Spring Greens

As we move into early summer, I thought I’d pause for a second to take you on a short tour of my local park to see the fresh, light greens of spring.

Christchurch Mansion through the trees.

The horse chestnuts have reached full leaf and underneath their canopy the reduced light supplies dramatic contrasts between bold, sturdy tree trunks and verdant, recently cut grass.

Sweeping and undulating paths.

Together with the horse chestnuts, lime trees line the paths of the park accentuating the curves and sweeps.

The War Memorial through the trees.

There’s not just fresh green but delicate coppery apricot colours too.

Mature lime with old knobbly trunk.

The new leaves in the park are most welcome, but there’s something even more uplifting when you observe the re-emergence of sea kale (crambe maritime) on beaches at this time of year. The plant’s sheer tenacity as it pushes up through the salty shingle for another season of sun, wind and rain is very pleasing.

The new growth of crambe maritime (sea kale) on Sizewell Beach.

No. 143 for Ipswich Art Society – Part II

In last week’s post I looked at two artists’ retrospectives which featured as part of the Ipswich Art Society’s 143rd Open Exhibition. This week I thought I’d post a few photographs of other works on display that caught my attention.

As this exhibition was an open show there were pictures and sculptures by both members of the Ipswich Art Society and also works from members of the general public. In my opinion the outstanding work of the whole event was this garden sculpture, ‘Curled Figure’ by Kate Reynolds.

‘Curled Figure’ Kate Reynolds. Stoneware ceramic.

Across the exhibition there were a variety of media and techniques on display from the two dimensional, wall art category including paintings, drawings, prints and enamels to textured relief work to full sculpture. As far as media was concerned along with traditional oil, watercolour and acrylic paintings there were works created and expressed in pastel, gouache, pencil, ink, graphite, charcoal, conté, wood, cloth, stoneware ceramic, bronze, copper, steel, wire and even ink with gold leaf.

There were pictures for every taste with strongly coloured abstract paintings,

figurative works,

bucolic scenes,

‘After the Snow, Blythburgh’, Mary Gundry. Oil.

a handful of textile pieces

and even a social commentary textile installation.

‘Abolish Snobbery’, Hannah Aria. Textile installation.

However, my favourite of the ‘paintings’ in the show was an atypical expression of the English countryside, ‘This Green and Pleasant Land’ by Dave King working in a traditional, Japanese style with more than a hint of ukiyo-e about it.

‘This Green and Pleasant Land’, Dave King. Acrylic and Ink. 2022

No. 143 for Ipswich Art Society – Part I

For the last four weeks Ipswich Art Society’s 143rd OPEN Exhibition has been on at Ipswich Art Gallery. The exhibition showcases the visual artworks of a variety of creative folk who live in and around Ipswich.

The Ipswich Art Society has been in existence since 1874 with a membership that has included Alfred Munnings, F.G.Cotman, Harry Becker, E.R.Smythe, Tom Smythe, Edward Packard, John Duvall, Colin Moss, Anna Airy and Leonard Squirrell. 

The 143rd Open exhibition showed a selection of works created by members of the public as well as Members and Friends of the Society. The Society has a tradition of encouraging artists from all walks of life to join and be involved in the making and appreciation of art.

Some of the work on display at Ipswich Art Gallery.

The Society also has a convention of including a Special Feature Exhibition to run alongside the Open submissions and this year it was a retrospective for two well-known Suffolk artists, Claire Lambert and Judith Foster.

Suffolk-born Claire Lambert works in ceramics, lino cut, etching, mono prints, painting and drawing. She worked between 1957 and 1975 as a member of Atelier de Ceramique de Dour in Belgium. She was taught by Roger Somerville at the Academy des Beaux Arts de Waterfall-boitsfort, Brussels, and subsequently studied printmaking with Ken Roberts and Judith Lock at Suffolk College.

She has taken part in joint exhibitions in Belgium, France, Italy, Poland and Canada and many UK exhibitions including the Broughton Gallery in Kirkcudbright, Peckover House Wisbech, Norwich Castle and Gallery 44 in Aldeburgh.

