Thursday, 27 April 2017

Getting a Taste of Open Studios - The Forum Becomes a Showcase for Local Artists

Anyone passing through The Forum in Norwich this week cannot have helped noticing the art exhibition running in the main atrium. Not that there is anything particularly unusual about that. The Forum hosts several art exhibitions over the course of the year. But what marks out this one as a little bit special is that it is a Taster Exhibition, a introductory showcase intended to stimulate interest in the annual Norfolk and Norwich Open Studios programme, which runs this year from 27th May to 11th June. Along with five other 'taster' exhibitions being staged throughout the county, the exhibition in The Forum acts as an easily accessible appetiser to the main programme which opens at the end of next month.

As well as having a look around the exhibition, I spent a few hours there as a volunteer invigilator on Tuesday, got to speak to a number of artists, and even bought a painting.

The first thing that strikes you as you walk around the exhibition is the wonderful diversity of the works on display. As well as the usual paintings, photographs and ceramics there are textiles, sculptures and items of jewellery and bespoke lighting, and a huge variety of materials and subjects used. Almost every item on show is for sale, and although some of the pieces would set you back several thousands of pounds there are many items available for considerably less. The painting that I selected cost little more than a framed print from a high street store, yet I now own a unique piece of art.

Over the course of my afternoon I met photographer Howard, whose archive of digital and film prints of famous musicians is now being raided to produce a collection of limited prints. His image of blues legend B.B.King, taken in 2009, captures the essence of the guitarist during a live performance in London.

Ceramicist Michelle is exhibiting a beautiful stoneware vase inspired by the images sent back from the International Space Station during British astronaut Tim Peake's mission last year. She sees Open Studios not only as an opportunity to display her work via the Taster Exhibition in Norwich, but also to attract visitors to her studio in Oby, near Great Yarmouth.

Everyone will have their own favourite pieces, and I have to admit that mine is a large seascape, 'Fresh Sea Breeze', by North Norfolk artist Tracey Ross. Perhaps too expensive for my limited budget, but her work always seems to perfectly capture the light and colours of the Norfolk coastline.

So, what next? Well, hang on to your Open Studios brochure and set aside some time in late May or early June to plan a trip to some of your favourite artists' studios. Do not feel intimidated or pressured into purchasing at each and every stop. The artists are not expecting to make a sale from every single visitor, although many will have a range of affordable items and cards or prints that you may well be tempted by. And if you do feel inclined to spend some hard-earned cash on a painting or vase, then you can feel satisfied in purchasing a unique piece of art, and also by supporting a local artist. Pick up a selection of the special 'Art Trail' flyers - where a group of studios exist in close proximity a special route has been devised to enable you visit several within a short distance of each other. Throw in some nice weather, possibly a pub lunch, and you have all the ingredients for a lovely day out.

Norfolk & Norwich Open Studios Central Taster Exhibition runs until Sunday April 30th at The Forum in Millenium Plain, Norwich.

Norfolk & Norwich Open Studios, in association with Wex Photographic, runs from Saturday May 27th until Sunday June 11th. Check the main programme brochure for individual studios' opening times.

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