Mon 15 Oct – Anglia Square
This day’s theme was ‘modernising’ and, after being thoroughly spoiled with the Medieval beauty of the city in the days before, I was curious to see this somewhat controversial area of Norwich – a Neo Brutalist 1970s development anxiously awaiting yet another makeover.
On the southern edge of the Square, a flyover had been flung over a nearby neighbourhood of homes and shops, some of which had the hallmarks of a pre-industrial era. Here, where the prettiness of the city had dwindled, the margins with makeshift car parks (the ‘spaces in between’) give a sense of being off limits. I was glad to see a couple of other painters soon joining me, making use of the flyover to keep out of the rain. Looking across Magdalen Street, there was a welcome simplicity to the available elements here, after the abundance of historical information elsewhere. What was left of the human-sized vernacular houses were oddly juxtaposed with the monumental brutality of the concrete flyover underside and the rough gravel beneath it.
I positioned myself so as to have a strong linear perspective view of the concrete flyover castings. I also noted the way in which the lamp post joined with the upright support columns to add to the sense of receding space. The puddle in the foreground brought light into the lower part of the composition.
Our limited time ran out too soon, although by this point I’d acquired the attentions of a local ‘down and out’ who – dubbing me ‘Heidi’, thanks to my two plaits – followed me back to the event hub like a lost puppy.
In the evening there was an excellent talk by Professor Paul Greenhalgh at The Crypt Gallery looking at ‘The Rise of Plein Air Painting’, which charted stylistic, technical and philosophical developments in working directly from life as well as the regard of the landscape as a subject in its own right.
Tues 16th Oct – Norwich Castle
‘Museums and education’ sites were the order of this day. Having walked around the old Shirehall building on Market Avenue, east of the castle, I decided to head up to the Castle itself for a more elevated position. I liked the course of the railings that marked the edge of the castle site. I used it to diagonally bisect my narrow landscape format and again divided the picture plane with a lamp post. To the left was the pattern of paving relating to the castle precinct. To the right I was looking over the rooftop of the Shirehall towards the turrets and other architectural intricacies of the former Royal Hotel, with the Cathedral Spire beyond.
After a time, event co-organiser Katy appeared, recording equipment in hand, with a striking, tall, blond, strongly Germanic-accented camera person in tow and asked if she could conduct an interview. The deed was done fairly painlessly and the painting continued.
The clip was used in this ThatsTVNorfolk piece, which gives a nice sense of what PaintOutNorwich is all about, as described by founder James Coleman and co-organiser Katy Jon Went. My bit is in there at 2 mins 24 seconds in – casually caught on camera whilst painting beside NorwichCastle … its all introduced by journalist Fabiana Cacace.
In the evening I was delighted to join an assembled crowd at The Crypt Gallery for a talk given by Dr Giorgia Bottinelli about the life of Norwich born 18th century landscape artist John Sell Cotman, who along with artists such as Turner, developed the romantic tradition in English landscape painting, making plein air sketching trips around Britain.
I was especially delighted to listen to what Dr Bottinelli had to tell us as it reminded me of the first ‘grown up’ book my parents gave me as a child – featuring Cotman’s watercolour of ‘Greta Bridge‘ on the cover. I remember being intrigued by the quiet tonal tessellating forms which made up this painting and looking again now it seems quite modern and contemplative.
Weds 17th Oct – final day and Prize Giving
This last morning, a much reduced number of us took up the option to paint around the UEA campus and Sainsbury Centre. The environment is distinctly modernist with the striking ziggurat halls of residence designed by Denys Lasdon and the Sainsbury Centre art gallery and museum designed by Norman Foster and Wendy Cheeseman, all set in parkland designed by Brenda Colvin.
What to choose? My eye was drawn to an overhead pedestrian walkway and a spiral staircase leading up to it. The open staircase reminded me of a sculpture I’d made as a student and I could see exciting opportunities to include the dynamic architectural elements that surrounded it. I played with mark-making techniques and worked with a limited palette of strong complimentaries, unrelated to the local colour.
No sooner had I begun to warm to my theme than it was time to get the results back to the hub in town. I then took the afternoon off – my partner had come across to stay with me the night before and we spent the time looking around the city together.
In the evening it was the private view and prize giving event held at the Norwich Cathedral Hostry. The event was packed with artists and guests having a very sociable evening. When the prizes were announced, I was delighted to be called forward to collect 1st prize in the Nocturne category for my Saturday evening painting of the steps at The Church of St Peter Mancroft.
It was a very pleasing end to the week and I felt particularly grateful for some very complementary words from the judges – Dr Giorgia Bottinelli curator of historic art at Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery, Sarah Flynn (from Cheffins Art Auctioneers) and Tony Robinson (founder of Art in the Open).
I also felt huge gratitude to the Paint Out Norwich organisers for creating such an enjoyable and rewarding experience – 5 days of immersive plein air painting in the visually fascinating city of Norwich, working alongside a very open, friendly and supportive group of artists.