A Dream of the Sea

I’ve curated an exhibition that’s currently up at The Witham arts centre in Barnard Castle. It’s called a Dream of the Sea – the title was inspired by an old friend’s email address, I was at art school with Duncan, aka adreamofthesea@XXX, and he was a dream in himself – bursting with iridescent fun and wild imagination – an amazing guy, and a fascinating artist. Anyway,  the words A Dream of the Sea have always captured my imagination, and I so when I sat pondering a fitting programme of exhibitions for my role as Visual Arts Coordinator at The Witham this title sprang to mind. Barnard Castle is about as landlocked and agricultural as rural gets in the UK, but the vast majority of us ‘dream of the sea’ and of escapism – not least when the days are cold, long and dark, yet our anticipation of  Summer and coastal adventure is piqued by the Spring Equinox.

So here we have it, an exhibition called A Dream of the Sea that opened on Thursday 2, and continues until Saturday 25 March 2017. The exhibition spans the Gallery, Dispensary Gallery, and seeps/laps into the Shop at The Witham, admission is free, and access if from 10 am to 4 pm Tuesday to Saturday.

It’s a group exhibition, and clearly I think all of the artists involved in the exhibition are talented and their works have merit; however, there are a few whose work makes my heart skip a beat. Introducing Mark Sofilas…

Mark’s sun-drenched scenes of the Mediterranean make my toes curl with excitement – I can almost feel the sand between them, feel a warm coastal breeze on my shoulders, taste the Capri Rosso linger in my mouth, and hear the hum of  grasshoppers amongst the scrub-land. His works are so fantastically evocative place; of relaxed, romantic hillside works on  balmy evenings, of a refreshing swim or boat ride out to sea, of the brightly coloured, unfamiliar, charming flora bursting through sandy soils. I adore them!

Mark Sofilas lives and works in Leeds, some more about him…

“I am originally from Western Australia but migrated to the UK in 2008.  I was an illustrator with over 20 years’ experience in the advertising industry but took the opportunity, on moving to the UK, to turn to fine art, something which I had always wanted to do.

My paintings are very heavily guided by the emotions a particular scene or moment evokes in me. It’s this feeling that I try to convey to the viewer. It might be something as simple as smoke drifting from a chimney pot or silhouette created by a particular light source. It may be the strength or history, which emanates from an everyday object or piece of architecture.

The body of work I’m displaying here [in A Dream of the Sea] is inspired by a recent visit to Italy, featuring The Amalfi coast and the Isle of Capri. I have tried to capture the intense light of day and the magic that intensifies under the cover of night, in this wonderful part of Italy.

Over time I’ve discovered that I can best achieve this by exaggerating/enhancing colour, manipulating perspective slightly and pushing shape and form to arrive, hopefully, at a nicely balanced place, where the image created has not only captured the physical qualities of the scene, but more importantly, the feeling of the occasion… I take photographs of my subjects, but like to rely on memory and imagination, the ultimate goal being, to recreate exactly what I’m feeling onto a flat surface.

I don’t do preliminary drawings, instead I prefer to adopt a more organic approach and design the paintings as I go. This helps the end product retain a freshness and feeling of spontaneity. I always have an image and mood in my mind’s eye that I’m trying to put down and I find that working this way allows me to be flexible and go with any happy accidents that more than likely will occur. It’s these little surprises that I can adopt and learn from and take into my next painting.

I enjoy the journey that this direct and unstructured approach takes me on and find that it enables me to either get close to achieving what I had in mind and heart or on occasion, arrive somewhere unexpected but as rewarding.”

Contrastingly, in both geography and medium, I also adore the work of Lee and Jill Brewster.  They are a couple who live and work in Hurworth, County Durham, and have been working together since graduating in 1991.

They’re showing a new body of sculptural furniture in this exhibition that initially appears too tactile and sculptural to have any functional merit in the domestic or commercial setting. Yet when one sits down with it, touches it, works with it, it tells a story of enjoying and embracing nature with all its seemingly restrictive undulations… that aren’t actually restrictive at all, but refreshingly comfortable, and perspective enhancing. In short, I DESPERATELY want the desk and stool in my home!

Lee Brewster studied furniture design at Loughborough college of Art and Design and is currently studying for an MA at Teesside University in Future Design. Jill Brewster studied surface pattern and textiles, also at Loughborough, and then completed an MA in Creative Multimedia at the school of computing at Teesside University.

“We design and make sculpture, furniture, structures and buildings in response to specific environments. We are interested in making sustainable and emotional connections with nature using structure, texture and pattern.

Our current work is a response to our local environment, specifically the North East heritage coast, the theme of the sea and water frequently appears in our work. We work predominantly in wood and enjoy the free workmanship it allows us, making decisions about structure and aesthetics during the making process.

We are advocates of using responsibly sourced and renewable resources to achieve sustainable futures and promote socially responsible design. Our objective is to design objects and processes that enable a sense of wellbeing, and ultimately improve people’s lives through an emotional connection with nature.

The sculptural pieces of furniture included in this exhibition areinspired by our research into coastal environments and the pattern and textures left behind by the action of the sea.”

Other works in this exhibition that really ‘rock my boat’ in a positive sense, include a series of fabulous illustrations by Katie Edwards.

One of my very first memories is of walking between gigantic sand-dunes on holiday in Morocco. I was two years old, but I guess the landscape was so far removed from my norm (the North York Moors) that the memory stuck. The above print reminds me of the Isola San Giulio, an island within Lake Orta in Piedmont, northwestern Italy (where some friends got married a few years ago). What I adore about Katie Edwards’ work is the playfulness, that awe-infused sense of the extraordinary that is intrinsic to all of her illustrative prints.

There’s a sense of child-like wonderment to her work… as a child when I thought about our place in the world, in the universe I used to wonder if the universe was merely a tiny speck of dust in a giant’s pocket. It’s THAT freedom of imagination that I love about Katie Edwards’ work!

Perhaps inspired by the fantastic setting that she lives and works in… Katie designs and creates her conceptual illustrations from her studio located at the foot of Lake Windermere in the Lake District, using traditional photographic and silkscreen printing techniques.

Katie’s screen prints focus on conceptual ideas, symbolism and metaphors, and her screen printed illustrations reflect her enjoyment for the natural world, evoking thoughtfulness and humour. Katie’s innovative juxtaposition of elements often result in a surreal, humorous or thought-provoking image.

The original silkscreen prints are created from Katie’s most popular designs and developed as a limited print run. Each one being a unique, hand-crafted piece of art, individually printed, signed and numbered by the artist.

Achieving a first class honors in Graphic Arts and Design at Leeds Metropolitan University, Katie has since lived in London and Canada, working with clients such as The Observer; The Telegraph; Economist ; Psychology Magazines; Converse Shoes; National Australia Bank; Boothes Supermarket; Arla Dairy and Delta Airlines. Katie was awarded the Bridgeman Studio Award in 2014, for the illustration ‘Joy’. More recently, Katie was commissioned by E.H.Booths Ltd to create a piece of art in the form of a triptych for their new store in Milnthorpe, Cumbria.

In addition to exhibiting her work nationally internationally, Katie also enjoys success with work such as hand printed greeting cards, soft furnishings, t-shirts and tote bags stocked in galleries and arts centers across the country.

If you’d like to see these works for yourself, and many more beautiful works besides, then get thee to The Witham (3 Horse Market, Barnard Castle, DL12 8LY) before 4pm this Saturday! More info about exhibitions at The Witham here.