See artist's fascinating pictures of Norwich's Castle Mall construction

Kay Ohsten was artist in residence during the construction of Castle Mall in Norwich, which started 30 years ago this summer

Kay Ohsten was artist in residence during the construction of Castle Mall in Norwich, which started 30 years ago this summer - Credit: Kay Ohsten

The construction of Castle Mall is one of the biggest building projects that modern day Norwich has seen. 

Work on the shopping centre, which changed the face of a huge swathe of the city, started 30 years ago this summer. 

And Kay Ohsten was the project’s artist in residence, commissioned to capture it all as it happened. 

Construction workers on the site of Castle Mall, Norwich, as captured by artist Kay Ohsten

Construction workers on the site of Castle Mall, Norwich, as captured by artist Kay Ohsten - Credit: Kay Ohsten

The result is an absolutely fascinating collection of hundreds of paintings, sketches and collages showing the landscape as it changed – the earthworks and steel girders and the cranes on the skyline. 

As Kay’s daughter, Lucy Ohsten, explains, her mother became involved after being approached by the construction companies and architect involved in the building of Castle Mall, now known as Castle Quarter.  

Artist Kay Ohsten captured the construction of Castle Mall, Norwich, during its three-year build

Artist Kay Ohsten captured the construction of Castle Mall, Norwich, during its three-year build - Credit: Kay Ohsten


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"They asked her if she would create a body of artwork charting the construction process over the coming years,” she says.  

“My mother was well-known as a local artist and was very excited to be part of such a groundbreaking project.  

Construction of one of the traffic entrances to Castle Mall, Norwich

Construction of one of the traffic entrances to Castle Mall, Norwich - Credit: Kay Ohsten

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“She wanted to show the reality of the construction process, while also reflecting the history and beauty of Norwich, a city she loved dearly."  

A piece by artist Kay Ohsten showing the changing landscape during the construction of Castle Mall, Norwich

A piece by artist Kay Ohsten showing the changing landscape during the construction of Castle Mall, Norwich - Credit: Kay Ohsten

Lucy says that her mother, who died in 2003, was fascinated by many different art styles, genres and mediums. 

Artist Kay Ohsten, who documented the construction of Castle Mall in Norwich

Artist Kay Ohsten, who documented the construction of Castle Mall in Norwich - Credit: Lucy Ohsten

Kay studied at Norwich Art School, where she went on to teach graphic design, and was a talented painter and printmaker.

She was also a member of the Norwich 20 Group, a prestigious collection of the county’s very best artists.  

Kay is probably best known for her watercolours of the local landscape and Norwich, but she also created abstracts, screen prints, portraits and collages, with her ‘bodies’ and ‘flowers’ series much sought after. 

“My mother trained as a draughtswoman, so she had a particular interest and skill for architectural drawing,” says Lucy.  

Construction of Castle Mall taking place

Construction of Castle Mall taking place - Credit: Kay Ohsten

“The mud, metal, and constant movement and change of the Castle Mall construction suited her style perfectly, because she never worked in a tight or photographic way.

"Her Mall pictures are packed with colour, vibrancy and freedom, taking in each stage of the project. 

“You can also see her incredible skill with figurative work, where she captured the workers as they toiled away, or ate their lunch.

Construction workers at Castle Mall at work on a summer's day

Construction workers at Castle Mall at work on a summer's day - Credit: Kay Ohsten

"There is a great deal of heart and humanity in each and every picture."

The majority of the Mall works are watercolours, but there are many that use charcoal, pastels, wax crayon, mixed media and even some collages. 

Construction work on Castle Mall, Norwich, taking place in Farmers Avenue

Construction work on Castle Mall, Norwich, taking place in Farmers Avenue - Credit: Kay Ohsten

“Her method was to sketch on site, and also take Polaroids, then it was back to the studio to create the magic,” says Lucy.  

“The vast body of work she produced over the three years she was there is testament to how utterly committed and fascinated she was by it and how prolific.

"Much of the work she created has been sold, but there are still some 250 Mall pictures remaining." 

One of Kay Ohsten's works created while artist in residence during the Castle Mall construction project in Norwich

One of Kay Ohsten's works created while artist in residence during the Castle Mall construction project in Norwich - Credit: Kay Ohsten

Lucy remembers her mother's excitement about working on the project.

“She was passionate about Norwich; it was her home town, so it was very exciting to her that her beloved city was undergoing such a radical change — and she was to be part of it.

A crane on site during the construction of Castle Mall in Norwich

A crane on site during the construction of Castle Mall in Norwich - Credit: Kay Ohsten

“As a youngster, I would go to Norwich often with my mother — we lived in Pulham St Mary on a farm with my father and brother— and so it was always part of her life and she loved spending time there.

"Parking on the Cattle Market, going to the fair at Easter and Christmas on the site, visiting the castle; it was all going to change now with this big shopping mall.

"I remember her being so excited and focused about it.”  


The changing face of Castle Meadow, Norwich

The changing face of Castle Meadow, Norwich - Credit: Kay Ohsten

Lucy describes her mother as a “creative powerhouse”.

She developed a new method of screen printing and had a passion for nature and the countryside and loved to go out and about with a sketchbook to capture Norfolk’s big skies, rolling fields and dramatic seascape. 

“This wasn’t restricted to just art; she upcycled furniture before it became fashionable, wrote beautiful and funny poetry, made wonderful clothes for us all, cooked like a dream, sang with the much-loved Broadland Singers and all the while being a fantastic mother,“ says Lucy.  

Kay Ohsten's works show many well-known Norwich landmarks

Kay Ohsten's works show many well-known Norwich landmarks - Credit: Kay Ohsten

To see more of Kay Ohsten’s work visit kayohsten.co.uk 
 

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