Stratford Art Society celebrates 62nd anniversary and summer art exhibition
If there’s one thing the pandemic hasn’t stopped, it’s the artistic spirit of the Stratford-upon-Avon Art Society.
As the group turns 62, Herald arts caught up with a part of the society as they prepared to host their annual summer exhibition (which is now open).
We meet in the charming Italian villa of the vice-president of the company Andris Ievins. Built in the 1960s, the house near Clifford Chambers once hosted lovers Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton – a scene more than appropriate for a chat with the reunited artists.
Andris explains that the art society was founded in 1959 and has always thrived. It now has 297 stable members and the annual summer exhibition has been held every year since the inception of the society.
It aims to generate interest in the fine arts, bringing artists together and offering the opportunity to exhibit at the annual exhibition, it also hosts a monthly competition and a number of other events, such as conferences, outings and demonstrations by artists and workshops.
“Everything was going wonderfully at the start of 2020,” says Andris. “We had just had our founders’ conference with senior art critic Andrew Graham Dixon that year and everything was brilliant, and then of course the pandemic struck.”
Without holding back, the company made the most of digital opportunities and held monthly Zoom meetings.
“In a way, it has forced us to be kicked and screamed into the 21st century. We have an online gallery and a showcase of what people have been up to. We used Zoom to stay out and have an increasingly used social media profile.
“There has been a lot of positive feedback,” Andris continues. “There are benefits to watching something online – you can sit and see the paintings up close, instead of sitting in the amphitheater, so it hasn’t been all negative.
“Society doesn’t just share a cup of tea, the members cheer each other up, nurture each other and ignite each other. Art is so important to your head – your sanity – and it was really evident last year.
“We’ve always had a monthly painting competition and we’ve expanded it throughout the year to make sure people feel involved.
“This nice bundle is what you might call our star players,” says Andris, indicating the artists gathered. “Everyone here is a monthly contest winner. “
The conversation in the room is about how they behaved during the pandemic, what society means to them and, in particular, what lockdown and isolation has meant for individuals and their artistic work.
Benefits of Robert
“It’s good that the protests continue because we couldn’t get out. I guess I would have painted anyway but I had more time. I mainly do landscapes and since trips abroad did not take place, I searched more locally. I think people noticed the local environment more – the countryside and the buildings. The photo I put in the exhibit is relatively local, from Blenheim.
“I wouldn’t have said the locking experience was more intense, but I liked focusing more because I couldn’t go out and do anything else.
“I never painted in my life until I retired four years ago. I discovered with Zoom that I could 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 it from her perspective and what she puts on paper.
“I have been a member for 18 years. I started painting when I retired, that was 21 years ago. I started with watercolor lessons. I had never painted or drawn before and I learned little by little. I now paint in oils.
“I discovered that with the confinement, I became more prolific. And I took some online classes, including one with Peter Keegan, which was amazing and inspired me to do still lifes.
“I also go out with three friends and I just painted outdoors [leaving the studio and drawing in the landscape], mainly in the pub gardens.
“I had a slightly different experience than the others as I have a seven year old, so as soon as the lockdown hit I had some home schooling to do. I really had to structure my day.
“I paint in oils and, more recently, in acrylics. I do contemporary abstract landscapes, like atmospheric sky scenes. It was a bit of a lifeline; it was important to have time away from home schooling.
“It was also inspiring to see the work of other members throughout this time and to be the focus of the monthly competition. “
“My work is quite physical – I am a willow sculptor and I teach a lot of workshops – and it is tiring so the confinement allowed me to rest and I only painted. It was something I wanted to build on but never had the time. I also launched a website during the lockdown, again which I might have done.
“The company means that we support each other and have a goal every month.
“My work is mainly based on animals, but I went out and painted a field that had been harvested from the back 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 this brief moment. I want to keep this when we get back to the real world.
“I have a nine-to-five job and usually commute, but not having that commute and working from home for a year means I’ve saved a lot of time – a 40-minute commute each way. And so I ended up doing a drawing every day when I would have otherwise been commuting.
“I am a designer for Jaguar Land Rover. I design cars for my day job but usually in my free time it is mostly wild animals, like the tiger that I enter in the exhibition.
“Conservation is important and it is true that through confinement, people have more appreciated the flora and fauna and that is inspiring.”
WHEN AND WHERE: The company’s annual summer exhibition runs through Sunday, August 29 at KES in Chapel Lane. In addition to framed images, there are also browsers filled with unframed artwork.
Visitors can watch “the artist of the day” in action and vote for their favorite work.
The exhibition is open from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily and from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the last day, and admission is free. Visit www.stratforduponavonartsociety.co.uk.