Martin Newell’s Joy of Essex: Chappel Galleries - where the artists paint real things

Chappel and Wakes Colne

Chappel and Wakes Colne

Over by rail to Chappel & Wakes Colne station, at the verdant western end of the Colne valley. It’s a smashing little train journey which runs once an hour from Marks Tey, stopping at Chappel, Bures and Sudbury. It is all that there is of the Gainsborough Line which once went all the way to Cambridge.

The trip, if you’ve never taken it before, is really worth doing because it’s very lovely. It’s also the only way, unless you’re a track maintainence worker, that you’ll ever get to view the surrounding countryside from the top of the magnificent Chappel Viaduct. Chappel and Wakes Colne station is also a famous railway museum, as well as a venue for real ale festivals, and very occasionally, a Blur concert.

Last Saturday, however, it was quiet when I alighted from the train and began the short walk to Chappel Galleries, which are situated in the shadow of the Victorian viaduct.

As I walked under its massive structure, I paused briefly to gawp up at its brickwork, arches and recesses. The 600 craftsmen and labourers who built it took two years to complete the job, which is now thought to be the second largest brick construction in England.

At Chappel Galleries is an exhibition by the watercolourist, Wladyslaw Mirecki, known to most people simply as ‘Waj’. Born to Polish parents in Chelmsford in 1956, Waj never went to art school. Probably as a direct consequence of this, he paints things which ordinary people such as you and I might recognise, find attractive, or even, buy. By British Arts Council standards, therefore, representational art, of the type which Mirecki paints probably wouldn’t count as “real art”. As a result, Waj has been able to work on relatively unencumbered by the constraints placed on ceratin other painters.


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I actually find some of his paintings stunning and have even hung onto one or two of his exhibition catalogues over the years, because I like to revisit them. One day, after Michael Buble has covered one of my terrible old pop songs, perhaps, I might buy a bigger house, in order to accomomodate a couple of Waj’s paintings, some of which happen to be quite large.

Ask Waj about his work or his techniques and he’ll tell you that he doesn’t know how he does it. It seems to be instinctive. He doesn’t, unlike many of his fellow artists, supplement his work with teaching work, he only paints.

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He paints that which he sees and that which he likes. He captures the luminescence of the early spring foliage, for instance. He captures the frail white anemones in old pollarded woodland. Best of all he captures those vast ever-changing Essex skies, which, whenever you return from blander landscapes, will inform you that you’re home.

Not far from where your correspondent resides, lives another representational artist called Paul Rumsey. His work, which has been described as Goya-esque, is startling, sometimes disturbingly so.

Unlike Waj, Rumsey did attend art school. His tutors, however, whom I doubt were fit to trim his brushes, told him that he wasn’t doing it right. The last time I saw him, he was successfully selling his work in Paris.

Waj and Paul, who have occasionally exhibited together are very different artistic talents. And yet they have certain salient things in common. Both remain barely recognised by the English art establishment, despite having regularly exhibited and sold work over the decades.

It was pointed out to me recently by someone far more knowledgeable than I am upon the subject, that both artists are now collectible. Both, too, create unrepentantly representational art. This means that their work may never be exhibited in “important” galleries, such as Colchester’s Firstsite.

The beleagured Firstsite gallery’s increasingly incomprehensible and unpopular exhibitions have provided much merriment in certain quarters. This is largely because of the self-righteous fury which they always seem to provoke in the letters pages of the local papers.

There is a serious side to this situation, however. While the gallery continues to attempt to ram silly, pretentious exhibitions down the throats of a hugely indifferent general public, genuinely skilled, popular artists such as Waj Mirecki and Paul Rumsey will exhibit in the smaller galleries, or even be driven abroad to sell their work.

This situation hardly affects the artists themselves, who are used to making their own way in life, without the embarrassment of having to appeal to the haughty frigidity of state arts patronage.

The real shame of it is that members of the general public, many of whom would probably like Mirecki’s or Rumsey’s work, will rarely get the chance to see it. If, therefore, a metropolitan arts politburo is deciding what we in the benighted provinces, may or may not see, we may have to ask ourselves whether or not we’re witnessing a skewed form of censorship. Are either Waj Mirecki or Paul Rumsey angry about this situation? Possibly not as much as some of their respective fans are.

It’s hardly a problem, though. Their paintings, after all, will probably still be hanging on the buyers’ walls, long after the defunct jet-turbines, the embalmed sheep, the unmade beds and all the other nonsense has been sold back to local recycling centres.

But still, “Art is long and life is short.” as we sometimes say. Before being beaten for our impertinence, of course.

“...just as it is...” Wladyslaw Mirecki’s exhibition runs daily until March 30 at Chappel Galleries, Chappel, Essex, CO6 2DE.

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