They’re wild about art

RICHARD BATSON A new gallery at Cley is putting wildlife in the frame, by combining the skills of two local women

RICHARD BATSON

Wilderness marshes and big skies are a magnet for artists and wildlife lovers alike along the North Norfolk coast.

A palette of mirrored pools, swaying reeds, crunching shingle banks and meandering paths is speckled with dots of flitting birds - and people wanting to drink in the scene, or capture it on canvas.

And nestling in the corner of the village street is a new gallery that blends the two worlds of art and wildlife on its walls.

The Pinkfoot Gallery takes its name from the visiting geese, and hopes to attract human visitors drawn to the mecca by the same magical mix.

It is a joint venture by Norfolk-born wildlife publisher Sarah Whittley, and artist-illustrator Rachel Lockwood, who are partners in business and in life.

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Sarah had always dreamed of owning her own gallery, and has taken over the premises previously run by Michael Chapman, having befriended him and asked for "first dibs" if he ever sold up.

Rachel is among a range of artists with work on show - with some of her shimmering koi carp pond pictures providing peaceful contemplative "fish tanks" which do not need feeding.

But the gallery aims to showcase the variety of wildlife art - from the dark and precise formal oils of the 19th century, to the modern abstract explosions of colours capturing seaside fun.

"We want to specialise in wildlife and landscape, but with an element of the progressive and abstract, to show that it is 'badgers and bluebells no more!'" explained Sarah.

The 37-year-old caught the wildlife bug from her uncle at an early age, while her father Malcolm, a retired Swaffham architect and keen landscape artist, taught her to paint.

Living around Northwold as a child, she enjoyed birdwatching and country walks.

But she "ran away to London to seek a fortune" at 18, and after a boring BBC job logging royalty rights off radio play-lists moved into publishing - rising from editorial assistant to commissioning editor before returning to Norfolk to work for a packaging company until redundancy struck.

Sarah set up her own first business, the Wildlife Art illustration agency in Norwich's Muspole Street, in 1992 and was involved in publishing contracts in the United States and London from Collins field guides to children's books, before selling it on.

In the past couple of years she has been writing books on birds and south-east Asian mammals - then the gallery chance came along.

Rachel's art background began in scientific illustration, which included having to draw surgical operations and body parts - human as well as animal - at a college which had "tigers' heads in the freezers" and baby armadillos in pickle jars.

She illustrated publications for the University Press at Oxford and Cambridge, and met Sarah through a work contract.

After a spell travelling in Australia and working in Holland, she returned home to rejoin Sarah in a partnership which has now spawned Pinkfoot as they realise their ambitions - Sarah to have a gallery and Rachel to specialise in fine art.

The gallery literature says it may "need a little time to find our feet" - and that is quite literal, as there will soon be pink feet walking across the walls as it establishes its identity and logo.

The shop, opposite the well-known local Picnic Fare, aims to welcome a wide range customers with a blend of paintings, sculpture, prints and wildlife books.

Among the items featured at the moment are the rainbow abstracts of Meg Foster, bronze animals of Robin Boutell, the birds of Dan Cole, some of the work of former owner Michael Chapman - and pictures by Sarah's dad!

The aim is to showcase good contemporary wildlife and landscape creations, from up-and-coming artists, alongside more traditional work including work by the Norwich School.

The couple have moved to Cley to "live above the shop" and Sarah says they are enjoying having the "best wildlife garden on your doorstep - and you don't even have to cut the grass".

The Pinkfoot Gallery is at High Street, Cley, Norfolk NR25 7RB. Telephone 01263 740947. Website: www.pinkfootgallery.co.uk

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