Claire’s work is represented in a number of collections including the Musee de Verviers and the Michael and Valerie Chase Collection and further collections in Australia, New Zealand and Belgium.

Sadly, I only managed to get one decent photograph of her work as the combination of a small gallery room and large, darkly coloured monoprints or linocuts behind reflective glass did not make for good photos.

‘Three Friends’ by Claire Lambert. Monoprint.£350

However, I did have more luck photographing the work of the second artist of this retrospective, Judith Foster.

‘Cherries’ by Judith Foster. Oil. £620

Judith Foster was born in London and went to school in Bath. In 1955 she came to study at Ipswich Art School and in 1959 entered the painting school of the Royal College of Art. She then travelled through Europe on an Abbey Minor Scholarship before returning to Suffolk. 

She taught foundation studies and adult education drawing and painting at the High Street Art School from 1963 until its closure, and subsequently at Suffolk College until 2000. 

Judith’s professional life has included many solo and group exhibitions, starting with the Ipswich Art Club in 1958 and including the Young Contemporaries , the Royal Academy, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Northampton Museum and Art Gallery, Cleveland Bridge Gallery in Bath, Lady Lodge Art Centre in Peterborough and many galleries across East Anglia. 

Her work is in private and public collections in the UK, USA and Europe.

‘Quinces’ by Judith Foster. Pencil. £285

I have to comment that I really appreciated her work and, in particular, her still life paintings ‘Cherries’ and ‘Pear Diptych’. I find her loose, free brushwork with smaller, discrete areas of focus very appealing.

‘Pear Diptych’ by Judith Foster. Oil. £425

It’s always good to see a few still life paintings in an open show and I noticed this delightful little gem, ‘Pears in Conference’ by Hilary Bartholomew, a current member of the Ipswich Art Society. I think you can probably see that the artist is a fan of the French Master, Chardin.

‘Pears in Conference’ by Hilary Bartholomew. Oil. £225

The Old Cemetery, Ipswich

It’s been a busy family Easter.

Fabulous early morning light.

But there have been early morning opportunities to walk my sister’s dog, Bertie, in the Old Cemetery.

Dandelions in the wilder part of the Old Cemetery.

It was surprising to see some dandelions already turned to fluffy seedheads

End of a morning walk. Just checking to see who’s lagging behind.

As Bertie is a fairly large dog he needs two good walks a day. So, of course, that’s another opportunity to be in the Old Cemetery during the golden hour, but this time in the early evening with more wonderful light.

Getting a pep talk before my evening sprint and workout.

This April the Easter weather has been surprisingly good in Suffolk and not what had been forecast at the beginning of last week. All in all it has been truly pleasurable to have a well-behaved and patient dog in the house.

Can I have an undisturbed rest now thank you?

Last Week for Exhibition ‘Creating Constable’- Ends 24th April 2022

In January I posted a few comments about the ‘Creating Constable‘ Exhibition currently on at Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich. Along with many works by Constable himself and his Suffolk contemporaries, there are also sketches and paintings from artists influential and important to Constable during his formative years. However, something I did not mention in that post were the few 21st-century works by Suffolk artists currently working in Constable’s county such as this engaging work by local artist, Hayley Field.

‘Across the river in the trees, 2021’ – Hayley Field. Watercolour on paper.

Hayley Field has been painting the colours, light and landscape that can be see from her studio window by the River Deben since 2017. Below in her own words she describes her work and the process of painting colour maps.

I began making ‘colour maps’ nearly three years ago when I was working in residence in Mary Potter’s house and studio in Aldeburgh, as a response to the surrounding landscape. Once back in my own studio I began to make them of the view from the window, across the river Deben to Suffon Hoo. I gradually developed their format to become an analysis in one sitting of the colours I observed, making a vertical journey – river to sky or sky to river – including the water, mud, islands, river bank, land, trees and sky. I enjoy the complexity of understanding and describing the colours and the intense, deep focus it requires.

