Suffolk’s leading showcase of art talent

The annual Suffolk Showcase exhibition, held at the Smiths Row gallery in Bury St Edmunds, is one of the most exciting events in the county’s art calendar.

It’s the one show where talented amateurs and experienced professionals get to exhibit side by side in a dazzling display of homegrown talent.

The strength of the exhibition is that all the judging is done blind by two independent adjudicators. No names are attached to the works and selection for the main exhibition is based purely on the judges reaction to the work.

Artists are identified later by a series of numbers which are attached to the pieces.

This year is the sixth year that Suffolk Showcase has been held and it remains as popular as ever within the artistic community. Curator Rosie Grieve said that the exhibition provided artists with a valuable window onto the outside world and allowed young, emerging or amateur artists a rare opportunity to be seen in properly curated show.

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This year 93 artists submitted 213 works for consideration. Competition for limited gallery space is intense. In the end only 35 artists were chosen to display 63 works.

It’s a show where different art forms and different media get to shine alongside one another. It’s the variety of artist, media and subject matter that gives Suffolk Showcase its vitality – its zing.

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Rosie Grieve said: “I grew up in Suffolk, in Halesworth, but I came to Smith’s Row last year via Bradford and Stoke-on-Trent, Suffolk has a lure which brings you back. For three-and-a-half years I worked freelance and it was like an apprenticeship I worked with all sorts of artists, in a wide variety of galleries.

“I was at the Lowry Centre for four years, then worked on the British Ceramics Bi-ennial in Stoke-on-Trent before moving back to this part of the world and it’s wonderful. I went to school in Woodbridge and my parents now live in Beccles, so it’s great to be back.”

She said that Suffolk Showcase illustrated the fact that there was an enormous amount of talent hidden among the leafy lanes and villages in Suffolk. “You get to see a lot of artists which you, perhaps, wouldn’t see anywhere else. Also, it’s a great leveller. The way that the exhibition is chosen means that it is selected by the quality of the work rather than on the name of the artist.”

She said that this unique annual event allows artists working away at home the opportunity to rub shoulders with the very best contemporary practitioners.

“You find that you get some very talented people, working away at home, producing great work and it never occurs to them that they could have their work hung in an exhibition in a leading gallery.”

She added that when artists go to art school, they are taught to think in a creative way but rarely get shown how to think about business. “They are given no clues about how to promote yourself professionally.”

The showcase also allows artists to mix and meet with other artists and swap ideas and be inspired by their contemporaries.

“In art school you are always meeting and talking to other young artists and you are constantly inspired by one another. When you graduate, suddenly you are alone in a studio, it can be very hard to lift yourself out of a rut, to provide yourself with a new challenge – particularly if the work is selling and you face the decision whether to play safe and make more of the same, knowing that it will probably sell or do something new – perhaps something riskier. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword.”

Among the highlights of this year’s exhibition is a life-sized, clear glass spacehopper filled with long, coloured balloons by Karen Densham.

“It’s a real hidden gem. It’s called Hot Air. It’s really experimental, playful. It’s sort of thing you might produce while still at art school. It has a wonderful freshness about it.”

There are some beautiful, eight foot long silk scarves which blends art and craft. Rosie Grieve said: “It’s not always easy to categorise works, I say go with your instincts.”

Other pieces include a series of night photographs by Bill Jackson. The photos were taken on a long exposure, using only the moon and starlight to light the Suffolk landscape.

“These highly colourful images do what good art should do and shows you something that you may have never noticed before.”

Amy Drayson contributed some highly colourful portraits of semi-derelict houses. Painted with vibrant, almost day-glo colours, these paintings give this series of abandoned properties a life that is not immediately obvious in our busy everyday lives.

In her artist’s statement she says: “This work explores the relationship between empty homes and their environment. Abandoned and without purpose, it is as if these houses have been liberated from conventional constraints and they are no longer required to express the status and aspirations of their occupants.”

These amazing works show what normally would be regarded as neglected as proud, important buildings.

Artist Steve Joyce has come up with a trio of untitled screen-prints and photo collages which explore ideas of space and use of graphics. He challenges the notion that the camera never lies. Meanwhile Michael Wiggins has produced a highly detailed pen and ink drawing which draws in the viewer and encourages them to get lost in the picture.

Timbers and long wooden planks form a loose tunnel which leads the eye into a long, seemingly endless tunnel, at the end of which is an inviting ball of light. Is it welcoming or is it a threat?

The response is very much up to you.

In such a diverse exhibition it is interesting that much of the work is centred on finding beauty in the everyday world.

The Suffolk Showcase exhibition is on display at Smiths Row gallery, Bury St Edmunds until Saturday September 3.

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