The People's Choice

Angi Kennedy It’s the art exhibition chosen by the people for the people. ANGI KENNEDY reports on the innovative project to get the public to curate Norfolk’s latest exhibition.

Angi Kennedy

From ex-racing driver Martin Brundle to TV weatherman Peter Gibbs, from an Age Concern community group to a young brother and sister - when it comes to art “we know what we like”.

And that doesn't always correspond with what is being shown in art galleries. But thanks to a new Norfolk project, an exhibition is about to open that will feature paintings chosen entirely by the public.

The People's Choice, which opens at Norwich Castle on Friday, has been selected by more than 100 men, women and children from around the county. Alongside the exhibition will be a gallery trail that will reveal the art choices of well-known personalities with links to Norfolk.

Among them are Yarmouth Beach and Jetty by Joseph Stannard that was chosen by author Rose Tremain. The painting inspired her short story, Man in the Water.

Norfolk celebrity chef Galton Blackiston fittingly chose a food-themed picture, The Supper at Emmaus, a Dutch masterpiece by Cornelis Engelsz, while the city's own pop artist, Colin Self, selected After The Storm, by the Norwich School artist John Sell Cotman.

Most Read

Former racing driver and now Formula One commentator Martin Brundle from West Norfolk picked a painting with links to his own name, A Train, Station Road, Brundall, also by Cotman.

The vast sky pictured in The Anvil Cloud by Edward Seago obviously appealed to BBC weatherman Peter Gibbs, and Norwich North MP Ian Gibson opted for a scene of the city, Back of New Mills, painted by John Crome. Visitors to the Castle will be able to see more choices from Norfolk personalities by following the trail through the galleries.

The People's Choice exhibition is an eclectic mix of paintings from the castles' reserve collections, where hundreds of pictures which may not have been on public view for some time are stored.

Ruth Burwood, the museum's access officer, explained: “The idea came from us wanting to try something different and get local people engaged with the collections.

“And it has been very interesting for us in that it has helped us to focus on what people are really interested in. It has been a real learning curve to be seeing which pictures are the most popular. I think we have all learned a lot from this and I hope that it could happen again.”

The favourite, Seascape, Stormbreakers by David James, was chosen by six of the selectors, with An Artist Wields A Painter's Brush by Patrick Hughes and A Workshop by Walter Dexter (see the front page of EDP2 today) being the second favourites.

The selector of each of the 60 paintings has created the label to sit next to the picture. Rather than just confining the label to details of the title and the name of the painter, the selectors were encouraged to be more expansive in their descriptions.

Ruth explained: “We asked people for their personal responses to the picture - not to worry about who painted it and when, but to explain how it made them feel. Some were very creative and took the labelling on as an engrossing project.

“We had the Age Concern Marion Road Day Centre group, for instance, who chose Industrial Scene by L S Lowry. We took it out of store and they came along to view it and talked about it for an hour. Then they went back to their community centre and did some of their own paintings inspired by Lowry.

“Other people wrote poems or spoke very personally about how the picture affected them. One man made it a mission to find out everything he could about the artist who painted his chosen picture, and a Norwich nursery made the project into a whole art and craft activity.”

The Sure Start Starting Out Day Nursery and Creche in Thorpe Hamlet chose Gulf of Corinth by Marjorie Wales.

Comments from the children included “It just fits”, from three-year-old Jake; “It's warm and bright” from Grace, aged four, and “A sleepy bedcover” from Thomas, also four.

The children - including those as young as six months - were invited to lead the selection process. They browsed through the pictures and recreated the images using objects in their playroom, with the Gulf of Corinth recreated with fabrics and materials that reminded the children of the colours used. That image was consistently picked out, with children exploring, dancing and in some cases burying themselves in the heaps of coloured material!

As part of the selection process, the EDP put out an appeal to find readers who would like to join in, and among those chosen were the Grattan family from Wymondham.

Clive and Diana Grattan and their four daughters, Amanda, Harriet, Abigail and Claudia, loved the experience of choosing their favourites from the many pictures that had been put on a disc by the Castle.

