Cutting-edge creative art exhibition

Ian Collins Since 1959 the Norfolk Contemporary Art Society has sought to encourage and showcase cutting-edge creativity in the county – an aim now furthered in a new show at The Forum.Ian Collins reports.

Ian Collins

You won't find a single trend among the 57 artists and 78 artworks featured in Norfolk Contemporary Art 2008, let alone a celebration of the trendy.

Work in the looming exhibition at The Forum in Norwich may be wild and wonderful, weird and wacky, but the key point for the display curated by Nicola Ovenden and Robin Jesson is that everything in it is distinctive and authentic.

I was on the panel of selectors for one rather jolly June day at the Castle Museum when we chose from 345 digital images. There was a great deal of discussion and a fair degree of good-humoured disagreement.

We were not told the name of any submitting artist (though very often most of us could guess), but what we looked for was the signature of freshness and individuality allied with real talent.

Save for video and installation, which posed display problems in The Forum, any medium was welcome from artist members of the NCAS - and they responded with paintings, collages, drawings, sculptures, prints, manipulated photographs, ceramics, models and textiles. All are in a show for which we sought as wide a makeup as possible.

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Save for miniaturists, each selected artist is represented with a single work - diversity being championed at the possible expense of depth.

Now judge for yourself. Exhibits will be on view - and on sale - at The Forum from August 2 to 17.

Forget that old chasm in 20th century art - this show moves seamlessly from representation to abstraction. It embraces landscape artists - such as John Bardell, David Page, Philip Wilkinson and Dick Williams - who make the most of a picturesque county, to others (Lara Cobden, Anya King) who work here in a world of the imagination.

Painter Sandra Heywood gives us a colourful new take on a Punch and Judy Show, while strange animal etchings and aquatints by Roberta Cummings are inspired by visits to natural history museums.

Jocelyn Jacobsen paints scenes from a life lived between Africa and East Anglia, while etcher Maria Pavledis retells the Cinderella story and Garry Hobbs emerges as a modern brother Grimm with a merry party around a dissecting table fronted by a naked man and topped by a flying cat.

Traditional skills of draughtsmanship are championed in two very different drawings - of Yarmouth harbour by Katarzyna Coleman and a Broadland boat shed berthing the Lady Pamela cruiser by Janine Flynn.

Painters such as Jane Sanger, Martin Walton and Jazz Green confirm that some of the most beautiful works of art come from the point where representation and abstraction meet. But hail to those rare spirits who can leap the ongoing divide between art and science. Two in The Forum show manage this stupendous feat.

Chris Wade's witty tour-de-force assembly of miniature metal models entitled The Da Vinci Road looks like a madcap Tour de France. The wheeled procession, from early running machines to modern racing bikes, by way of penny farthings and circus monocycles, follows the sculptor's discovery of the first cycle drawing in a Renaissance master's notebook.

Possibly the most arresting and unsettling image in the exhibition is a mixed-media ink-jet print by Pauline Aitken. What seems at first to be a vibrant flower painting in the sensuous style of Georgia O'Keefe, and then on closer inspection resembles an illustration from a medical text book, is a fascinating fruit of the artist's Wellcome Trust award to develop images exploring the relationship between the human heart and the medicinal foxglove plant, Digitalis purpurea.

Then there are gentle pieces which on reflection display an affecting poignancy - such as Mother's Footsteps, by Jane West, which turn out to be a finely-crafted pair of unmatched children's shoes in ceramic.

And Sarah Wilson's Ragged Nightgown etching shows what might happen if washing was hung on a line one morning and then forgotten for a few decades. Bust to dust, sashes to ashes as fine fabric frays and erodes into a gossamer cobweb.

t Norfolk Contemporary Art 2008 is open daily at The Forum in Norwich 7am-midnight from Saturday August 2 until Sunday August 17. Sales: 10am-4.30pm Monday to Saturday and 11am-4.30pm Sunday. Admission free. Catalogues £2.