Martin Newell’s Joy of Essex: The Wladyslaw Mirecki – ‘Waj’ exhibition

Oak in winter, watercolour, 2016, by Wladyslaw Mirecki. Photo: Douglas Atfield

Oak in winter, watercolour, 2016, by Wladyslaw Mirecki. Photo: Douglas Atfield - Credit: Archant

At the Chappel Galleries, only a few minutes’ walk from the delightfully time-warped railway station, is an exhibition of paintings by Wladyslaw Mirecki – ‘Waj’ to his friends.

At Wivenhoe station last week it was still winter when I boarded the train. Just over 20 minutes later, as I disembarked at Chappel and Wakes Colne station, the sun came out and the birds sang louder. It felt almost spring-like.

At the Chappel Galleries, only a few minutes’ walk from the delightfully time-warped railway station, is an exhibition of paintings by Wladyslaw Mirecki – ‘Waj’ to his friends. I am something of a fan. Waj is an East Anglian landscape artist. This sentence pretty much sums up what he is and what he does. For a more high falutin’ description we might prevail upon no less a luminary than the distinguished art historian, Frances Spalding.

In an eloquent foreword to Waj’s exhibition catalogue she summarises the artist thus: “Mirecki is a landscape artist in a post-industrial age.”

Even Ms Spalding, a woman of formidable erudition, cannot sum up Waj’s work more succinctly.

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Waj paints trees in winter, medieval barn interiors, cattle in fields and country lanes.

In his work these subjects appear exactly as you, I, or a local farmer might recognise them. Waj tends to eschew painterly artifice. He doesn’t idealise his subjects or stylise them.

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This work is best seen in a quiet country gallery such as Chappel. The lofty etherealists at Tate Modern probably wouldn’t get it, although it might be nice to see it in Colchester’s Firstsite Gallery. Let’s not hold our collective breath.

Not that the art buffs would ever slag him off. They’re all far too buttoned-up-Brit to do that.

He just doesn’t get mentioned in their communiques. They don’t mention Waj, like the poetry critics don’t mention Pam Ayres; like the lit crits don’t mention Martina Cole. Have I got an axe to grind here? You betcha.

My problem, I suppose, is the fact that Metropolitan Arts Massive are so self-engaged that they can’t help but back losers: the angst-ridden singers who sound more in need of a vet than a record producer; the poets and novelists whose works read as if they completed only half the adult literacy course. Let’s not even visit the multi-media installation conceptualists. These are all the people who deliberately forgot how to draw, so they could claim their share of the Arts Council funding pot.

The funniest thing I’ve seen lately is an album cover by a post-punk band called Half Man Half Biscuit. It’s a picture of a shed door, with these words chalked upon it. “No-one cares about your creative hub – so get your ******* hedge cut.” Laugh? I nearly handed my fags round.

Joking aside, nowadays you’re more likely to find reasonable art in a provincial gallery than some post-industrial “exhibition space”.

What, though, are we surly peasant types to do when we merely want something nice to read or hang on our walls? Now that nearly the whole world’s a writer, a blues musician, a poet or an artist, where are we ordinary punters to go?

As a feature writer, I could be writing about art exhibitions, poetry collections, radical new music and cutting edge plays pretty much every week if I wished.

Naturally I don’t. This is because in many cases I know the poetry won’t rhyme, the music will sound like industrial machinery and the art will be incomprehensible.

I really am a populist. For music, I like easy-listening or a bit of smooth jazz. For poetry I like John Betjamin and Pam Ayres. For art I like Hogarth, the Pre-Raphaelites and Viz Comic.

Back to Mirecki’s exhibition at the Chappel Galleries. Waj has exhibited here in the UK, in France and China for three decades or more and Frances Spalding thinks he’s the nazz.

So I whizz around the exhibition and I study the catalogue. It only reconfirms what I have thought for years now.

There are East Anglian artists such as Wladyslaw Mirecki, Paul Rumsey and a few others of their ilk.

Many years from now, when all of us have departed this life, their work will still look as soulful and crafted as it does now.

Ninety per cent of everything else, which the cognoscenti exhibit in their strange wendy houses, will be landfill. It’s landfill now, in my opinion. But, as they used to say in the East End, “You can’t train a mug.” No. But you can probably sell them one as they try to escape through the visitor centre of your creative hub.

Wladyslaw Mirecki’s exhibition “...stand stable, here / And silent be...” is at Chappel Galleries, Chappel, Essex, CO6 2DE, until April 1. Wednesdays to Sundays, 10am to 5pm

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