Suffolk's artistic showcase

The Suffolk Showcase exhibition has in four short years established itself as one of the important art events in the county. Arts Editor had a sneak preview and found that the standard of entry is as high as ever.

Andrew Clarke

The Suffolk Showcase exhibition has in four short years established itself as one of the important art events in the county. Arts Editor had a sneak preview and found that the standard of entry is as high as ever.

The cream of Suffolk's artistic talent goes on show this weekend as Bury St Edmunds Art Gallery unveils its fourth Suffolk Showcase exhibition.

Artists from all over the county can put forward work to be included in the annual show designed to celebrate the best of the county's creativity.

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The gallery's curator, Catherine Hemelryk said that the exhibition was open to everyone over the age of 16 providing they were born in Suffolk, work here or have strong links with the county. “We have had submissions from students, professional artists, Sunday painters, talented amateurs - everyone. We had 259 works submitted by 106 artists. Out of these 52 were selected for inclusion in the exhibition, so the standard is exceptionally high.”

She said that each year an independent panel of judges assess the work. They view the work without any knowledge of the identity of the artist. Each decision is made purely on their reaction to the work.

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The judges this year were Turner prize winner Grenville Davey and Lotte Juul Petersen, the curator of Wysing Arts in Cambridgeshire. She said that there was no theme to the exhibition. The artists were given the freedom to enter three of what they consider to be their best contemporary work. She said that the works had to have been started after December 2006.

“The reason we don't have a theme is that we don't want to not show something just because it doesn't fit in with an arbitrary theme that we have decided. The exhibition is a genuine celebration of the talent that emanates from this part of the world.”

She said that they feel really privileged to see the vast array of work that is submitted each year. She said that what makes this exhibition different is the fact that it encompasses a huge range of different styles and media.

“We can get everything from watercolours to oils, from multi-media to sculpture as well as installations and textiles - we run the gamut and its terrific to see such a wide variety of work. Even within each media there is a real diversity. It's really inspiring and because the standard is so high, the work that doesn't make it to the final exhibition is also incredible. It's a real honour to see it.”

She said that the judges are not given a fixed number of works to include - the final decision about what is included rests with them. Catherine said: “The judging process is quite complicated. There are very few pictures which are immediately included or immediately excluded. After the initial view the vats majority remain in the possible pile and it's a case of revisiting the work, the judges arguing over the different merits of the piece and comparing it to other works which may possibly take its place.”

She added because the works are viewed blind, there is no way of knowing that a particular work is by a famous artist or by an enthusiastic amateur or a talented student. “Also because the judging panel changes each year, they can't say: 'Well we chose a piece by that artist last year we'll choose someone different this year. It's very much about the reaction to the work on the day. It's fresh eyes and a different perspective each year.”

She said that this style of judging keeps the exhibition fresh and interesting. “I love the fact that everyone has the same chance to be exhibited as any one else.”

The names are only added to the display when the works are chosen for exhibition.

The most unusual exhibits is a felt collar which Catherine describes as being “somewhere between fine art and craft” and to represent this blurring of the line will be worn at the private view.

She said that the exhibition represents a snapshot of art at this time. She said that over the wide variety of different media used to create the works the over-riding theme at the moment is how local artists respond to their locality. Many of them reflecting the changes in agriculture and the way that we view the countryside.

For me one of the standout works is a quilted textile print by Amy Spreull which features a nostalgic scene of beach huts on Felixstowe promenade with a pair of embroidered figures looking in on the scene without being part of it.

Catherine said: “It's a heat transfer, a digital print which has been applied to the material and then the colour has been enhanced and it has been quilted and embroidered using computer software. So it a mixture of traditional arts being used in a contemporary way.”

Contrasting that - but equally intriguing and well executed - is the atmospheric Sugar Factory by Stuart Jarvis, which has an engaging translucent quality and Michael Wiggins pen and ink work Turbulent Fugue which conjures up slightly schizophrenic images of people within images.

She added that there will be two awards made this year. The Judges' Award of �250 will be selected by the judges from work in the exhibition. The Practice Development Award will be given to an artist to support the furthering of their work. Equivalent to �750, the award will provide the artist with a budget for materials and expenses to develop new work through a close working relationship

with Bury St Edmunds Art Gallery. This year both awards have gone to the same artist Claire Cooper for Mandala, figures in cement. The award criteria states that it should go to the artist whose proposal the judges and gallery's curatorial staff feel will best benefit from gallery support.

The Suffolk Showcase Exhibition is on at the Bury St Edmunds Art Gallery until August 29.

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