The pencil notes record the pigments I have mixed to make the colours, and the date. What started as documentation has become an ongoing, cumulative piece of work. I have exhibited it three times to date – each time in a different way – gridded, a section of the whole, and in a line.
During lockdown I have been making colour maps from a room in my home, with a view to the river Deben, through trees and across fields.

Hayley Field, article for an exhibition at The Cut, Halesworth, Suffolk.

When you take in ‘Across the river in the trees, 2021’, as a whole you can see that it is a visual diary, a year in colours.

The subtle changes across the watercolour map impressively detail the changes of hue resulting from the varying quality and type of light associated with different weather and the different seasons.

Detail from ‘Across the river in the trees, 2021’, colours for 18th June 2021.

Very much on a personal level as colour is central to my work, I find this visual record makes a fascinating piece. And, the delicate yet precise changes painted, for example, 18th June above and 26th September below, beautifully capture the essence and difference of an English summer’s day to a Suffolk day in autumn.

Detail from ‘Across the river in the trees, 2021’, colours for 26th September 2021.

Few flowers, but plenty of birds

Earlier this week it was MOT day. Not a day overflowing with excitement, but instead a day suffused with trepidation. Last year was a spectacular fail (fault with the anti-lock braking system!?) leaving me without a car for two weeks and an eye-watering bill in excess of £600. This year it was a bright and clear morning when I left the car at the garage with my fingers crossed. I took the opportunity to spend the ‘waiting’ hour with my camera in the nearby local park to photograph any attractive flowers or birds, and record this flamboyant graffiti.

Tucked away on a boundary wall street art with Climate Crisis theme. Left – change, protect, think, act, planet – and right, shown magnified ‘There is NO planet B’.

Holywells Park is my favourite park in Ipswich and I was hoping to capture some spring flowers, but despite the recent, unseasonable warm weather there was only a few clumps of cheerful daffodils and the big old magnolia in bloom.

However, there were plenty of ducks. There was a rather handsome mandarin duck diving for breakfast.

And, quite a number of mallard ducks. The males being easy to spot with their glistening green heads. (Do you not think this sumptuous shade of green with its satin-like quality is surely so luxurious it might even feature in any future Lulu Lytle revamp of Downing Street? )

Leaving the political sideswipes behind and moving on, I spotted and even managed a couple of shots of the little egret that is now visiting the park’s ponds.

The little egret sometimes known as a white heron.

I was just about to leave, when I noticed the perennial wallflower, erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’, was coming into flower providing timely pollen and nectar for those early-emerging bees. It’s such a cheerful, strong pink for this time of year. And, as it turned out when I left the garage I, too, was cheerful as the old car had passed its MOT.

Gothic House – A Recent Discovery

Ipswich, like many towns, is an eclectic, sprawling muddle of buildings. Down on the Waterfront there has been a 21st-century attempt to achieve a coherent redevelopment of the old commercial warehouses and grain silos. Nowadays most of the warehouses have been replaced with a variety of residential blocks of flats and single storey boat-building workshops. The area is functional and pleasant enough, but there’s no outstanding contemporary architecture and it all looks markedly more interesting on a misty morning at dawn . . .

Ipswich Waterfront early morning view.

Or, when there’s a dramatic, fiery sunset.

Ipswich Waterfront view as the sun goes down.

However, also like many towns, there are little gems hidden away. Last November, I was walking through a quieter residential area and turned up St John’s Road

Walking up St John’s Road, Ipswich.

and came upon this Tudor-bethan style beauty.

Grade II listed house is in Ipswich. ‘Gothic House’, 5, St John’s Road.

‘Gothic House’, 5, St John’s Road was built by Henry Ringham possibly to the design of architect J Phipson between 1851 and 1857. It is a timber-framed house and was constructed reusing old materials with details copied from original Tudor buildings in Ipswich such as the Ancient House in the Buttermarket.

The Ancient House, 30, Buttermarket.
The Gothic House with the 20th-century neighbouring property almost cropped out of the picture.

