Cromer artist has to beat hosepipe ban ahead of Halesworth exhibition

The hosepipe ban has given gardeners a headache, and sees family cars looking grimier than usual - but it has also left a Norfolk artist high and dry.

Cromer-based textile artist Julia O'Leary creates seashore-inspired works that combine layers of dyed paper and stitched netting which are given a weather-beaten look by a backyard pressure washer. Notification of the first hosepipe ban in 20 years, brought in to ease the drought in East Anglia, came on the same day as confirmation of her taking part in her first major exhibition.

So it meant working flat out to prepare a pile of work for 'zapping' with her man-made storm force water before the ban came in.

Mrs O'Leary, 65, said: 'When I found out I thought 'what am i going to do?'

'I had to get up at the crack of dawn every day for a month to get on with the paper and stitching work to get enough material ready for the 20m exhibition space.' Then she had a major session with the pressure washer at her Compit Hills home before the ban kicked in and hoses had to be turned off.


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Now she is busy creating the finished artworks and framing them in time for the May show at Halesworth.

Retired primary school and adult education teacher Mrs O'Leary spent five years at art school, after retiring to Norfolk from Leicester in 2000, to gain a BA in contemporary textiles and MA in fine art.

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Part of her fine art project was exploring the coast and erosion, and a 'eureka moment' for her current art style came after seeing a metal ladder on a groyne between Cromer and Overstrand. It had been curled and pitted by the sea and mirrored the shape of the waves hitting it.

She used her experience of handmade paper to add in mud and metal stains, then combined it with textile stitchwork to create a mesh reflecting the colours and fishing net textures found on the shore.

'I wanted to added the destructive yet constructive force of the tides, and began by trying to bury the work in the sand,' she explained.

'When I dug a hole in the beach it drew lots of attention from dogs, but when I went back a few days later it was gone - taken by the sea.'

Plan B was to replicate the savage power of the sea using a pressure washer at her home.

'The neighbours probably think I am loony if they see me at work,' she added. But her work has been bought across the UK and as far away at the United States.

The hosepipe ban might switch from being a problem to an opportunity for her if it carried on for more than a year, added Mrs O'Leary, who is exploring other art and textile techniques - that do not involve a garden hose.

Her work will feature in the Water Marks exhibition at Halesworth Gallery, Steeple End, Halesworth, from May 5-25 (open 11am to 5pm weekends, 2-5pm Sundays, admission free). She will be there on the opening day to explain her work. More information at www.halesworthgallery.co.uk and juliaoleary.com.

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