They opted for Owlegarchy by Alfred Priest, because owls are a firm family favourite not only from children's stories but also because they have owls living near their home. “We then took up the offer to go and see our painting in the store,” said Mrs Grattan, who applied to take part after recently studying art history at the University of East Anglia. “When it was pulled out on the rack, we went 'Hoorah! We want to take it home' because it was so wonderful; not a disappointment at all.”

Another EDP selector was Gorleston lifeboat operations manager Neil Duffield, who found a picture among the reserve collection that really struck a chord with him.

Explaining his choice of Saving a Crew near Yarmouth Pier by William Joy, Mr Duffield said: “I am drawn by his painting of flags which communicate to me the dramatic conditions on the night. Saving a Crew near Yarmouth Pier is a story well told.

“The red ensign is flown upside down as a sign of distress. A gale force 10 wind blows from the north-east, shown by the flag flying well above the horizontal. The community is formed up in two columns on the beach to save the crew.

“Being Yarmouth born and bred and having an association with Gorleston lifeboat for 30 years this picture ticks all the boxes.”

Portrait of Maud Isabel Buxton by Ralph Peacock was chosen by EDP selector Claire Tuck. She runs Bonham's Norfolk office and is their jewellery specialist, so was delighted with the opportunity to see what was in the Castle's stores.

She said: “This beautiful portrait of Maud Buxton, painted circa 1910, stopped me in my tracks. She was the last of the Norfolk Buxton dynasty, and was in her early 40s when this was executed.

“I love the contrasts presented here: the rich subdued oxblood of the leather-covered settle with the sheen of Maud's satin grey-pink dress; the richness of the brocaded bodice with the luminescence of her porcelain skin; the formality of her appearance with the informality of her slightly awkward yet relaxed pose.

“The immediacy with which the artist draws me to such a natural and personal study is overwhelming, communicating above all the gentle warmth of Maud's personality, rather than the significance of her status in Edwardian society.”

The Purple Globe Artichoke Flow by John Randall Bratby caught the eye of nine-year-old Jake Williams from Norwich, who was another EDP selector.

Jake said: “I like this picture because it looks like a mosaic.

“I also like how the picture goes all the way to the back. The patterns of the painting have made me like this picture as well.

“I also wonder whether there is a self portrait of the artist on one of the picture canvasses. I also wonder who the other people are. I can also see part of his garden from where his artichoke came from maybe.”

Meanwhile, Jake's six-year-old sister Freya Williams chose Still Life with Flowers and Mirror by Peggy Somerville, saying: “I like this picture because in it you can see the front and back of everything. I also like the colourful pretty flowers. I can see the painter's brush strokes. Also I think that someone has been eating an apple while looking in the mirror before painting the picture”.

Andrew Moore, Keeper of Art and curator of the People's Choice exhibition commented: “It has been wonderful to realise just how much people have enjoyed not only choosing their favourite painting but also thinking about what motivates their choice, and then writing about their particular painting.”

t The People's Choice: 100 Paintings from Norwich Castle's Collection, will be formally opened on Friday, April 25, by Norwich-based biographer Richard Holmes, author of Shelley the Pursuit, Coleridge and Footsteps and a distinguished writing fellow at the University of East Anglia. The exhibition will then be open to the public from Saturday until August 31.

POPULAR CHOICES

The most selected paintings for the People's Choice exhibition were:

t Seascape, Stormbreakers by David James

t An Artist Wields A Painter's Brush, by Patrick Hughes

t A Workshop, by Walter Dexter

t The White Kitchen, by Edward Seago

t The Conjuror, by John Everett Millais

t The Fete, by Mary Newcomb

t Lock 75, Cassiobury Canal, by Camilla Doyle

t Suffolk Ewe Sitting Down, by Mary Newcomb

t Gulf of Corinth, by Marjorie Wales

t Moths and Men in Hay, August, by Mary Newcomb

t Market Cross, Wymondham, by Henry Ninham

t Norfolk Landscape With A Cow, by Colin Self

t The White Dog, by Vivian Crome

EVENT PROGRAMME

Linked to The People's Choice - 100 Paintings from Norwich Castle's collection, Saturday 26 April to Sunday 31 August. This fascinating event combines an exhibition showcasing 60 paintings all chosen by people living in Norfolk, and a gallery trail selected by well-known personalities and writers with close connections to the county.

