Water-themed art rules the waves at The Spring Arts Centre in Havant

Fountains, harbours, channels, lakes: these are watery parts, our stretch of land from Fareham to Emsworth.

Saturday, 31st July 2021, 10:15 am
Tom Bennett with his prize-winning painting, The Rhythm of Stroke
Tom Bennett with his prize-winning painting, The Rhythm of Stroke

And thank goodness for it, say artists, gallery staff, judges, and guests as they mill around the opening of The Spring’s new show.

Confined to our home turf in lockdown after lockdown, walks to beaches and around ponds became the sole respite for many people during the last 18 months.

The theme of the new exhibition in Havant’s arts and heritage centre - titled simply ‘Water’ – is thus an apt and timely celebration of our seashores and harboursides.

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The Waterfront, Gunwharf by John Pearson

Originally planned for 2020 and delayed due to the ongoing Covid crisis, the gallery’s 2021 Open Exhibition welcomed submissions from artists and craftspeople exploring the theme of water.

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A range of entries in different mediums by both professional and amateur local artists went before a panel of leading industry experts, who made the final selection for the exhibition.

Showcased works range from Sue Eves’ close-up photographs of natural and manmade ephemera partially submerged on a shoreline, to Ian Andrews’ acrylic painting capturing the cool, misty spray of a fountain statue.

Aspirations by Hilary Richardson

The judges’ prize went to oil painter Tom Bennett for his dynamic, movement-driven piece The Rhythm of Stroke.

A member of Langstone Cutters Rowing Club, the Havant-based artist began work on this canvas during the lockdown, when he was longing to get back on the water.

The Rhythm of Stroke depicts a cox’s eye view of the rowers as they raise oars from the water: the yellow jacketed figure is the stroke, setting the rhythm that other rowers must follow.

‘I love the almost forced perspective. When you’re coxing, that’s what you see,’ Tom explains as he holds a prize bouquet of sunflowers, complementing the sunshine brightness at the centre of his winning work.

Shoreline by Nic Cowper

‘I did a series of large paintings around my memories of being out on the water.

‘I’ve probably spent more time on the sea as a civilian than most sailors, as I was a photographer with the MoD. I get on the water whenever I can.’

When not at his easel or rowing across Langstone, Tom makes and repairs the type of boat depicted in his painting – his practical experience informing his creative work. He says: ‘It’s nice to paint what you’ve made.’

Nic Cowper, a painter who teaches watercolour at The Spring, draws inspiration from the waters edging his hometown of Emsworth. Two of his paintings were selected for the exhibition; both bold, impressionistic depictions of the horizon line, where sea meets sky.

Regatta by Chris Moore

‘They are meditations, not direct observations,’ explains Nic. ‘To be selected at all was a huge honour, and I’m very chuffed to have two works in.

‘The work in the exhibition is of an incredibly high standard – the judges have really chosen well.’

London-based assistant art editor Sarah Bolwell took a break from her work at The Burlington Magazine to sit on The Spring’s selection panel.

Joined by Dianna Djokey, communications curator at the John Hansard Gallery, and Faye Hughes, director for local creative hub Making Space, Sarah helped select around 20 works from the 120 submissions.

The crew of visual art experts weighed up which pieces best reflect the show’s theme, as well as showcasing interesting techniques.

Sarah says of her experience as a judge: ‘The process was incredibly eye-opening, especially working from a screen to select the pieces for the exhibition.

‘We had different opinions on the works but we all responded in a similar way.

‘Despite the madness of the last 18 months, local artists clearly haven’t stopped getting outdoors and being inspired to create.

‘It is hugely important for art spaces like The Spring to stage events like this, that hone artistic expression and bring people together.

‘I greatly enjoyed the varied interpretations of the water theme.

‘The colours and use of light in some of the works really helped transport me to the south coast.’

Only two works in the exhibition fall outside of the traditional mediums of painting and photography.

Regatta, a large and eye-catching assemblage by Chris Moore, uses wooden fragments to stage a harbour with sails billowing in an unseen breeze.

‘The woodwork just screams Portsmouth Harbour,’ said judge Sarah.

Facing this nautical scene is another tall, white sail, this time in the work of Woodmancote textile artist Hilary Richardson.

A screen printed quilt in layers of blue and green, Aspirations depicts an Optimist boat as it sails past the Spinnaker Tower.

The only textile artist in the exhibition, Hilary is pleased that her work was selected as it represents an often forgotten art medium.

‘To be the only textile artist here is nice, but we feel like we’re often excluded,’ she says. ‘I submitted this piece because I like the theme of the exhibition – water is very important to me.’

The arts centre – named after the water that bubbles up in local springs – is a natural home for such a show.

A visual flow throughout the main Sadler Gallery leads the viewer’s eye around the room, undulating in echo of the exhibition theme.

Sue Dickinson, show curator, says: ‘It’s like trying to create a language – the works are so different and I’ve been pulling the colours together, and creating the shapes on the wall.

‘I wanted to make sure we had the right sort of weighting.’

In the judge’s selection of works and its curation by the gallery, Water feels like a fitting and reflective statement of the times.

It gives a gentle nod to the area’s heritage, with water playing a vital role in the town’s landscape and history, but also the key role our shores and beaches have played in our immediate past.

This is apparent not only in Tom’s lockdown nostalgia for the sea in his The Rhythm of Stroke, but also in the small, lone figures standing apart in Gerald Lee’s photograph, titled Social Distancing, and the quiet solitude of Looking Across the Water to Hayling Bridge’, Sue Webber’s acrylic painting.

Wonderful, then, to be able to share these mementoes of our much-loved waters together.

Open Exhibition: Water will be on display in The Spring until October 1.

The public will be invited to vote for their favourite piece, and the artist with the most votes will be awarded the prize of £100.

A message from the editor, Mark Waldron.

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