Suffolk Showcase digs out talent from behind the hedgerows
- Credit: Archant
The annual Suffolk Showcase exhibition is a great leveller. It’s the only top-flight exhibition where the best amateur artists can show alongside some of the country’s leading professional artists.
Exhibition curator Natalie Pace said that Suffolk Showcase remains a wonderful celebration of local talent.
“Suffolk has so much artistic talent hidden away in towns and villages across the county that it is all too easy to overlook what we have on our doorstep. Suffolk Showcase is a fitting celebration of the work which is being produced up and down the county every day.
“In some mixed shows you have some experienced artists rubbing shoulders with emerging artists or those in mid-career, but even that is less common. Here, it is the work, not the names, that count.”
She said that judging is carried out blind by an independent panel who are asked to simply respond to the work submitted and select what they consider to be the best work of its type.
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She said that the criteria for entry in the exhibition was that you are an artist living or working in Suffolk and the work submitted was created after 2009. Works put forward for consideration were identified only by a number for the judging process.
“Names and reputations don’t form part of selection. We do try and create a genuinely level playing field – that way we get to see a lot of diverse and very interesting work. It’s an eclectic array of work that has been selected which contrasts strongly with one another and demonstrates quite vividly the strength and the health of Suffolk contemporary art.
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“I think it’s worth stressing that these are all living artists. We, quite rightly, celebrate Suffolk’s artistic heritage, but great art is still being made in Suffolk today and the Suffolk Showcase is a wonderful way to see some of the best contemporary art being made in Suffolk – work, which is sometimes overlooked in the mad rush to stage bigger, evermore high-profile exhibitions.”
Natalie said that there are 40 pieces on show this year, spanning a wide variety of different media and different disciplines, selected from a total of 300 submissions. “So, the competition as ever is very tough.”
She said that this year’s judges were artist and printmaker Adam Bridgland and Guy Noble, arts curator at University College London Hospitals: both people with strong connections to the region. There was no theme but the trend emerging from this year’s entries was very much focused on line.
“It’s not all drawing, painting and prints by any means – there’s plenty of 3-D work as well as video and photography – but there is more of an emphasis on mark making than we have seen in recent years.
“It’s always interesting to see what artists are working on and how the focus changes from year to year.”
She said that it was good to celebrate the breadth of the work which is being created in a vast array of small studios in Suffolk towns and villages. Suffolk continues to be a draw to artists because of its inspirational landscape but also because it encourages artistic ambition.
Among the works that form the heart of the exhibition were a series of drawings and prints which illustrated the variety you could produce even within a single discipline.
There was a series of fine-art prints which resembled a large-scale comic book, a beached fishing boat lying on a bank of shingle and a highly detailed look at technological innovation over the past 100 years, alongside a startling charcoal drawing of a mass of vegetation.
Michael J Wiggins’ A Century of Change overlays a mass of technological developments ranging from buildings to bridges, ships, trains... even toothpaste being squeezed onto a toothbrush in a quirky, highly detailed print which looks like something that would have been produced to promote The Festival of Britain – or some other jamboree which celebrated innovation and change.
“It builds up the various inventions that have been developed over the years. It charts the way that industry and society has changed and it’s interesting to apply that to Suffolk and see how the county has changed over the past 100 years.”
The intricate print includes everything from a Tudor warship to BBC Broadcasting House being dominated by Zeppelins and searchlights.
Next door, John Glover’s Old Hulk perfectly recreates the look of an old abandoned boat on a deserted beach. The textural nature of the work makes the viewer want to reach out and feel the wooden planking.
“It’s interesting also that there is a lot of monochromatic work in the exhibition. I don’t know why that is but there was a lot submitted this year. But it’s good that they are all so different in style.”
Hilary Owers’ large-scale charcoal drawing New Hedge illustrates Natalie’s point perfectly – its impressionistic sweep conjures up a jungle of vegetation without delivering fine, almost architectural, detail of the previous works – whereas Mark Beasley’s Mock Tudor is all about architecture in his repetitive study of the suburban house.
Completely different again is Joel Millichip’s eccentric large-scale comic book print series Manimal Mystery: Pages 1-4, which turns the style and look of a vintage comic book into a contemporary fine art print. He captures the look and atmosphere of the heroic Biggles/Flash Gordon era that contrasts sharply with our own more cynical world view. It doesn’t come to any conclusions. It doesn’t provide easy answers, but it makes you stop and think about our view of the world and society both then and now.
These printworks are contrasted with a dome with a number of quilted, felt objects inside that conjures up the instant feeling of looking at a Victorian curiosity in an old museum. It then doesn’t come as a surprise to learn that the title of the piece by Sue Walton is Victoria.
On the opposite wall there is a pair of coloured, framed geometric shapes which trigger memories of a Saul Bass film poster.
Natalie said: “There’s a strong graphic and design element to many of the submissions this year, so you have fine art and graphic design sitting opposite one another, which is a good thing to see.”
The presentation also varies, with James Stradner’s Landscape 2 (Pink) overlaying separate works within a frame in much the same way a designer would arrange a layout on a page of a book.
In addition to photography and textile work, the exhibition also features video. Lulu Horsfield will be screening a video installation on a loop.
Suffolk Showcase runs at The Smith’s Row Gallery in Bury St Edmunds until June 8.