Annual showcase of county art

Norfolk is home to many talented artists and the annual Open Studios event gives the public a chance to see them at work. Sarah Cassells meets several artists taking part and reckons it’s a must for any lover of art.

This year's Norfolk Open Studios, the showcase for Norfolk's artistic talent, is part of the 2005 Norfolk and Norwich Festival.

Organisers, artists and event sponsors gathered in the New Museum of Contemporary Art in King Street, Norwich, to have first sight of this year's glossy brochure, tens of thousands of which are available free at nearly 200 participating artists' studios across the county – and given away with the EDP on May 5. A selection of stories from this brochure will also appear on EDP24 shortly.

The brochure includes a pen picture of the artists taking part, with examples of their work as well as profiles of some of the unique talents taking part.

The event sees Norfolk's wealth of new and familiar artists displaying their work. From painters and sculptors, textiles and pottery to completely mixed media, the abundance of diverse and vibrant talent across a range of mediums and subjects leaves the admirer spoilt for choice.

Among the hundreds of artists opening their studios for the first time this year is award-winning atmospheric landscape and marine painter M A Kinnear.

Establishing himself as a full-time artist after a career in advertising proved to be the least of his concerns when, at the age of only 35, he had a major stroke and was in hospital for three months.

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When doctors predicted he would not walk again, Kinnear kept a photograph of himself with his dog at their favourite painting spot on Holkham beach to motivate himself towards recovery.

At his studio in Syderstone, Kinnear attributes his desire to paint as a major factor in regaining his ability to stand and walk. Success has continued with a recently signed contract to Sally Mitchell Fine Arts, one of the UK's largest print producers.

Much of his inspiration has come from the colours of Norfolk's skyline and seascapes.

“Landscapes are all about capturing the effect of light,” said Kinnear. “And oils, although exacting, are the best medium for capturing the luminosity of a cloud or the fleeting effect of sun rays, bursting through heavy skies.

“Most modern art places the idea before craft, but the craft of painting – the ability to use the technical potential of the paint – is central to making a good concept into fine art.

“The 'idea' behind all my work is the majesty of nature brought to life by the craft of traditional oil painting.”

Figurative painter and muralist John Dashwood is also a master in the medium of oil painting but focuses on the sacred and secular alongside his locally inspired art.

Having worked with the Church sporadically for the last 10 years, the themes of his current series of oil paintings are concerned with the biblical and the lives of saints, and the urban landscape of his native Yarmouth.

John is moved to work partly by what fascinates him, and partly by what he loves.

As well as recent exhibitions at the Seachange Gallery and Raveningham Gallery, John has received mural commissions at St Nicholas' Church, Yarmouth, for Stations of the Cross and The Last Supper.

Work in watercolours has again proved popular by exhibiting artists and continues to be considered by its fans as the perfect medium in which to explore nature's beauty.

“As an artist working with watercolours I have a great interest and love in the energies of colour and nature,” said Peter Basham, of Phoenix Studios.

“It is this striving to work within the energies of colour that causes excitement within whenever I face a blank piece of paper with the seed of an idea and a journey to embark upon.

“Colour has a profound effect on our senses physically, emotionally and spiritually. It makes a better world in which to live.”

After many years exhibiting at craft fairs around the country, Phoenix Studios now has a permanent display and “have a go” days for anyone who would like a taste of watercolours.

Wroxham Barns has also seen a watercolour revolution, led by resident botanical artist Jan Blanch.

For over 20 years her paintings have graced homes throughout the world. Many of her watercolours have been commissioned in the form of greetings cards and stationery, sold under the name of Cottage Flowers, by high-profile retailers such as Harrods, Fortnum and Mason, and Liberty's.

Over the past three years, most of Jan's original paintings have been shipped over to Kobe, where a gallery has been established especially to introduce her work to a Japanese market.

More recently, Jan has been passing on her knowledge to others, running art classes for all abilities at Wroxham Barns and Grove Farm, Repps, near Potter Heigham.

For the more adventurous, courses are run in a small coastal village in the northern part of Corfu between May to October, enabling groups to fly out from Norwich and enjoy a week's painting in the Greek sunshine.

Arguably people are not as familiar with the medium of stone carving, but the work Charlotte Howarth and colleague Louise Tiplady produce is in no way less beautiful or desirable.

“There aren't many women working as stone sculptors,” said Charlotte at her studio in West Acre, near King's Lynn. “So to have two of us working here is pretty exceptional.”

At their Open Studio event, Charlotte intends to show less of a gallery space and more an opportunity for the public to look at a traditional craft in a contemporary environment.

Through her company Making Marks Ltd, Charlotte has received large-scale architectural and public commissions as well as private work from across the region. Specialising in the inclusion of community ideas in all her public sculptures, Charlotte's bespoke stonework really is state of the art – art of the state.

In a similarly unusual profession for a woman, Vivien Bradley describes herself as a priest-artist.

Her beginnings as an artist arose out of her spiritual journey, which began when she was among the first women to be ordained in the Church of England in 1994.

Her journey has concluded at her little blue studio in Kimberley and now sees her working in a variety of mixed media, including paper, textiles and photographs to translate natural subjects through colour, texture and design.

A self-taught artist, her first exhibition was held in the hospital chapel where she worked as chaplain, and was accepted for Winchester Cathedral.

Vivien says her life is a “mixed portfolio” that includes working as a priest in the group of rural parishes where she lives and producing exhibitions.

Inspired by natural subjects, Vivien likes to capture a sense of space and light in her art, and looks to do more experimental work in future collages.

In an attitude shared unanimously across Open Studios' exhibitors, Vivien concluded: “I just want to get across my sheer enjoyment of colour and design.”

Norfolk Open Studios runs from May 14 to May 30. Visit for more information or call 01603 614921.