Artist Derek Nice on Suffolk art trail

As 25 studios, workshops and galleries - plus one meadow - open for the next three weekends in the Harleston and Waveney Art Trail, IAN COLLINS profiles guest artist Derek Nice.

As 25 studios, workshops and galleries - plus one meadow - open for the next three weekends in the Harleston and Waveney Art Trail, IAN COLLINS profiles guest artist Derek Nice.

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Derek Nice is a wanderer whose name is pronounced like the French city, and whose marine art links us to the Mediterranean.

Harleston and Waveney Art Trail's guest artist - with driftwood boat models and beach paintings in Harleston Gallery, and longship-borne warriors looming large in a Brockdish sculpture meadow - has bases in Halesworth, Somerset and Malta.

A born Londoner, displaced early on to Essex, he also boasts deep East Anglian fishing and farming roots.

Having been a promising junior art student, Derek gained a National Service posting to RAF Waterbeach in Cambridgeshire whose commander was in urgent need of a painter...

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He was duly despatched in a Tiger Moth with a former Battle of Britain Spitfire pilot to check out officers' mess decoration across the region. Securing the required intelligence, he then turned a humdrum hut into a French Impressionist fantasy and a sergeants' mess into a Wild West saloon.

So bizarre a mission proved a flying start for a man who later became an art director and designer for stage and screen.

He worked on Ken Loach's first film, and with Ken Russell and John McGrath. He was the set decorator for Simon Gray's movie adaptation of the J.L. Carr novel A Month in the Country (with early roles for Kenneth Branagh and Colin Firth).

Then he extended his skills into museums - designing the Trafalgar Story at Portsmouth, a replica Viking longship in Oslo and Gozo Heritage Museum.

When, 25 years ago, there was a shift on the creative tiller towards boat-centred sculpture and painting, the first models recalled the Belle steamers once ferrying passengers between Tower Bridge and Yarmouth and most piers in between. Then fishing craft gave way to images drawn from vessels painted on pyramid interiors or scratched on rocks in the Nubian desert.

Derek Nice has also painted fishermen's haunts from Blakeney to Aldeburgh. He especially loves the surreal winch or boat parcels - wrapped in tarpaulin, striped awning or plastic sheets - at Pakefield.

He fell early on for the history and colour of the Eastern Mediterranean. When wedded to the textile artist Mary Pasmore - daughter of artists Victor and Wendy - he also married into an obsession for Malta, and for the raw splendour of a rocky outcrop weathering waves of invasion, soaking up passing cultures and yet remaining resolutely itself.

Everywhere he collects and beachcombs. Salvaged life in a found object, from a broken-up boat or an old oak floorboard, adds to desired depths of meaning in his art.

Carving, painting and drawing concurrently, Derek Nice revels in the working process but reckons the message in the art is essentially the same. 'It's not the medium but the arrangement that matters,' he says.

As well as a serious purpose, there is also an entertaining wit here - as befits the grandson of a man who ended a diverse career by playing the washboard in seaside Essex.

t The Harleston and Waveney Art Trail ( features artist studios, workshops and the Waveney Sculpture Meadow at Brockdish and runs 11am-6pm for the next three Saturdays and Sundays. Group shows can be seen at Harleston Gallery and Bungay's Cork Brick Gallery.

t Today and tomorrow Derek Nice also has a solo exhibition at Aldeburgh's Cinema Gallery.