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25 May 2014


ARTLife's Tracey Roberts viewing the work at 'Wander In Gladness'

Working as an artist in a rural county can often feel quite isolating, yes some artists naturally relish in that isolation without it their art would simply not be. However there are times when an artist needs an artistic network, a like minded community to support that creativity, to offer constructive criticism and encouragement. This in return attracts a wider network, drawing a larger audience that hopefully brings much needed financial support; all artists need an opening to sell their work if they wish to make it their main profession.

In 1998 a group of seventeen professional artists living and working in Somerset were brought together by their dedication to creativity and their shared passion in the craft of printmaking in all it's varying techniques. Their aim, then as it is now, to promote their work as a collective and to showcase the best of printmaking in Somerset. 

One of their first major projects was a collection of limited edition prints entitled 'The Person From Porlock.' Prints were inspired by the poems of Samuel Taylor Coleridge written during the relatively short, yet incredibly prolific time that he lived at Nether Stowey. The exhibition was launched at the then Court Gallery in Nether Stowey, it then moved to The Brewhouse in Taunton, followed by The Exeter Phoenix. Since then they have exhibited regularly, nationally and internationally until about four years ago when one of their key founders Richard Pocock sadly died. Without the energy and main driving force of Richard the group have been slightly unfocused in their collective vision and Somerset Printmakers has lain fallow for a while. Although of course it's individual members have not neglected their own creative paths during that time and many have exhibited individually or alongside other artists. 

Reflections of visitors in a print by Jenny Graham

However the time has come, the group are reinvigorated and it would seem incredibly apt that their first exhibition to be held for some time would see them return to not only Nether Stowey but also the poems of Coleridge. It was at the National Trust property that I went to view the 'Wander in Gladness' exhibition and  meet with Jane Mowat who has been with the group since it began. 

Jane made me very welcome and explained that 'Wander in Gladness' is a line taken from 'This Lime Tree Bower my Prison' - If you visit Coleridge Cottage you too may sit under a Lime tree arbour. The printmakers walked on the Quantocks to sketch and gather inspiration for the exhibition but Jane also explained that they haven't all necessarily met - Somerset being the wide county that it is and they are all quite dispersed. The convenience of e mail makes communicating with other members speedy and easy, and made co-ordinating the exhibition relatively easy.

'Sheltering Tree' by Susan Gradwell

The group  now sees itself as not having one particular leader which lends it a beauty of flexibility. If one member sees an opportunity for an exhibition in their local area then they are encouraged and supported by the other members who choose to take part. Hanging, curatorial and PR roles are shared, aspects which are very time consuming when exhibiting solely. Also an exhibition featuring more than one artist often has a greater appeal to the visitor, they are more likely to find something that appeals to their aesthetic and as a result draw a larger audience looking to buy prints.

Naturally belonging to a group of like minded artists offers creative support, encouragement, idea sharing and even skill swapping. The opportunity to visit other members studios is encouraged, offering the ability to experiment with other printing techniques. Between them they are specialists in etching, relief printing, collagraph and dry point, screen printing and mono printing. 

Jane Mowats' Sketch Books

Exhibiting with an established group can offer weight and recognition for you as an individual artist, the opportunity to exhibit alongside your peers. There is a nominal yearly membership fee which goes towards website, printing and stationary costs, subsequent exhibition costs are then shared equally amongst those members who choose to exhibit as and when they occur.

The group is looking to recruit new members, so if you are a professional printmaker living and working in Somerset they would love to hear from you. 

The exhibition at Coleridge Cottage was sadly only on for just a week but you can catch work by the Somerset Printmakers this summer at the Musgrove Park Hospital Gallery. The exhibition runs from the 11th June until the 1st September. Entitled 'Impressions' the exhibition will explore the subject of printmaking as a process. In an age of home computer printing, scanning, digital image manipulation etc the notion of printing is open to much interpretation and differences in understanding. Is it mass-produced imagery, low-tech, high-tech, an art form or a functional duplicating device?’

The Printmakers will also be exhibiting during SAW 2014 at Taunton's Creative Innovation Centre situated on the corner of Paul Street. 

If you are interested in joining the group do contact them via their website which can be found by clicking on the link below and go to the contacts page

'For Lo The Winter is Past' by Julia Manning

'At The Threshold' by Jane Mowat

7 May 2014

Leah Hislop - The Art Spider

Those of you that have visited Contains Art recently cannot have failed to see the striking sculpture that has appeared in the courtyard. The more astute of you will have recognised that it was of course spun by the art spider, Leah Hislop, who was responsible for the colourful maze created as part of SAW's 2013 Abundance programme. It would seem that Leah could not resist weaving between the containers and making a statement on the harbour side at Watchet. 

So what brought Leah to Watchet?

In February this year she was awarded a bursary from the Golsoncott Foundation, a local charitable trust that was established in 1998 from the estate of the artist and sculptor Rachel Reckitt (1908-1995). The aim of the trust is to 'promote, maintain, improve and advance the education of the public in the arts generally and in particular… the fine arts and music.

Rachel lived in West Somerset at Golsoncott House, Rodhuish. Recognised as an accomplished artist she studied at the Grosvenor School of Modern Art during the 1930's. She then went on to attend Hammersmith School of Building Crafts from 1940 to 1945, followed by the Central School of Art and Design where she studied lithography.
If you are not familiar with her paintings and sculpture then I know that many of you will be subconsciously aware of the pub signs that she sculpted, including the Valiant Soldier in Roadwater, The Butchers Arms in Carhampton and the Blackbird Inn at West Buckland; the latter of which I know is currently under repair.

And so now Leah in her own unique way is maintaining and advancing the arts in West Somerset. The bursary has provided access to her own studio space and travel expenses  to commute from her home in Taunton. We have all heard the frustrated artist's refrain of - 'Oh if only I had my own studio space I would be more creative...'
Well the proof is in the pudding and Leah didn't waste any time. On the first day she moved into her empty box of a studio she began creating. A structure began to grow from what she instantly had to hand - paper. With no real formalised plan Leah began to fill the space, happy for a natural artistic direction to grow with the time and quiet that the studio provide. 

Working with paper has drawn her away from the familiar feel of wool and thread. Over the few weeks she has been working on the piece the making process has become more structured. A happy coincidence also occurred as the colours she first used unintentionally echoed the distressed colours of the boat hull that sits outside the studio window. As her confidence has grown, the colours too have become bolder and brighter, the paper has crept up to the ceiling and she now visualises it growing over her head and joining it's small beginnings. She has also planned to visit Watchet's paper mill for who better to hopefully supply her with her new found medium? 

The setting of Watchet, her proximity to the sea has also made it's presence felt in the installation - as I walked away I saw the wake of a boat as it chugged out of the harbour, it brought to mind the flow of Leah's installation and on reading her latest blog post she too recognises the influence of the sea, for it has turned into a claustrophobic, paper wave crashing down upon her; unwittingly she cannot escape creating labyrinths in which to entrap and conceal.

Leah's studio will be open to the public between the 21st May and the 4th June, 10 am until 4pm daily. You can also keep up with her thoughts and progress on her blog, a virtual, visual sketch book -  Leah Hislop - Site Specific Artist
If you are interested in learning more about Rachel Reckitt, her family and the house they lived in, do visit the following links where an interesting artistic Somerset history is revealed.