Reinventing the landscape

By Jeremy Miles

Dorset's spectacular ancient coastline has inspired generations of artists                                           Picture Jeremy Miles

SOME of the finest art in Britain is inspired by Dorset's ancient landscape and coastline.

Its ruggedness, beauty and historic sense of place has attracted generations of painters, sculptors, printmakers and potters.

So it is hardly surprising that in little more than a decade a modest affair called Dorset Art Week - designed to showcase the work coming out of the county - has expanded into a wide-ranging two-week celebration of creativity.

This weekend the event, now known as Dorset Art Weeks, gets under way with nearly 1,000 artists across the county throwing open the doors of their studios, mounting exhibitions and exchanging ideas.

What perfect timing then for the start of one of the finest and most important shows to be staged by the local arts community in recent years.

Reinventing The Landscape, which opened at Bournemouth's Russell-Cotes Museum on May 25, shows work by the cream of contemporary painters working in or inspired by the sometimes mysterious power of Dorset.

The exhibition - based on Vivienne Light's excellent 2002 book of the same name - shows that the county continues to prove an inspiration for some of the finest work being produced anywhere in the world.

Artists like Martyn Brewster, George Dannatt, Vanessa Gardiner, Brian Graham, Martin Hampton, John Hubbard, Peter Joyce, Alex Lowery, Padraig Macmiadhachain, Alastair Michie, Robin Rae and Robert Woolner may be local simply because they live and work in and around Dorset but they are also big art world names.

Or as Professor Simon Olding, who opened the show, put it: "The artists featured here all have associations with Dorset but the sense of place is also international and national"

He spoke of the "long journeys of place and mind" made by the painters and how their examination of the coast and landscape showed the relevance of prehistory to the way we see the county today.

One of the great strengths of the exhibition, he said, was that it presented "works of physical presence by authoritative artists stressing their individualism as well as arguing their individualistic approaches to landscape and seascape."

He praised the Russell-Cotes - a museum and gallery of which he used to be director - as being among the best public rooms for showing big paintings in the South West.

Professor Olding, who is now director of the new Crafts Study Centre at the Surrey Institute of Art and Design, clearly hoped that someone with access to the region's purse-strings might take notice.

"The scarcity of big public gallery provision in Dorset has always been an issue and - who knows? - perhaps the success of this show might put the case for a major dedicated art museum in Bournemouth."

Declaring the show open he stressed that the entire exhibition was underpinned by Vivienne Light's book, which he described as a prescient and much- needed publication and "a distinctive contribution to art history".

Reinventing the Landscape: Contem-porary Painters and Dorset. Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum, until Sept 12, Tues to Sun, 10am to 5pm. Entry free.

© Jeremy Miles 2022