I’ve been having a secret affair with Wivenhoe for a few years now, well not very secret, just about anyone who knows me knows, I don’t know what it is but from the moment we drove into Wivenhoe for a visit, several years ago, I’ve felt a connection to this small town. It’s such a wonderful mixture of old and new buildings with a really lovely riverfront and just an air of beauty and peacefulness.
As I said a few weeks ago about Dulwich Village, it has that sense of idealised Englishness about it, pretty cottages, beautifully kept gardens overflowing into the streets and a couple of fab bookshops. I wasn’t at all surprised to see that Joan Hickson had lived here. So, when a friend alerted me to the Wivenhoe Art Trail this weekend I knew I had set off and have a look around.
There were 24 art studios involved in the trail and over 40 artists, for a town of its size that’s an amazing amounts of artists, it’s wonderful to see an artist colony growing here. We covered most of the studios on the trail, it was a lot, they were all very welcoming and happy to open and share their studios which are also often private homes. Here are a few of the studios we visited.
Margie North at the Bookshop. I liked North’s work, she’d included an explanation of the inspirations of her work during lockdown and I found the everyday scenes of making toast and pouring taps both comforting and reflective. I read recently of a critic complaining that artists weren’t reflecting the pandemic within their work, but surely this is it, this was life in lockdown, down to the essentials, eating, washing, what else was there for artists to work with? The interior and the view from the window was all that was open to us and I think our enforced domesticity will resonate in art when we reflect back on this period.
On the riverfront we found the work of Annie Bielecka, I loved her work, made in textiles, it’s full of colour and movement. I was really fascinated by how the textiles were used to create artworks, I did a bit of research about the artist and learned that she considers these to be painting with textiles and they certainly look that way. Bielecka does also work in paint and I was particularly drawn to one image, not a great photo here I’m afraid, which features in an interview on her website. There’s so much in it, the grid made me think of Agnes Martin but this is not about rigidity, it’s much more joyful and uplifting. Full of colour, I loved the pieces of iridescent shell and bits of thread all seemingly interconnected with little golden dots.
Further along the river we found Jo Angel, her paintings were part-abstract and full of colour. I was drawn to Roma by the blends of pinks, ambers and gold. It put me in mind of a sweeping staircase and a window looking out on blue skies but that may not be it all, no matter, I liked the brightness of the light that comes from the tone of the colours. As the title suggests, we’re not in Wivenhoe any more.
Continuing to the Wivenhoe Sailing Club, we found several artists exhibiting here, the driftwood and metal sculptures of Fiona Harmon were really interesting. They felt playful, restructured into miniature boat scenes, they seemed toy like, pirate ships and simple play boats. Looking at her website, Harman explains she considers her work outsider art, I like that she doesn’t reformulate her materials to fit her art, they are all as found. It goes further than that though, through not changing or refining her materials Harmon may be making the point that what exists in Wivenhoe as is should be valued and that the town is in danger of changing too quickly due to development with the consequent loss of its beloved character.
In here too, we saw the work of Debra Weiss, great portraits, I had a sense of Spain coming through the portraits and the artist explained that she is a restorer of old paintings and her influences are probably coming through to reflect that feeling. I liked them, they had an idea of the past and timelessness but are clearly contemporary.
The final stop I want to mention is Jane Watson Arts, at first I wasn’t sure of the media, the art style looks like collage but feels like painting. The artist kindly explained that she creates collages from fine tissue paper which then have the effect of painting. Many are based on scenes of Wivenhoe, their collage nature brings to mind a cubism rooted in the simple pleasures of life like boats floating on the water, washing fluttering in the breeze and wildlife doing its thing.
I really enjoy looking at art, talking about it and discovering it’s histories through research but, most of all, I am in awe of artists. So, it was rather wonderful to spend a day talking to artists and having them be so welcoming in talking about and showing their work. Obviously they are making a living, but even so, their passion for their creative endeavours was fully evident. I couldn’t write about every artist or even get to them all, maybe next time I should visit over two days, but the website is well worth a visit to discover more about the extent of the community and all the individual artists.
The Art Trail is a brilliant idea, it gives artists a chance to showcase their work, possibly make some sales but also to raise their profile and that of Wivenhoe as an artistic community. I certainly enjoyed my day and recommend a visit to the next trail!
Rita Fennell – Gallery Tart