Landscapes Landmarks and the Surreal

Photography                      by Andy Coleman


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The decline of local provincial art galleries, and maybe a remedy

Posted by andy-coleman on July 2, 2011 at 7:02 PM Comments comments (2)

I am writing this article from a non art establishment point of view; although a semi-professional landscape photographer & designer of sculptural pieces of furniture & decorative objects in wood, I have no formal art college qualifications. I do have a real world love of painting sculpture & of course photography. I really enjoy seeing real art from real people & not necessarily a collective body of work from one artist.



Now, the reason why I'm prattling on like this is because I went to my local library in the small town of Cranbrook in Kent a few days ago. Within the local library, is the local art gallery which is a very pleasant & spacious environment. Did I say is? I meant to say that it was a very pleasant & spacious environment. Where once was a gallery there is now a children's library & play area. I want you to understand that I am not an uncle meanie & that I do not begrudge children having some of the shelving dedicated to kids reading material, but I must question the need for a dedicated large annex room. Children & teenagers also have access to superb library facilities at their schools or colleges.



Perhaps Art Gallery's had it coming. I have to admit when visiting local gallery's, I do not find them comfortable environments to be in. The hushed reverential tones, being force fed the waffle of the average artist's statement ( My work creatively challenges current perceptions of space and the built environment, and often deliberately subverts the traditions of the found object in order to break down barriers to engagement) Does it? What the hell does that mean...



So why am I pontificating on this subject with such, some might say misplaced, passion. I want to go in to an art gallery & really enjoy the experience; see lots of varied, new & different art & sculpture by lots of different amateur & professional artists in a buzzing, convivial atmosphere. And I think I may know a way of achieving this, if it's not to late & all the potential exhibiting spaces have gone the way of the gallery in Cranbrook library!



 I had a look at the Tunbridge Wells Borough Council website recently & linked onto the Tunbridge Wells Regeneration Company (TWRC) page. I then downloaded a PDF of the Consultation Report which was published on 25th May 2011. Within this report is a very telling paragraph that outlines the stagnant state of the visual arts scene in this area (& probably other locations in the UK). The statement is as follows:



"The Art Gallery and Museum



According to the consultation feedback, these two uses seem to suffer from a lower



profile in the borough than the library and theatre and this is blamed on a combination



of poor promotion, poor offerings and little space to make things enticing. The youth in



particular showed little interest or awareness of the current facilities."



That was cut & pasted as verbatim from the online document, so it would appear that Tunbridge Wells Museum & Art Gallery are the best kept secrets in town. This is a real shame as I am very fond of that little museum. I didn't think the Art Gallery space was as small as that report would lead you to believe.



What worries me in this climate of cost cutting & savings, is that spaces like the gallery could go the way of Cranbrook  gallery & be merged in with the library, in a way, they have got it coming to them, it's a bit of a dead zone. They often have one artists work (whom I'm sure are good) on display for about six weeks, & no matter how gifted they are, how much of a draw is this for the general public? Who are incidentally funding these public galleries. I know I keep banging on about numbers of people visiting galleries, but at the end of the day, would it not be a good thing to have the wall spaces festooned with beautiful; insightful, controversial & saleable works of art & sculpture?



Make it saleable, then the gallery might become self funding due to commissions, then Mr. cut back in a suit, would not have so much ammunition to force closure. With this in mind, I would like to suggest a possible way forward; part of the solution is damn good marketing. But the figure controlling the marketing strategy needs to have something substantial to promote. My suggestion would involve a fair amount of hard & sustainable work which I believe would result in a very exciting & stimulating display of public social art.



So here's how it might work. I can't lay claim to the idea as it's inspired by modern media culture. There was a program broadcast on BBC2 recently entitled "Give me the Monet". The presentation & presenter of the show was a bit naff, but the format and idea behind the program was very interesting. The premise is that members of the public, either amateur or professional artists, present one example of  their art work in front of a panel of three judges or art critics, dubbed 'the hanging committee'. If the work is approved  by at least two of the Judges, the art work is displayed or hung in a well known gallery with a price tag on it which is decided by the artist. This all might sound rather shallow when considering what constitutes "good art" but the Royal Academy has been doing this for over 240 years with great success in their Summer Exhibition.



So what if local municipal art galleries such as the one in Tunbridge Wells could do a similar thing. Maybe ,once a month, a well publicised evening event could be organised in which people bring along one piece of their art. They stand in front of a judging committee, describe their work & state how much they would like to sell it for. If the committee deems the work worthy, the art would then be displayed in an exhibition that would last for three weeks to a month. Standing in front of a group of art judges & talking about your work, does sound daunting, but I feel that a lot of individuals would be so motivated to have their work on display & maybe get a sale, that any fears about presentation would be overcome.



