A reflection on Dorset’s art festival

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Edwina visited many of the 250 venues of Dorset Art Weeks and shares personal highlights of her tour around the artistic side of the county
Heather Macgregor in front of Misty Stour (left) and Summer River Image: Edwina Baines

What better time of year could there have been for exploring the Dorset countryside while seeking out
the abundant artistic talent? With 250-plus venues and more than 500 artists taking part in Dorset Art
Weeks (DAW), there were some stand-out artists among the studios, galleries and exhibitions.

Heather MacGregor
I started my exploration in the hills above Durweston, in the stables at Traveller’s Rest Farm (home of BV farming columnist George Hosford) where Heather MacGregor was exhibiting her oil paintings with David Norton and Judy Baker. Heather says: “I paint what I see and how I feel about it. The work aims to give more than an initial visual impact. Principally I make studies in the field which I work up into paintings in the studio. When I am painting, I am conscious of walking on a tightrope. The challenge is in creating an engaging sense of place without slipping into the obvious or the obscure.” She responds with a glorious
exuberance to her subject matter. She is pictured above with two of her works: Misty Stour and Summer River.

A school exhibition
Down the hill into Durweston and to the new Bryanston Knighton House where, alongside that of their tutors, pupils’ work across all the age ranges was on display. One could not help but be impressed by their accomplishments and the variety of media to which they had been introduced. See image below – one little visitor found much to absorb her!

Absorbed in the Bryanston Knighton House Gallery
Image: Edwina Baines

Georgina Wood
In the centre of Blandford, Georgina Wood’s charming house was full of her sensitive paintings, prints and mixed media images. The classic India ink shapes and muted colour palette of various vessels was reminiscent of the work of Italian artist Giorgio Morandi, whose paintings were noted for their tonal subtlety in depicting apparently simple subjects. A few streets away was Rachel Baynes’s pretty, productive garden and exhibition All Kinds of Inks. A wide range of differing methods and media were on display, from collagraph prints to Japanese woodcuts, linocuts and inks. Rachel explained that a collagraph print is made by glueing different materials to cardboard and creating a kind of collage. During the inking process the ink will rub off the surfaces that are smooth or higher and stay on surfaces that hold more ink, for example at
the edges and at lower points, thus creating the image. The results were striking.

Georgina Wood with her collection of vessels in classic India ink shapes and muted colour palette. Image: Edwina Baines

Mark Harris
A drive through the Clenston Valley then led me to Mark Harris’s Gallery in The Old Engine Shed in the beautiful village of Briantspuddle, which is worth visiting as an artwork in its own right. In 1914, the small settlement was sold to Sir Ernest Debenham, grandson of the founder of Debenham’s department store,
who expanded the village to house those working on his self- sufficient farm. Many houses are built from hand-made concrete blocks in the Arts and Crafts style. The listed Bladen Valley is an example of a model estate and well worth a visit, especially the First World War memorial Madonna and Child, whch was sculpted by Eric Gill. Interestingly, the original purpose of the Old Engine Shed was to house Ernest Debenham’s vehicles!
Mark showed me an old photograph of the cars lined up outside the building, now converted into housing, bed and breakfast accommodation and a studio.
The walls of the latter are lined with his striking canvases. Mark gains his inspiration from the surrounding countryside and coastline. Initial marks are made in pastel and charcoal before blocks of acrylic paint are layered, then further pastels and Indian inks are added. Mark started his career as a pastry chef, although he found time to paint throughout that time; it was his sister who actually went to art school! Now a full- time professional artist, during lockdown Mark was unable to purchase large canvases (“I’m obsessed with trees and I love big rolling fields”) which resulted in wonderful triptychs which work extremely well, even in small spaces.

Mark Harris in his studio, with ‘Gully Lane’ (left) and ‘Glorious Dorset’ (triptych) right
Image: Edwina Baines

Digital tools
In his studio, I was curious about a seemingly incongruous painting of a giraffe – it transpired it was part of a design commissioned for a range of labels for a very expensive single malt whisky! Indeed, the image has to reflect not only the taste, but also the flavour and aroma of the whisky, and Mark uses the Brushes app on his iPad to transfer and modify the digital image. He occasionally uses the app when he gets stuck on an image; he finds that by copying and digitising an image, he can experiment by flipping or using different colours. He can therefore make several versions of the same picture. “However, you have to be careful
you don’t get overly distracted!”

Rachel Baynes Woodcutting paraphernalia
Image: Edwina Baines

To Dorchester
Another day took me to Poundbury, Dorchester and a wealth of venues and talent. Top of my list was the
Casterbridge Art Society’s broad- ranging exhibition It’s Up to Us, showcasing the concept of sustainability. Paintings, sculpture, photography, calligraphy, woodwork, textiles and work from pupils at Damers First School were on display.
The exhibition in Queen Mother Square was held in the newly refurbished Jubilee Hall, which incorporates structural elements of The Royal Jubilee Hall from Weymouth. The historic cast iron columns and brackets were recovered and incorporated in the new building alongside the old stone hearth found in a Portland quarry.
I ended up close to home in the converted cowsheds at Gold Hill Organic Farm, in the studios of Rachel Sargent and Emsie Sharp. Rachel’s evocative paintings and prints are full of light, shadows and the elements which chart her walks along local footpaths and the coastline. She is pictured below with the Victorian etching press (her popular workshops will be running again in the autumn). Emsie makes unique and colourful handblown glass, and I will be writing more about her exciting techniques next month.

Rachel Sargent with her Victorian Etching press
Image: Edwina Baines


by Edwina Baines edwina@theblackmorevale.co.uk

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