Dawn Harris (left) with highly commended Janet Rose and judge George Wagstaffe with winner Brian Cook (right)
If location is everything, then Ragley Gallery and Studios is way ahead of the crowd.
The opening of the first Ragley Open Art Competition began with glasses of chilled Cava on the terrace of Ragley Hall
the beautiful stately home just outside Alcester. The sun shone and there was a brisk breeze but the views across the long path leading into the distance, the woods and big skies was stunning.
Dawn Harris is enjoying her second year as artist in residence at Ragley Hall, and she works alongside four other artists in studios in the lovely old stable block. Earlier this year she announced the first Ragley Open, and it attracted an impressive 209 entries, with 54 artists chosen to exhibit their works in the gallery which is also in the stables.
The theme of the exhibition is Spirit of Place, and Dawn has described this as fitting into three different categories: “all works refer to the tangible physical aspects of place, (monuments, boundaries, rivers, woods, architectural style, rural crafts styles, pathways, views, and so on); to the invisible weave of culture (stories, art, memories, beliefs, histories, etc.) and to the presence of people (the presence of relatives, friends, kindred spirits, and the like)”.
You could say that encapsulates pretty much everything, but while I was looking around the theme slipped from my mind anyway, and I was impressed with the general high standard of works on show.
One of the judges of the Open was Coventry-based artist and sculptor George Wagstaffe, who attended the opening event. He has previously exhibited recent sculpture at Ragley, and at the Michael Heseltine Gallery in Banbury, and is currently working on some paintings which I look forward to seeing in a future exhibition.
Textile artist Michala Gyetvai who works from a studio at Ragley presented the winners with their prizes – though luckily first prize winner Brian Cook was late arriving from his home near Malvern, so gave us a bit more time to enjoy the Cava and the view!
Brian’s winning work was Two Soldiers in a Supportive Conversation, a small abstract sculpture made mostly of concrete, but also including oak showing two shapes leaning in towards each other.
Brian studied as a mature student at Worcester University between 2009-12. He said: “I graduated, and since then I’ve been enjoying making art.
“I came across concrete when I was at uni. I was working in ceramics but I wanted to make things bigger. My pieces were originally a lot heavier – when you are at university you are in this bubble and can create and there’s no worry about transporting things. I won the Foundation final award and since them I have progressed a bit and come into polishing and looking more at the shape.
“This relates to the First World War and it’s something I have been interested in and wanted to make things to do with, and it’s come at the right time.”
There were four highly commended awards. Denise Startin, who has previously studied at Coventry University and the Royal College of Art in London, won for Charlotte’s Locks, a very close-up limited-edition screenprint of a key hanging from a lichen-covered wall, and Linda Davies for Bawley Bay, a large mixed media on board showing an industrial scene of cranes, barbed wire, the Thames and a union safety notice.
Contrastingly, also highly commended was Janet Rose for her gentle, colourful textile work, Walled Garden, and Janet Tryner for Field C, a mixed media work which struck a chord with me and any other festival-goers as it included some lovely aquamarine and yellow colours, depicting tents crammed together at a festival with bright lights in the distance, and a muddy ground.
Highly commended works Field C by Janet Tryner, and Linda Davies with her work Bawley Bay
Other notable works include Neil Spalding’s Raiw Pottery, small models including some of Cornish mine buildings, Julie Robertson’s photograph at Ragley of flowers in a well-lit window and Sally Larke’s two framed sets of small ceramic pots, each with a different coloured inside to them.
Maureen Grimwade has contributed A Cornish Haven, an oil on board work of a peaceful holiday beach, and Fiona Payne’s Washday is a vivid, bright work showing red and yellow houses against a bright background, and her Vacant is a heavily-worked oil.
Michelle Carruthers is showing an unusual work of lines and shapes made up of tiny pieces of pollen on paper, thankfully behind glass.
Shaun Morris who recently exhibited in Nuneaton’s Museum & Art Gallery is exhibiting Silence, showing the shadows underneath a motorway with the artificial yellow of lights showing in the background. Earth Spirit by Pam White is a watercolour showing a warped person and unnatural vegetation.
Open exhibitions can be very mixed and this has a lot of variety, but a good high standard to the work which combined with the interesting setting, and the possible chance to meet the artists currently working in studios in the same building, makes it well worth the trip out. The exhibition is on until September 7.
Charlotte’s Locks by Denise Startin (highly commended)