I think the flint cobble ground floor works particularly well with the timber and stucco panels above. It is just such a pity that at some point in the intervening 170 years or so somebody sold off part of the grounds and allowed a disagreeable house to be built so close next door it blights the scene. Of course, if the Gothic House was swathed in mist it would lessen the presence of the ugliness next door. And, as we all know early morning mist does so much to enhance the most mundane of views.

A Queen of France in Suffolk

This is St Mary’s in Bury St Edmunds and until the Reformation it was known as the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

St Mary’s Church, Honey Hill, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.

It is a large parish church and has the second longest nave of any parish church in England. It was originally part of a monastic complex, the medieval Abbey of St Edmund.

The Abbey was once one of the richest and most powerful Benedictine monasteries in England. From 903 AD it held the relics of the martyred Anglo-Saxon king St Edmund and pilgrims visited the shrine from across Europe.

Visualisation of the medieval Abbey of St Edmund before the Reformation by Victorian artist, W K Hardy. 1883

With the arrival of the Reformation the Abbey was surrendered to King Henry VIII in 1539. Since then over the centuries the valuable building materials of the Abbey have been removed for reuse elsewhere. Interestingly, St Mary’s survived and today we see the largest West Window installed in a parish church in England. It is measures 35ft 6in by 8ft 6in.

The long nave and the large West Window of St Mary’s.

On a sunny day the interior of the church is patterned with rainbow-like light from the large south facing windows. It is a pity that all the medieval stained glass is long gone, but there’s still some fine, high-quality Victorian stained glass filling the windows. The West Window is a particularly elegant creation, and was designed and made by the London firm Heaton, Butler & Bayne. The window was installed in 1859 having been paid for by local landowners as a thanksgiving for the bumper harvest of 1854.

The West Window. Heaton, Butler & Bayne, c.1859

And what is that positioned directly beneath the centre of the window ?

Royal Coat of Arms beneath the West Window.

Yes, you might have recognised it. It is the coat of arms for the British Royal family. And, you don’t get to erect those on any old building even a fine church unless . . . there is a state or royal connection. And, here in the parish church of a Suffolk town it is a royal connection in the form of the tomb of Mary Tudor, Queen of France.

Mary Tudor was the favourite sister of King Henry VIII and for political alliances in 1514 was married to the much older King Louis XII of France. Louis died in 1515 at 52 years old leaving Mary a widow at 17 years old. Letters between Mary and Henry indicate she had agreed to marry Louis only on condition that if she survived him, she should marry whom she liked. Six weeks later in Paris she secretly married Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, who had been sent to France by Henry to escort Mary back to England.

 Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon. Wedding portrait by Jan de Mabuse. c. 1516

In Tudor times to marry a royal princess without the permission of the king was treason and Charles Brandon could have been executed. However, thanks to the eloquent and effective negotiating skills of another Suffolk man, Thomas Wolsey, the King was persuaded to fine the couple £24,000 instead.

Mary Tudor was the Duchess of Suffolk until her death at Westhorpe Hall, Suffolk, on 25 June 1533 at the age of 37. She is now buried in the corner of the sanctuary of St Mary’s Church.

In the corner close to the alter is the tomb of the once Queen of France and latterly the Duchess of Suffolk, Mary Tudor, favourite sister of Henry VIII.

It is obviously strange to see a Duchess of that period, let alone a Royal Tudor princess, buried in such a plain fashion. Of course, originally as King Henry’s sister and the Dowager, Queen of France she was buried in state in the crypt of the magnificent Abbey Church on 21 July 1533. Then five years later at the time of the Dissolution her body was the only one permitted to be removed and reburied in the nearby parish church of St Mary’s.

It is unclear whether there was a funerary monument erected at the time of her reinterment but a couple of centuries later, in 1758, a tablet was laid above her remains.

Fast forward just under another 150 years and at the suggestion of Edward VII, who visited the church in 1904, a marble kerb was placed to surround the grave tablet and prevent the clergy walking over Mary’s tomb. I agree with and leave the last word to one of the church’s Vergers who at some point remarked on the ‘ugliness of the kerb’.

