I am guessing that an art exhibition at a garden centre is not very likely to get many reviews; but if the new appArt show at Secretts Garden Centre in Milford, near Godalming is anything to go by, that would be a mistake!
October has for some years been the month for the Viv Artis exhibition of work by members of Surrey Sculpture Society and held as an art trail around the grounds of the King Edward VII School at Witley near Godalming. Sadly, this year the school decided that they no longer wished to host this event and this is when appArt was conceived by Evelyn and Gwynn Phillips. A garden centre may seem like an odd choice of venue for an art exhibition, but if, like me (until today) you have not visited Secretts Garden Centre you are certainly in for a big surprise. It is phenomenal! There is a well stocked Farm Shop selling produce from their own farm (Secretts also grow vegetables and salads for many top London restaurants), a Garden Centre selling high quality plants and gardening items, a Tea Room with a varied and very reasonably priced menu and a Gift Shop. (http://www.secretts.co.uk).
Driving through the main gateway we followed the driveway through beautifully landscaped grounds with ornamental ponds complete with ducks past glasshouses where much of the growing is done until we came to a large glasshouse standing in the middle of a large manicured field we found the venue for appArt 2012. Once I got over the somewhat surprising venue, it struck me that actually a glasshouse is the perfect place to show art – oodles of natural light, a high ceiling, the feeling of space around the exhibits…perfect!
On arrival husband and I stopped to admire the sculpture of Carlos Dare. Very striking pieces constructed from aluminium fabricated together in the manner of a suit of armour.
Fantasy ‘armour’ figures by Carlos Dare
While looking at these beautifully made figures the artist himself was making adjustments to the way his work as displayed. We did pause to ask him a few questions about his work, but were met with what can only be described as an irritated grunt in response which was a shame as we were interested in finding out more about this artist’s work. Oh well, there’s no pleasing some folk.
Moving on toward the glasshouse there is a varied display of sculpture suitable for the domestic garden or country estate setting ranging from traditional animal forms to abstract pieces …
‘Torch’ by Lorraine Benton, a very dynamic piece made from bronze resin (above left)
‘Dispersal IV’ by Diana Roles, a really interesting organic form which looks like it should be made from driftwood, but is actually ceramic stoneware.
Both the above pieces really resonate with me for different reasons, I love the solidity and feeling of movement in ‘Torch’, while ‘Dispersal IV’ feels like a more tranquil piece reminiscent of an animal head or seed pod. Some of the interesting and varied work from members of the Surrey Sculpture Society.
Moving in to the main glasshouse exhibition area a small pond water feature containing a cast aluminium head and shoulders set among lily pads. Entitled ‘Moonlit’ this piece is (for me anyway) somewhat eerie, and reminds me more of a modern take on John Waterhouse’s ‘Ophelia’; but that’s just me I guess!
‘Moonlit’ by Lyn Batty
Moving around the rest of the exhibition I came across the first of two pieces by my friend, ceramicist Rowena Kelley. Row, has recently taken part in the BBC 2 television series ‘Paul Martin’s Handmade Revolution’. On show here at appART are two of her small ‘tower’ tealight lanterns. Hand built by Row using the slab building technique, these pieces are smooth of form with perfectly straight sides (no mean feat as my own pathetic efforts at ceramics some while ago can attest) and showcase Row’s skill and expertise in working with her materials.
Above left: ‘Japanese Kiosk by Rowena Kelley, ceramic
Above right: ‘Chinks in Blue’ by Rowena Kelley, ceramic
Moving round the exhibition it becomes apparent at the range and variety of work being produced by members of the Surrey Sculpture Society, not only as sculpture in a staggering variety of medium and materials; but also two-dimensional work ranging from large brash ‘in-yer-face’ abstract paintings to delicate and beautifully observed charcoal and mixed media drawings of the human figure.
The group really does appear to cater for all tastes whether it be the more traditional and literal interpretations of subject matter to the outright fun and genuinely quirky such as the giant chicken below.
‘GM Chicken’ by David Farrar, wire, plaster and papier-mache
No exhibition would be complete without a ‘wild card’ and this is no exception… Nigel Williams’ ‘Superhero’s Blowtorch’ is just that. For those (like me) who are interested in the Steam Punk movement, this exhibit ticks all the boxes! If Steam Punk isn’t your thing, then the piece works equally well as an imaginative reimagining of an old paraffin fired blowtorch into a believable tool or weapon which would not look out of place in a Batman movie!
‘Blowtorch for a Superhero’ by Nigel Williams, brass, copper shell cases, Monitor No 26 paraffin blowlamp.
I haven’t really said much about the 2D work on display and this is deliberate as I felt that this post should really be about 3D work since it is an exhibition by a sculpture society. However, I do have to make a mention of the quirky and rather humorous triptych of hand tinted linocuts by David Farrar, who obviously felt that he had had more than his fill of Jubilee and Olympic fervour!
From top: Olympic Traffic Jam; Piccalilli Circus and Toast of the Nation
all by David Farrar, hand tinted linocuts
Moving back outside in to a patio-style area covered with a pergola smothered in climbing plants whose leaves were turning the most fabulous shades of red and gold we came to a final group of outdoor sculpture. A tall and elegant looking female figure dominates one corner, and at first glance looks somewhat like a Philip Jackson piece. It wasn’t. It was actually Juliet Scott’s ‘Salad Days’, cast in bronze resin. Next to this was one of my favorite pieces which looks like a lump of speckled brown stone until you get closer to it when it reveals itself as a delightful double-headed ‘figure’ called ‘Man and Beast’. I love they way the figures blend into and grow from each other, it embodies the idea of the ‘beast within’ in all of us, something primeval to counterbalance our human soul and sensibility.
‘Man and Beast’ by Roger Roberts, granite and marble
This new event in the calendar of Surrey Sculpture Society (www.surreysculpture.org.uk) is a delight and is sure to become a huge success in coming years. Hopefully future events will see the return of the sculpture trail around the grounds of Secretts which would appear to lend themselves perfectly for an event such as this. On leaving we drove back down the drive past the ponds, pausing to look at the two pieces adorning the small opposing hillocks sheltering the ponds, on the one side a glittering fantastic Unicorn and on the other shining stag, both by Carlos Dare.
Above left: Unicorn by Carlos Dare, aluminium
Above Right: Deer by Carlos Dare, aluminium
appART is a new art and sculpture initiative designed to encourage interest and participation in the visual arts. (www.appartonline.co.uk).