Above: The Sentinel Gallery, Wivenhoe, from the gallery web site.
Open Exhibitions are great for artists who are not yet ‘established’ as they allow individual works of merit to reach public attention (and, with luck, to be bought). Established artists, of course, can also use Open Exhibitions to enlarge their audience. But it is the new artists who stands to gain most. Many (but by no means all) of the artists in this Staying With Art group are not so established that they have an arrangement with a gallery for regular exhibitions of their work.
The Sentinel Gallery is a new but highly regarded gallery in Wivenhoe, Essex. This is a small fishing town, about an hour outside London, with an unusually high concentration of artists, writers, and other creatives. The Gallery was created a year ago by Pru Green, a potter who previously set up the Gwili Pottery in Carmarthen. It was an uphill struggle to create this strikingly modernist purpose-built gallery space in the old part of Wivenhoe. (And ‘old’ here means very old. The nearby house I am living in dates back to the Sixteenth Century.) Designed by architects Laurie Wood & Associates, the Sentinel Gallery demonstrates modernist design at its best. A human-scaled building that nestles unobtrusively between trees and existing buildings, it adds value to its environment. The fact that it is not on the High Street, but is in a quiet lane alongside the railway, has probably helped it win acceptance in the local community.
To celebrate its first birthday, Sentinel is holding an Open Exhibition entitled Select, and had its vernissage yesterday. By midday people were queueing to get in, and the gallery was packed with art-lovers shuffling around the hundred or so works in the Open Exhibition.
Given the nature of the exhibition, it is not surprising that there was a wide range of styles and subject matters. Nevertheless, there seemed to be two recurring themes: the countryside, and abstraction. The majority were paintings, with a minority of photographs and sculpture. One picture that stood out was a photograph of Walton Pier, in Walton-on-the-Naze, about fifteen miles from Wivenhoe, by Reka Komoli (who is the photographer on the Staying With Art project). To allow room for anglers, the pier broadens out at its end, and the wooden floorboards form a beautiful pattern of organic geometry, and this was Reka’s subject, a picture entitled The Geometry of Fishing.
One of the regulars at the Sentinel Gallery is Jill Desborough. I love her dark pictures that depict a strange other world. This time she had two sculptures. One was a minotaur, apparently sunk in existential angst, entitled Solitary.
Jill’s other piece here was her playfully black sculpture of two rodents, The Lovely Rats III.
It was hard to appreciate fully the works on display, of which there were about a hundred, without elbowing aside other art-lovers to claim some floor-space in which to stand back and take it all in. There were several pieces that really struck me as interesting, and we will be going back on a quieter day to peruse the show.
Meanwhile, if you are anywhere near Wivenhoe – the nearest big town is Colchester, and London is barely an hour on a direct train route – then you really should visit the Sentinel Gallery. The web site is www.thesentinelgallery.co.uk and they also have a Facebook site.