February Flowers

Last Saturday I was over in West Suffolk visiting Bury St Edmunds. It was a cold winter’s day with a freezing wind, but the sun was out and so were the snowdrops in the cathedral grounds.

Snowdrops in the grounds of St Edmundsbury Cathedral.

Heading into the historic part of the town we turned up Honey Hill and what a delightful surprise for February. All along the railings of St Mary’s Church black containers had been secured and filled with a winter display of flowers and foliage. The black railings with black boxes were repeated up the hill against the backdrop of the flint and stone south wall of the church. It looked elegantly beautiful. And, definitely much better in real life than in these photographs.

Winter flowers decorate the railings of St Mary’s Church along Honey Hill, Bury St Edmunds.

Of course being south-facing the hardy wallflowers were blooming beautifully and positioned at the top of the railings meant with a slight tilt forward of one’s head their sweet fragrance was easily caught. It is relatively uncommon to see urban winter plantings work so well and bringing delicate charm to a rather grand setting. After all, King Henry VIII’s favourite sister and a past Queen of France, Mary, was buried next door in the church.

Hardy biennial dark red wallflowers (variety possibly ‘Vulcan’), trailing variegated ivy and silver ragwort (senecio cineraria ‘Silver Dust’) fill the black planters.

The next floral gem we noticed was as we walked past the properties 1, 1a, 2 and 3 West Front and Samson’s Tower. These amazing houses have been built within and using the old West Front of the original Benedictine abbey church.

The reuse/incorporation of the old abbey church’s West Front and Samson’s Tower.

And, the floral gem was a white cyclamen and flint arrangement in a metal dish at the doorway of one of the West Front residences.

The very useful magnifier helps to locate the arrangement.

I took quite a few photos of this arrangement and will keep them and maybe will have a go at copying this idea. I think the combination of the white flowers, the black and white flints and the weathered metal is very appealing especially at this time of year.

White cyclamen possibly the variety ‘Picasso’.

As we walked past and around the east end of St Edmundsbury Cathedral we came to the Appleby Rose Garden. The rose garden is named after John Appleby, an American serviceman who served in the Second World War with the 487th Bomb Group in Lavenham, Suffolk. Within the walled garden there is also a garden seat crafted out of a wing of an American  ‘Flying Fortress Bomber’, but at the time of my visit an elderly gentleman was sat on the bench enjoying the tranquility and winter sun.

Clipped lavender in the Appleby Rose Garden, Abbey Gardens, Bury St Edmunds.

Well, there are flowers in bloom in Bury St Edmunds, but what about at home in my backyard in Ipswich. We have my favourite February flower, iris reticulata ‘Katharine Hodgkin’ still making a showing despite five years in a pot fighting it out with a monster agapanthus.

Iris reticulata ‘Katharine Hodgkin’

And, there are the dainty and reliable hellebores flourishing with the paler pink type already flowering . . .

Helleborus orientalis in bloom a little early.

and the very dark red variety full of buds just about to burst into bloom.

Helleborus orientalis in bud.

Finally, I can’t resist here’s another picture of Honey Hill.

John Constable -A Suffolk Artist

Last month I went to see the ‘Creating Constable’ exhibition at Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich.

Born in East Bergholt, Suffolk, John Constable (1776-1837) is known as one of the most important of all British artists with many of his famous works featuring the gentle countryside of his bucolic home county, Suffolk. Constable’s landscape paintings not only showed a new way to paint, but through sharing his visual interpretation he also encouraged his audiences to view the landscape in a different way.

I think this idea of a historical and different way of perceiving reality, as well as a historical way of viewing any re-presentation of that reality by an artist of the corresponding period, is more difficult for us to imagine than we realise. We are, after all, living in a time after the Impressionists, after the Post-Impressionists and after the Modernists, indeed, we now appear to exist in a time considered so postmodern much of our realities are viewed with deep skepticism. Please just hold this in mind as you look at the next two paintings and as you read the context for their creation.

