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First Look: Ed Sheeran: Made in Suffolk exhibition at Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich

PUBLISHED: 20:00 20 August 2019 | UPDATED: 11:22 21 August 2019

Artist Colin Davidson next to his portraits of Ed Sheeran  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Artist Colin Davidson next to his portraits of Ed Sheeran Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

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Singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran's journey to global stardom is explored in a new Made in Suffolk exhibition at Christchurch Mansion. We take a look at the vast array of memorablia on display

Launch of the Ed Sheeran, Made in Suffolk exhibition at Christchurch Mansion   Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNLaunch of the Ed Sheeran, Made in Suffolk exhibition at Christchurch Mansion Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Ed Sheeran, global superstar, best-selling singer-songwriter, was Made In Suffolk. This is the message of a new exhibition staged at the Wolsey Gallery, inside Christchurch Mansion in Ipswich.

The exhibition opens on the eve of Ed's run of four Homecoming concerts in Chantry Park which will close his latest world tour.

The exhibition serves as a 3-D scrapbook of Ed's career to date, a collection of artworks and highly personal pieces of memorabilia, which tell the story of how Ed Sheeran rose from being a gifted schoolboy with a desire to write and sing to being the world's biggest-selling musical superstar.

Ed Sheeran: Made in Suffolk was co-curated by Ed's father John Sheeran and Ipswich Museum's Emma Roodhouse. The show includes two of Ed's earliest guitars, a bronze sculpture of Ed by Suffolk artist Lawrence Edwards, countless pieces of career defining memorabilia like original album artwork by Damian Hirst, posters for the Madison Square Garden concerts and personal items such as his GCSE art project from Thomas Mills High School, handwritten lyrics for songs like Castle on the Hill, and hand-drawn artwork for early EPs.

Launch of the Ed Sheeran, Made in Suffolk exhibition at Christchurch Mansion   Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNLaunch of the Ed Sheeran, Made in Suffolk exhibition at Christchurch Mansion Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Emma said: "We were so lucky that John and Imogen (Sheeran) have kept so much of Ed's early life and career. They and Ed have made a real investment in the exhibition. Getting the guitars and the handwritten lyrics, those first handcrafted album covers, are all fantastic. John has offered so much well-thought-out material and it gives us a real insight into this great Suffolk musician.

"We had a tough job getting it down to a manageable size but we are really pleased that we have ended up with such a balanced look at Ed's life and career with the emphasis very much on his life here in Suffolk."

Ed the man rather than Ed the superstar was very much what artist Colin Davidson was after when he first met Ed in 2014. His larger-than-life oil portrait of Ed Sheeran dominates the exhibition space as Ed gazes serenely out over the Wolsey Gallery surrounded by numerous oil studies and large-scale drawings, capturing Ed in a variety of different moods and expressions.

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Colin said: "I had the sitting at Ed's home in Suffolk because I wanted him relaxed. I didn't want it to be another publicity event. I was with him for three hours. We talked as I drew him and we made a connection which was great. I wanted to get different sides of his personality and at one point I drew him with his eyes closed which is a lovely moment of quiet."

The pair first met backstage after a gig, introduced by John Sheeran, and our of their conversation came the opportunity to paint Ed. Two finished paintings emerged from the session, one of which was acquired by the National Portrait Gallery and the second, on public display for the first time as part of the Made in Suffolk exhibition, went to a private collector.

Flanking the Colin Davidson portraits at the Wolsey Art Gallery, are two walls of powerful black and white photographs by Mark Surridge which chart Ed's rise from small town musician to global superstar. The pictures also show how the fans reaction to Ed have not changed.

Mark first met Ed when the Suffolk was the support act for Example when they performed in Norwich in 2010. "I was the tour manager for Example and was backstage when he came into the room, saw me and said: 'Hello Ginger' and I thought: 'We've got a right one here' because I'm not ginger I'm a more of a flat blonde anyway I watched the show and I was blown away. It's not often you watch the full show of a support act and he came off and I told him: Whatever you're sellin' I'm havin'" CDs, downloads whatever.

Launch of the Ed Sheeran, Made in Suffolk exhibition at Christchurch Mansion   Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNLaunch of the Ed Sheeran, Made in Suffolk exhibition at Christchurch Mansion Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

"Then he was on the tour for a couple of weeks, on the bus and we just got talking and became friends. I always take my camera with me and I would just take pictures and it has just continued. He trusts me and I just grab quiet moments backstage, just recording how things change and more importantly how they have stayed the same.

"I think my favourite shots are the ones of the fan reaction which are all about Ed even though Ed isn't in the picture, it's all about Ed. The other picture I love is the one of Ed alone in his dressing room after a Wembley gig. Normally gives him space as he comes down after a show but he invited me in and we just chatted and I snapped a few shots."

Away from these glimpses of Ed the person, the rest of the exhibition offers fans an insight into Ed as a schoolboy and then as a fledgling singer performing in local pubs and clubs before moving to London and eventually hitting the big time. Major milestones are measured in increasingly sophisticated tour posters, album art and an Ed puppet used in the videos for Sing and Happier.

But, the heart of the exhibition really resides in those early guitars and those hand-drawn posters and album art when he was dreaming of breaking into the big time.

Launch of the Ed Sheeran, Made in Suffolk exhibition at Christchurch Mansion   Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNLaunch of the Ed Sheeran, Made in Suffolk exhibition at Christchurch Mansion Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

The portraits and photographs by Colin Davidson and Mark Surridge bridge the gap between those worlds and reveal that Ed Sheeran may be older and wiser but he's still a youthful musician at heart.

Ed Sheeran: Made in Suffolk runs until May 3 2020 at the Wolsey gallery, Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich. Admission is free but, because of high demand, visitors have to book online in advance by visiting: www.made-in-suffolk.co.uk/

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