Would any one want to take part? I saw an elderly unshaven man, shuffling along a small country lane the other day whilst out on a bike ride. I started to think about him & what sort of live he had led. I know you're thinking, dear reader, 'for Christ sake get to the point!' Well, the point is, that elderly gentleman could be an artistic genius & has a stash of fantastic paintings hidden away in his attic. But these paintings have never seen the light of day. Maybe he is shy, maybe he does not consider himself a worthy artist, (I have observed that most successful artists have a supreme self confidence & egotistical disposition, despite the sometimes dubious quality & substance of their art). But I do believe that if people are given a chance to show what they can do or what they have done, that they would rise to the occasion & be willing to come forward, for the chance of exhibiting their unrecognised talent.



Imaging the variety & diversity of work that would go on show if the art is generated by people from all walks of life; from lorry drivers to lords, from teenagers to elderly unshaven gentlemen, hairdressers to horticulturists, amateurs, professionals, street artists, watercolour artists, sculpture, photography, oil paintings, woodcuts, etchings. Galleries exhibiting a huge variety of work like this would be buzzing with atmosphere & excitement.



Plus a certain amount of community excitement would be generated, simply because if, for example, seventy works of art were selected for that months exhibition, undoubtedly the families & friends of those seventy exhibitors would be hot footing down to the local gallery to see their work. during this proccess they would inevitabley view other artists works, which would generate a whole load of general interest & hopefully, lots of sales. This may sound a little over commercial & dare I say vulgar, but as far as I see it, if ideas like this do not get considered I would be inclined to think that eventually with funding cuts, the small town public art galleries will just disappear into a small corner of a library as in the case of Cranbrook, & I would be very sad to see that happen.



A few rules would have to apply to a system of public artwork submission. Anybody who submits their work & gets to exhibit, would have to be willing to put a price on their piece & sell it. This whole idea is dependant on sales commission so as to make it self funding & not rely on grants & handouts, which can be very hit & miss at the best of times. People submitting work must be prepared for rejection, there will be some real crap going up before the panel. So the hanging committee would be politely very firm about what gets selected.



The Royal Academy charges a fee of, I think £25 per submission, & that works well for them as they are well established & based in the heart of London. I firmly believe that this principle would not work in the smaller gallery environment. I think that people should be able to submit for free. This would encourage a far greater number of submissions & would thus result in a much larger exhibition, that would then generate many more sales.



In conclusion, I would have to say that from my own perspective as a Landscape Photographer, if I were to have a one person show, the cost of printing, mounting & framing a large body of work would be fairly prohibitive. Whereas, submitting just one piece on a regular basis & still getting possible exposure; sales & resulting interest in ones work, is a far better prospect for myself & for all the hard up artists out there.



Although I have written this from the  aspect of my geological location in the sunny South-East corner of England, I would assume that what I have suggested in this article would probably be relevant to most of Britain & who knows maybe the world? I do hope this could be a possible way of displaying art to a far greater amount of people, who at present seem to find their local art galleries a bit dull & pointless, that is if they even know of there existence, or that the gallery still exists at all!


Revisiting the Waterfalls

Posted by andy-coleman on November 19, 2010 at 5:15 PM Comments comments (0)

Sgwd yr Eira Waterfall

I'm sitting at my computer, editing a recent batch of autumn themed photo's that have been rattled off on my trusty Sony Alpha. Jack Frost had been nipping at my exposed extremities (mainly fingers).

Back in the warm I am whisking through the picture browser, when I come across images of my summer trip to the Brecon Beacons in South Wales.

As well as exploring this beautiful national park, our main reason for going was to see & for me to photograph some of the most spectacular waterfalls in Britain, including one that you can actually walk under via a small rocky path.

Walking behind the waterfall

I originally visited these waterfalls way back in the late 1970's. So for me it was a bit of a reconnection with the past. Now, generally when you take a trip down memory lane the re-visitation can be a bit of a disappointment. Stuff happens along the way in life that dull the events that long ago seemed far more adventurous & exciting.

But not in this case! These waterfalls are still as spectacular & awe inspiring as I remembered them as I keep on telling my long suffering wife & son.

When we got to Sgwd yr Eira (Pronounced Scoody Era) I was in nostalgia heaven. The place is like something out of Lord of the Rings, it is just sublime. But then comes the icing on the cake. To actually walk under a fairly large, full force waterfall is an experience that cannot be bettered by any theme park thrill ride in the world. It simply took my breath away being under the many tons of water that was cascading over our heads. The amazing thing is that you only get slightly damp afterwards. Very refreshing on a hot day.

Those summer months go to damm fast!

Andy Coleman