The weather has turned dreich once more, but there are worse ways to stay dry than spending an hour or so this coming week leisurely taking in the Berwick Art Group’s summer exhibition at The Kings Arms Hotel, Hide Hill, Berwick-upon-Tweed.
Earlier this week I had been tasked with viewing the exhibition and reporting back. Would this be akin to countless other small-town art exhibitions which daub the country each year? Should I stick a sharpened palette knife in, twist and turn it, in order that honesty and truth prevailed?
Dear God, I hoped not.
Taste, being a very personal thing, will vary from person to person. In this instance, you are stuck with mine so I shall give praise where I think it due, whilst you can rush down to view the BAG’s exhibition for yourself and disagree with me at your leisure.
With broad strokes of my brush then … dare I say it, I was not unimpressed.
Firstly, praise for the choice of venue. The Kings Arms Hotel had space and light aplenty for the 212 paintings on display, with enough room to stand back and consider the exhibits from all angles. Yes, I could see from an initial glance that some of the offerings were more basic in form and structure than others, and in some instances talent was clearly subservient to enthusiasm. The general feel of the exhibition was of an art group that has passion for what it does, and thoroughly enjoys displaying it.
Stand out artists for me were David Morrison, Ron Gale and Grahame Tebbutt.
David Morrison has produced a series of fine nude studies, drawn in pastel with admirable confidence and style. If the prospect of having a naked lady hanging from your wall appeals, then I would suggest that only Golden Square on a Friday night could provide anything cheaper. Given the quality of Morrison’s work, these are priced extremely keenly.
Ron Gale has provided two oil paintings for public scrutiny, both of which exude light and warmth in equal measure. The first – ‘On Guard’ – depicts an African warrior (or possibly a goat herder) stood with spear in hand (no, not back to the nudes, oo-er) in quiet contemplation. The next – ‘First Solo’ – gives us a nostalgic view of an airfield, complete with biplanes and ground crew.
Disparate subject matters, yes, but both painted with an admirable lightness of touch and suffused with genuine warmth. If exotic holidays are beyond your budget this year then perhaps you may want to invest in a Ron Gale original to bring a little sunshine to your life. (Correct me if I’m wrong here, only I have an image in my head of Ron as a well-travelled octogenarian and with slides to prove it – no bad thing.)
Where Grahame Tebbutt’s work is concerned, I must admit to being his number one fan. Worry not, no stalker tendencies have I, no sledgehammer secreted about my jealous person ready to end Mr Tebbutt’s prodigious talent. I merely state for the record that as local talent goes, Grahame is up there with the best, and it would seem that Berwick Art Group agree with my summation having duly awarded his ‘Edinburgh Walkway’ the 2011 Best in Show prize, aka ‘The Berwick Art Group Trophy’.
This departure from Grahame’s usual maritime theme shows us a moody, indistinct Edinburgh scene, painted in oils and unmistakably a Tebbutt original. He also exhibits for our viewing pleasure ‘Seahouses Harbour Pier’, ‘St. Abb’s Harbour’ and ‘Beadnell Harbour’, to name but three of the other five paintings being exhibited by Grahame in the show. It’s more than likely you may harbour – geddit! – some regret if you don’t get along to see these wonderful paintings before the show closes on 23rd July.
A couple of further honourable mentions, then, before I conclude my ramble:
Donald Ritchie – ‘Winter Field with Hares’ – does what it says on the tin and has a lovely soft light about it. ‘Swans’ by Sakina Jones is beautifully crafted and, by happy chance, very much about swans (although I do worry whether it’s not a little overpriced for this particular gathering). And finally ‘At the Waterhole’ by P F McAuliffe, winner of the 2011 Fred Stott Watercolour Memorial Trophy, is a wonderfully observed tiger study and a deserving winner of the prize.
Something for everyone I would say.
There are far too many talented artists exhibiting their work at the Kings Arms Hotel for me to mention them all by name and, equally, there are others who under no circumstances should be named. However, in summary I would conclude that our region has much in the way of artistic talent to be proud of, and long may the Berwick Art Group continue to fill with the best of it.
Next year, who knows, there may be a spring in my step and a tear in my eye as I once again sally forth to see what Berwick has to offer.
Contributor: Lenny Cohen