Amberley Museum’s Inaugral Sculpture Trail

Contributing artists at the 2020 Amberley Museum Sculpture Trail

The first flash of spring sunshine broke through as Amberley Museum launched its inaugural Sculpture Trail. The Sculpture Trail provides a natural bridge between the artist and artisan. Many of the traditional crafts and skills preserved and maintained at the museum are employed in creating sculpture.

20th century Britain witnessed a great revival in the Renaissance idea of the artisan artist. In Sussex artists like Paul Nash, Eric Ravilious, Edward Bawden and others worked as designers and woodblock illustrators as well as painters of fine art.

As we walk up through the museum we reach a fork in the path and nestling amongst the dappled light of the still bare Silver Birch we discover a stone form titled ‘Cell’. The artist Will Spankie explains “The sculpture is inspired by bees. I love bees – the way that they live.” Will and his wife Lucy keep bees. The textural cells carved in Purbeck stone reflect the mass of prismatic wax cells built by honey bees in their nests to hold their stores of honey, pollen and as nurseries for their brood larvae. The changing light plays on the contrasting textured and smooth surfaces of the worked stone creating an impression of stillness and movement.

Will Spankie’s stone ‘Cell’

We walk with the sculptor Michael Joseph and his wife Jane down a wooded path as they talk passionately about wild flower meadows and bees. We round a corner and find Michael Joseph’s sculpture ‘Serene’ bathed in sunshine. Its bold figurative outline is repeated by its shadow against a crisp white wall. Michael loves the technical challenges of making his sculptures. I ask him about the creative process of this piece. He says “I made a maquette by bending the metal, but this larger finished work is made from tubing which can’t be bent without distorting it. So I made a number of cuts through to the outer face to very high mathematical tolerances then I welded it. It’s dressed and patinated with powder coating.”

Michael Joseph with his sculpture ‘Serene’

Works by the blacksmith partnership of Sarah Blunden and Ben Fraser, as well as blacksmith Alex Smith give real voice to calling and vocation in creativity expressed by the artisan artist – for them there is no peace without making. The inspiration of nature and its rhythms is beautifully articulated by the sculptor Simon Probyn. His steel abstract ‘Pebbles’ greets you as you arrive. And then there is the architect sculptor Lester Korzilius’ mixed method ‘Vortex’ with its bold palette and abstract form which plays with light and its enviroment.

I often return to the Amberley Museum for its brilliant railway, vintage car, and craft weekends as well as to ride on its fantastic vintage buses and trains. The sculptures are an exciting addition to this industrial landscape allowing us to see the familiar anew.

Amberley Museum’s 2020 Sculpture Trail runs until the 28th June 2020 and there is a celebration of James Bond on the weekend of the 28th March. For more information visit www.amberleymuseum.co.uk or telephone 01798 831370.

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.

Art and Lanscape Shaped by Farming

Frank Wootton’s oil on canvas ‘Chanctonbury Ring, Sussex, MkII’

The South Downs have for centuries been shaped by farming. Today the ancient chalk grasslands are once again returning to the steep downland slopes. In the valleys and open fields mixed farming ensures that the fertility of the soil is improved and maintained by the under planting of cereal crops with rich clovers and grass grazed by sheep and cattle. Some of the most balanced and sustainable farming practice in the country is to be found between the South Downs and Horsham.

The oil painting titled ‘Chanctonbury Ring, Sussex’ by the Sussex artist Frank Wooton. OBE (1911-1998) depicts a rural idyll with farmstead and grazing cattle beneath the Sussex Downs. It remains one of my favourite paintings to be sold at Toovey’s in recent years and realised £2400. The tone and palette lend this familiar scene a wonderful luminance. It is this quality of landscape which speaks into the very identity of our nation.

Frank Wootton studied at The Eastbourne College of Art under Eric Ravilious and Arthur Reeves-Fowkes. Whilst his landscapes and equestrian scenes are celebrated Wootton is perhaps most famous for his aeronautical paintings. Wootton would serve as a war artist to the RAF and even before this appointment he was painting the Battle of Britain at Biggin Hill.

In the late 19th and 20th centuries many of Britain’s leading artists were inspired to leave London, our towns and cities for the country. For some it was to escape the effects of the industrial revolution and for others the wars.

And here’s the thing, that sense of the rural idyll remains alive in popular culture and the public’s imagination. In contrast those living in our increasingly urbanised society have become more and more removed from the reality of country life and farming which is why the work of the West Grinstead & District Ploughing Match & Agricultural Society has never been more important. It brings the farming community together, promoting best practice and educating the public. The overwhelming majority of the farmers here in Sussex work constantly to achieve a balance between maintaining the fertility of the land, producing food in a sustainable way for the nation with close attention to the preservation of nature.

Our farmer’s continue to steward the landscapes which have inspired artists and musicians over the centuries and never more so than in Sussex in the 20th century. In our hearts and minds the countryside with its generous communities connected with the seasons and the abundance of the land have provided hope against the back drop and grind of urbanisation and industrialization.
I think this is why landscape paintings continue to speak to us so strongly and remain in such demand.

Toovey’s Director and specialist, Nicholas Toovey, is preparing his next curated auction of fine art which will be held on 4th December 2019 and entries are still being invited. Nicholas is always delighted to share his passion for paintings with others and offer advice. He can be contacted on 01903 891955.

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.

Wisley Sculpture Trail 2019

A series of maquettes and the collage titled ‘Conversation’ by artist Michael Joseph.