‘Golding Constable’s Kitchen Garden’. July 1815. Oil on canvas. H 33 x W 50.8 cm

On show in this exhibition is a very special pair of paintings. In the summer of 1815 with the health of Constables’ elderly father, Golding, failing and his wife, Ann, John’s mother, having died earlier that spring, John came to visit with his father in East Bergholt. During the course of his stay he spent many hours in the fields sketching and painting. Two paintings produced at this time were ‘Golding Constable’s Kitchen Garden’ (above) and ‘Golding Constable’s Flower Garden’ (below).

Constable never exhibited or attempted to sell these two paintings during his lifetime. Although highly finished, these were private works, records of the landscape that was precious to him at a difficult time. I think this is a fine example of the difference between the sensibilities of the early 19th century and our ‘show all, tell all’, skeptical 21st-century existence.

‘Golding Constable’s Flower Garden’. August 1815. Oil on canvas. H 33.1 x W 50.7 cm

Returning now to the exhibition more generally it is possible to detect that Constable believed in the necessity of being skilful at drawing. A capability in the world of art that has not always been fashionable. At the beginning of his career Constable often copied from Old master prints, to develop his technique. He continued this practice into later life, collecting prints by Dutch and Flemish artists such as this copy of Jacob Ruysdael’s ‘The Wheatfield’ (below).

‘The Wheatfield’ by Constable (top) after Jacob Ruysdael. 1818. Pen and sepia ink on paper.

Of course, the exhibition also displays some of Constable’s original drawn creations such as this pen, ink and watercolour study of East Bergholt church.

‘St Mary’s, East Bergholt Church: the exterior from the South West’. c. 1796. Pen, ink and watercolour on paper. H 25.8 cm x W 39.7 cm

On the picture it is just possible to make out a faint set of pencil grid lines drawn in preparation for the transfer and enlarging of the church into the finished oil painting.

‘East Bergholt Church’. c. 1796-97. Oil on board.

Naturally, there can’t be a Constable exhibition without at least one painting that includes some aspect of Willy Lott’s Cottage.

I had just taken the above photo and was about to leave the gallery when the Gallery Steward approached me and asked if I’d spotted the kingfisher flying over the water in the Mill Stream painting. I hadn’t.

‘The Mill Stream’. c. 1814. Oil on canvas. H 71.1 x W 91.5 cm. The building we see is Willy Lott’s Cottage.

I paused and looked. And looked closer, and closer and squinted and eventually he pointed it out to me. There it was a brush stroke of red and two of blue, the kingfisher.

A sequence ending in a spot magnification (thanks to computer wizardry) to capture Constable’s kingfisher flying across the Mill Stream.

Festive Promenade, Felixstowe

During those recent festive in-between days the weather here in Suffolk, like much of the UK, was grey and wet.

Cranes, a pier and beach huts – what more could you ask for?

In fact it rained and rained and all eyes checked various weather apps to catch a time when rain was not forecasted. We looked at maps and wind directions and tried to estimate when rain would finally clear the east coast.

Plenty of painted beach huts, but only a couple as bright as this green coat!

We usually go up the coast to Orford, Aldeburgh or even Southwold, but there was only a short afternoon window with no rain and enough remaining daylight to make a visit to the beach worthwhile.

If you look carefully you can also see the containers piled up behind the houses.

With time an issue the 20 minute route to the beach at Felixstowe became our destination by default.

Time for off the lead and on to the beach with the dog too.

We were lucky the rain stopped as we arrived. There was some gorgeous light and gentle, shimmering reflections off the wet pavements.

Lumps of rock sea defences, the sea wall and a well-maintained walkway.

And, I loved it.

Almost at the end.

I only wished I’d taken my camera.

Across the River Deben estuary and bar towards Bawdsey.

Fortunately today’s phones make forgetting your camera less of an issue than in ‘the olden days’ as the youngsters like to say.

Heading back.

It might still have been too soggy to sit awhile and appreciate the view, but

And walking off into the sunset . . .

the walk back along the prom into the shimmering sunset was delightful.

Please don’t leave me behind.