We attend Brighton Open Houses Festival on at least one day of the four weekends in May each year; we usually make a better job of it. Discussions beforehand and having tried to gauge what to visit we made an overly ambitious plan. Rather than sticking to one trail and walking from neighbour to neighbour over a number of hours we’d cherry pick a few studios and move between them on foot, electric train and bus. We needed the car.
It didn’t quite work out – we spent too much time on foot a long way between venues. Indeed the 12,000 steps was the biggest takeaway rather than the excitement of a particular venue or artist.
Devil’s Dyke Farm
That said, we made a reasonable start at Devil’s Dyke Farm, though we thought this would be an Open House; instead we found a wedding venue marquee and an event that had a commercial air to it. Devil’s Duke Farm was excellent for what it was: well signposted, ample parking, loos, coffee and even alcohol (but not food) and ample space for each of the artists/creators to display their work.
Perennial favourites here included Sarah Jones and Helen Brown, as well as the charming Wolfram Lohr and his handcrafted wooden and leather hanging plant containers.
The price was a bit steep and I was unconvinced that a pot full of water, crocks, soil and a plant would remain secured to the wall.
The history of the location, the end of the line for the Devil’s Dyke Railway, was fascinating (it’s a shame that the train doesn’t still operate).
The views are also panoramic with 15 or 20 miles out to the top of the horizon taking in the vast Rampion Offshore Wind Farm and huge shipping silhouetted on their traffic lanes in the Channel.
Our next move was to park up in Brighton Marina, dodging the Sunday morning car boot sale. We’d have 4 hours for the rest of our trip. The thinking was a dinky ride on the Volks Electric Rail would take us into Brighton and then we’d walk along the seafront dropping into a number of venues, then come back through town via venues near the station, the Lanes and finally Kemp Town. To achieve this we would have needed bikes or scooters – or taken an Über between some parts of time; I hadn’t realised the distances involved which explains why the ‘trails’ have been created. Yes, select a trail and walk between venues on this trail. No, pick and mix across many trials thinking you’d still be able to walk between them. Brighton and Hove is not Ditchling! The Ditchling Art Wave venues really are linked back gardens, shop fronts and venues that are neighbours. And we ought to have come on the first weekend and made our mistakes then rather than leaving it all to the last day.
The highlight of the Volks Electric Railway was to make the first purchase of a discounted ticket for a ‘Senior’. The train has had a renovation recently but is otherwise much as it was when constructed 150 years ago, and much the same as when I first made a trip into Brighton from the Marina in August 1980. On that occasion I was on a family sailing trip with my late father and his boat; his boat Canny Lass, a Fischer 38 was moored on the new marina. At the time the ONLY building on the site was the Portacabin like Brighton Sailing Club.
The Dog Show
The walk from the end of the Volks Line to the 360 and into Brighton was far further than expected. At least the result was a typical Open House treet, a couple of rooms, a grand Georgian parlour featuring in this case a variety of artists, painters and makers on the theme of dogs.
There were many lovely pictures and items, though we were not tempted to purchase any prints or cards. I have promised Wanda that I will draw Evie, from life, and see what I can do to add colour with paints or pastels.
The second venue was a ground floor studio around the corner; a lovely space but the landscapes, though well executed in oil appeared somewhat kitsch and invented, not real landscapes but landscapes of the mind with certain motives repeated in that way that might appeal to a certain purchaser, but lacks authenticity. In all honesty I had no idea where the places being depicted were and no title invited us to think this was the Downs at sunset, the Pennines and Spanish Nivada.
Having taken up an hour and a half since leaving the marina we now found we had a 20 minute walk diagonally across town to pick up a venue, only to need a further 20 minutes to get up to London Road Station. We had miscalculated, our feet were tired, we needed coffee and possibly something to eat. We rethought our plan, instead staying closer to the coast. This had its disappointments because of course it took in crafty shops, though the Sussex Arts Club Annual Show was worth the visit to renew my interest in attending regular drop-in sessions here (£12 for 2 hours). I recognised a number of the models, for example the wiry and gymnastic ‘Peter’ and spoke to our host, one of the artists.
The work is of a really high standard and wonderfully eclectic in the variety of approaches and results from oils to charcoal, pencil to watercolour. I took life drawing up six years ago and have, I feel, started to produce work that would be worth displaying. I’m best at doing several quick pieces in a few minutes – even the three minute pose can feel too long for me. I want to get it right, get the feel and look of the model and their pose with a dozen or some marks or not at all.
There were some hidden gems around Hanningtons, quirky one off ideas executed with a sense of fun, such as the comical piece made of painted driftwood with cartoons and cheeky, rude or political comments.
By 4:15pm our options were running out. We had to get back to the Marina.
We had expected to use our return ticket on the Volks Electric Train, but wanted to visit a number of venues towards and around Kemp Town. We had left it too late, though we could have driven up to one venue which would be open until 6:00pm. Hunger was now the motivation and it started to rain.
Patsy Mcarthur had a first floor lounge looking over the sea, the perfect Open House venue perhaps to show her large water themed paintings and charcoal drawings of swimmers young and old, in bathing costumes or clothes, frolicking and twisting about in a pool, lake or open sea, swimming hard or just enjoying the feel of the water.
I could see these large pieces of art displayed by someone’s swimming pool, or recreated as massive murals to cover an entire wall of a 25m or even 50m swimming pool. That or where they are most likely destined in a home with the light and a pool.
I’d happily pay the £7,000 for one of the larger paintings though these days, even if I had the money, I am less keen to purchase prints for £200 – these still need to be framed well to take their place properly on the wall. There was a hardback book though. Not being the type to gush about being embroiled by British understatement, I failed to get a selfie with the artist, have her sign the book or even talk much at all about her work, her inspiration … and most importantly of all, how she does it.
I rather think my days of purchasing art are long gone (I have a couple of peices bought through Artsy 8 years ago). instead I need to be making my own. I am, and always want to aim at peices 8ft long and 6ft high – so scale. But I’m still, I feel ‘getting my hand in’ and learning some simple techniques. I can see, I can draw, I can compose, but I’ve never mastered colour beyond a light watercolour wash over an inked up drawing.
Having a space to paint without having to clear everything off the kitchen table two or three times a day would help! In our excursions we admire the different studio spaces and wonder what changes we could make around our own home. My ambition is to take my life drawing to life sized pieces and any urban landscapes I am venturing towards a good 6ft by 4ft or larger. I’m not for diddling about as if I am painting an Airfix model, and I can see that it is the large image that is best reduced down for prints and postcards (If we go this far).