Lunchtime Gallery Talks, Tuesdays, drop in 12.30pm. Cost: Museum admission only. Castle Ticket (includes Special Exhibitions): Adult £5.80, Conc. £4.95, Young Person (4-16) £4.25. Special Exhibitions Ticket: Adult £3.00, Conc. £2.60, Young Person (4-16) £2.20.

t 6 May, Writing Paintings - Gallery Trail Tours. Dr Andrew Moore, keeper of art, considers new creative writing made in response to paintings from Norwich Castle's collection.

t 20 May, Reading Paintings. Keeper of art, Dr Andrew Moore, considers the exhibition and how we can more fully appreciate paintings.

t 27 May, Reading Paintings. Exhibitions officer, Heather Guthrie, considers the exhibition and how we can more fully appreciate paintings.

t 3 June, Writing Paintings - Gallery Trail Tours. Dr Andrew Moore, keeper of art, considers new creative writing made in response to paintings from Norwich Castle's collection.

t 17 June, Discovering Paintings. Museum access officer, Ruth Burwood, discusses how she worked with local people to create the People's Choice.

t 24 June, Writing Paintings - Gallery Trail Tours. Museum interpreter, Sian Hogarth, considers new creative writing made in response to paintings from Norwich Castle's collection.

t 1 July, Reading Paintings. Museum interpreter, Colleen Cameron, considers the exhibition and how we can more fully appreciate paintings.

t 8 July, Writing Paintings - Gallery Trail Tours. Museum interpreter, Alison Hall, considers new creative writing made in response to paintings from Norwich Castle's collection.

t 15 July, Discovering Paintings. Learning officer, Michelle Sorensen, discusses how she worked with local people to create the People's Choice.

t 22 July, Discovering Paintings. Museum access officer, Ruth Burwood, discusses how she worked with local people to create the People's Choice.

t 29 July, Reading Paintings. Museum interpreter, Colleen Cameron, considers the exhibition and how we can more fully appreciate paintings.

t 26 August, Discovering Paintings. Learning officer, Michelle Sorensen, discusses how she worked with local people to create the People's Choice.

Thursdays, drop in 2pm, Interpreter's Insight. Discover more about the exhibition with our museum interpreters. (Cost as above).

Sunday afternoons and during school holidays: Sunday Family Activities. Explore the exhibition and express yourself in art and craft activities. Cost: Museum admission only. Castle Ticket (includes Special Exhibitions): Adult £5.80, Conc. £4.95, Young Person (4-16) £4.25. Special Exhibitions Ticket: Adult £3.00, Conc. £2.60, Young Person (4-16) £2.20.

Tuesday 13 May, 12.30pm, Paintings: Behind-the-Scenes Tours. Explore the art stores with museums access officer, Ruth Burwood. Tours last 30 minutes. Cost: Museum admission only (as above) but limited places, so must be booked in advance. Tel 01603 495897/493636 to book.

Tuesday 10 June, 12.30pm, Paintings: Behind-the-Scenes Tours. Explore the art stores with exhibitions officer, Heather Guthrie. Tours last 30 minutes. Cost: Museum admission as above only, but places limited so book in advance on above number.

Saturday 14 June, Rose Tremain Reading. The celebrated author discusses her short story, Man in the Water, inspired by the painting Yarmouth Beach and Jetty by Norwich School artist Joseph Stannard. Cost: £5, advance booking essential on above number.

Thursday 21 and Friday 22 August, You Choose! Children's Workshop 10-30am-12.30pm & 1.00pm-3.00pm. Curate your own exhibition and design a gallery guide inspired by the paintings on show. For ages eight-plus. Cost: £4.50 per person, per session. £4.00 Museums pass holders, FNM, C&TA, NCAS, EAAF. Advance booking essential.

For more information call 01603 493625 or visit www.museums.norfolk.gov.uk