mere drawings.”

Eric came to the service at which I was ordained as a priest and informed me that he had made me a chalice. The symbol of Christ he drew upon it was, he said, designed to speak to all. It reflected the importance to him of communicating narrative. When I next called at his home, he presented me with it. I suggested that we celebrate a home communion there and then. Eric’s broad smile crossed his face and he accepted. We used his potter’s wheel as an altar, anointed the chalice with holy oils for use and celebrated our Eucharist.

Eric, in the foreword to ‘Pages From My Sketchbooks’, wrote: “Pages From My Sketchbooks records the joy of new life, the anticipation of pregnant women, the sadness of terminal illness, and the incredible moment when life departs the body into eternity… an artist records his life and shares it with everyone who cares to look.” His relationships with his family and friends sustained him at the end, as they had done throughout his life.

Eric Mellon’s work has been exhibited and acclaimed around the world, fitting recognition for this generous and gifted Sussex artist, who died on 14th January this year.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 5th March 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.

An Artist’s View of Sussex, Life and Music

Alison with Jeremy and Nick
From left to right: Jeremy Knight, Alison Milner-Gulland and Nick Toovey standing in front of the painting ‘Deep in the Downs’
The Waiter and The Musician
‘The Waiter’ and ‘The Musician’
Alison Milner-Gulland in her studio
Alison Milner-Gulland in her studio
Deep in the Downs by Alison Milner-Gulland
‘Deep in the Downs’ by Alison Milner-Gulland

This week I am back at Horsham Museum & Art Gallery with my brother, Nick Toovey, for the opening of a new art show, which celebrates the work of Washington-based artist Alison Milner-Gulland. This selling exhibition runs until 29th March 2014.

Nick has long championed the work of Sussex artists. His self-representing contemporary art auctions were the first of their kind ever to be held in the UK. “They were groundbreaking,” Nick enthuses. “Artists entered their own work into the auctions and I made sure that the successful sales were picked up by the leading international fine art indices. This helps to establish an artist’s long-term credibility, giving art collectors confidence to buy, not just at my auctions but at exhibitions and galleries as well.”

I ask Nick about Alison’s work. “I love how Sussex has inspired her palette and subject matter,” he replies. “At first glance her work is accessible and uncomplicated, but over time the work reveals layers, subtle details and evolving depths, highlighting her talent. It is often infused with classical, mythical or natural inspiration.”

From her teens until only a few years ago Alison regularly rode on the South Downs, committing to memory the play of light and the elements on the landscape with the movement of her horse. The elevated perspective that riding affords is evident in many of her landscapes. Through her eyes we see the sweeping chalk curves, ancient tracks, rolling hills and far-reaching views of the Downs. Later, in her studio, she would transfer these thoughts and images to paper and canvas. The ancient quality of the South Downs is perfectly captured in ‘Deep in the Downs’, shown here with exhibition curator Jeremy Knight, Alison and Nick.

Alison’s studio nestles at the foot of the South Downs in the small village of Washington. Nick describes what the visitor encounters: “It is an amazing space – well-organised chaos! Framed works are hung wherever wall-space permits or stacked on the floor. After being greeted by the family’s Jack Russell terrier 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 this 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. Negotiating the livestock and braving the elements, you come to a separate studio, dedicated to Alison’s work in ceramics. This is 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, the majority figurative or inspired by music with a few trial abstract landscape designs scattered amongst them.”

Alison’s ceramics give expression to her creative voice. The two slab vases illustrated capture the musician and the waiter with a Mohican hairstyle wonderfully. “I felt moved to draw the waiter in the restaurant,” Alison says. “He had a particular confidence, which caught my attention, and that marvellous hair. I hadn’t got anything to draw on, so I sketched on a napkin held under the table!” Unsurprisingly, they were amongst the first pieces to sell at the exhibition.

Russia has provided a rich seam of inspiration and the landscape depicting a silver birch wood has grown out of this. “My paintings develop and evolve as I continue to work on them until they are sold,” Alison explains. This perhaps, in part, explains the layers and depths which Nick describes, but it is also the depth of connectedness with the world around her which gives her a particular and distinctive artistic voice.

Toovey’s are delighted to be sponsoring this exhibition, aptly titled ‘Alison Milner-Gulland: Constantly Updating’, and the works are selling well. Jeremy Knight and his team are once again deserving of our thanks for an excellent show of work from this insightful Sussex artist.

Nicholas Toovey is always pleased to advise and share his passion for contemporary artists, especially from Sussex. He can be contacted at Toovey’s.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 19th February 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.