This week I am in the company of Sussex artisan artist Michael Joseph who is currently exhibiting at Wisley Gardens as part of the 2019 Surrey Sculpture Society Trail.

As an aviator, engineer, inventor and conservationist, as well as an artist, Michael gives a contemporary expression to the ideals of Paul Nash, Eric Ravilious and other British artists in the early 20th century who produced designs and illustrations commercially alongside their output of fine art.
The themes which unite his interests and passions: relationships with others and the world, an understanding of materials and engineering, and the intuition of an aviator all inform Michael Joseph the artist.
I ask Michael about his creative process, he says “It’s a journey of discovery – of not knowing how the finished work will be as I set out – it’s spontaneous and ambiguous.”

I comment on how there seems to be a conversation between his paintings and sculpture. His fluidity of line is balanced with a strength of expression. The lines in his sculptures are often taken directly from the drawings in his sketch books as you can see in the various maquettes and collage, titled ‘Conversation’, displayed in his Morning room. Michael comments “There is a conversation between, line, shape and texture. I try to make the line as simple as possible leaving room for the viewer to interpret a piece for themselves, there should always be room for mystery. I seek to express not only the physicality of the sitter but also their emotions, their feelings.”

Sussex artist Michael Joseph with his sculpture ‘Tryst’ in Corten Steel

Michael explains “I enjoy the technical challenges of making art. I have a forge to bend metal into shape and a foundry for bronze. I’ve always been comfortable making things. ‘Tryst’ is made from Corten Steel which corrodes to a point and then the layer of oxidization halts the process – it matures.” In this large sculpture the man’s vulnerability and fragility is held by the strength of the female figure. The composition is united and given life by the repeated rhythms of texture and patterns. Michael says “In observing I am looking at the relational quality in my subject and in the work itself. At the centre of my art are the values of form, line and colour – distilling to get the essence of a subject.”

Michael Joseph’s work is being exhibited alongside more than 100 pieces of sculpture from some of the South East’s finest established and emerging artists, set against the beautiful backdrop of RHS Garden Wisley, Woking, Surrey, GU23 6QB. The show runs until 22nd September 2019.

Don’t miss the accompanying exhibition ‘Sculpture at Wisley 2019’ which features the work of seminal 20th and 21st century artists: Henry Moore, Lynn Chadwick, Tracey Emin, Phillip King, Henry Bruce and Philip Haas. To find out more visit www.rhs.org.uk/gardens/wisley and www.mjartist.com.

Ivon Hitchens at Pallant House

Ivon Hitchens – ‘Arno II’, c.1965, oil on canvas © The Estate of Ivon Hitchens
Ivon Hitchens – ‘Arno II’, c.1965, oil on canvas © The Estate of Ivon Hitchens

Pallant House Gallery’s long awaited retrospective exhibition of the important Sussex based Modern British artist Ivon Hitchens is exceptional and beautiful.
This chronological exhibition highlights the themes that preoccupied Ivon Hitchens and the development of his unique voice in Modern British Art – a poetic artist in the landscape.

The show explores how Ivon Hitchens emerges from surrealism into lyrical abstraction with an increasing connection with that most English of obsessions, the landscape. His distinctive style is immediately recognisable.
Pallant House Gallery Director, Simon Martin says “The very first artworks that Pallant House Gallery acquired were two paintings of Sussex donated by Ivon Hitchens before his death in 1979.”

The exhibition describes how Hitchens joined the Seven and Five Society in 1919. This group included many of Britain’s leading artists and was distinguished by their freedom of association and lack of artistic dogma.

In the mid-1920s Hitchens painted with Ben and Winifred Nicholson staying at their Cumbrian farmhouse, Bankshead. These paintings focus on Still Lifes in domestic settings, themes which would remain central to his work.
Ivon Hitchens painted ‘Spring in Eden’ in 1925 on his return to London from Bankshead. This reflective, luminous painting with its classical torso is airy – light in tone and colour – creating a dialogue between the world of classical art and mythology.

When his Hampstead studio was bombed in 1940 Ivon, his wife Mollie and their young son John evacuated to Sussex near Lavington Common where they had bought six acres of woods and a Gypsie Caravan. Hitchens became rooted in this landscape – his eye captured by the woodland that surrounded him.
He became more interested in painting the underlying harmony of the natural world through his landscapes. Music informed him stating “I often find in music a stimulus to creation, and it is the linear tonal and colour harmony and rhythm of nature which interests me – what I call the musical appearance of things”.
Hitchens famously said “My pictures are painted to be listened to.”

Ivon Hitchens – ‘Spring in Eden’, c.1925, oil on canvas © The Estate of Ivon Hitchens
Ivon Hitchens – ‘Spring in Eden’, c.1925, oil on canvas © The Estate of Ivon Hitchens

There is a rhythm in his long canvases which are often divided into three vertical panels which play against each other. In ‘Arno II’ sunlight filters through the foliage to reveal a boat lying on a woodland pool in the left hand section. The centre and right sections of the composition are more abstract, suggestive and experiential. This poetic, lyrical landscape conveys the experience of inhabiting, space and emotion in a remarkable way – it has a spiritual quality.
I am excited that Toovey’s together with Irwin Mitchell Solicitors are headline sponsors of this exceptional exhibition. Thanks must also go to the Arts Council England for their support.

‘Ivon Hitchens: Space through Colour’ runs until the 13th October 2019 at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester. It is this summer’s must see exhibition! For more information go to www.pallant.org.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.