Stratford Art Society celebrates its 62nd year and summer art exhibition
IF there’s one thing that the pandemic hasn’t halted, it’s the artistic spirit of Stratford-upon-Avon Art Society.
As the group celebrates its 62nd year, Herald arts caught up with some of the society as they were preparing to host its annual summer exhibition (which is now open).
We meet at the lovely Italianate villa of society vice-president Andris Ievins. Build in the 1960s, the house near Clifford Chambers once hosted lovers Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton – a more than fitting stage for a chat with the assembled artists.
Andris explains that the art society was founded in 1959 and always prospered. It now has a steady 297 members and the annual summer exhibition has been running every year since the society started.
It aims to foster interest in the fine arts, bringing artists together, and as well as offering the chance to exhibit at the annual exhibition, it also hosts a monthly competition and a number of other events, such as lectures, outings and artist demonstrations and workshops.
“Everything was going brilliantly at the start of 2020,” says Andris. “We had just had our founders’ day lecture with leading art critic Andrew Graham Dixon that year and everything was brilliant and then of course the pandemic hit.”
Unthwarted, the society made the most of digital opportunities and hosted monthly meetings over Zoom.
“In a way it’s forced us to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century. We have an online gallery and showcase of what people have been doing. We’ve used Zoom to keep ourselves out there and have a social media profile that has been increasingly used.
“There’s been lots of positive feedback,” continues Andris. “There are benefits to watching something online – you can sit and see the paintings up close, as opposed to sitting in the lecture theatre, so it’s not been entirely negative.
“The society is not just sharing a cup of tea, members encourage each other, feed off one another and fire each other up. Art is so important for your head – your mental health – and that has been really obvious in the last year.
“We’ve always run a monthly painting competition and we’ve expanded that over the year to make sure people feel involved.
“This lovely lot are what you might call our star players,” says Andris, indicating the assembled artists. “Everyone here is a winner from the monthly competition.”
The conversation in the room turns to how they’ve fared during the pandemic, what the society means to them and, in particular, what lockdown and isolation has meant to individuals and their artistic work.
“It has been good that the demonstrations have kept going as we weren’t able to go out. I guess I would have painted anyway but I’ve had more time. I do mainly landscapes and as trips abroad haven’t happened I’ve been looking more locally. I think people have noticed local surroundings more – the countryside and buildings. The picture I’m putting in the exhibition is relatively local, of Blenheim.”
“I wouldn’t have said the lockdown experience has been more intense but I’ve enjoyed concentrating more because I couldn’t go out and do anything else.
“I never painted in my life until I retired four years ago. I found with Zoom I was able to paint with my granddaughters – one here and two in Canada. One of them is 19 and she has special needs and it’s amazing to see things from her viewpoint and what she puts on the paper.”
“I’ve been a member for 18 years. I took up painting when I retired – that was 21 years ago. I started with watercolour classes. I’d never painted or drawn before and just gradually learned. I now paint in oil.
“I found with lockdown I’ve become more prolific. And I did some online courses – including one with Peter Keegan, which was amazing and inspired me to do some still life.
“I’ve also been going out with three friends and just been painting plein air [leaving the studio and drawing in the landscape], mainly in pub gardens.”
“I’ve had a slightly different experience from the others as I have a seven-year-old so as soon as lockdown hit I had home schooling to do. I really had to structure my day.
“I paint in oils and, more recently, acrylics. I do contemporary abstract landscapes, such as atmospheric sky scenes. It’s been a bit of a lifeline; it was important to have some away time from the home schooling.
“It’s also been inspiring to see the other members’ work throughout this time, and to have the focus of the monthly competition.”
“My job is quite physical – I’m a willow sculptor and I teach a lot of workshops – and it’s tiring so the lockdown gave me a rest and all I did was paint. It was something I’d wanted to build upon but never seemed to have the time. I also started a website during lockdown, again not something that perhaps I’d have done.
“The society means we support each other and have a goal every month.
“My work is mainly animal-based but I did go out and paint a field that had been harvested at the bottom of my garden. There were these huge bales of hay – I painted them and the next day they were gone. It’s magical to capture that brief moment. I want to hold on to that when we return to the real world.”
“I have a nine-to-five job and I usually commute but not having that journey and working at home for a year means I’ve saved a lot of time – a 40-minute journey each way. And so I ended up doing a drawing every day when I would have otherwise been commuting.
“I’m a designer for Jaguar Land Rover. I draw cars for my day job but usually during my own time it’s mostly wild animals, like the tiger I’m entering in the exhibition.
“Conservation is important and it’s true that through lockdown people have appreciated flora and fauna more and that’s inspiring.”
WHEN AND WHERE: The society’s annual summer exhibition runs until Sunday 29th August at KES in Chapel Lane. As well as framed pictures there are browsers full of unframed works as well.
Visitors can watch the “artist of the day” in action and vote for their favourite artwork.
The exhibition is open from 10.30am to 5pm each day and 10.30am-4pm on the last day, and entry is free. Visit www.stratforduponavonartsociety.co.uk.