Issue 214
August/September/October 2020


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Oct 22, 2020

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Mysterious Alnmouth – with criquet on the croquet lawn?

NOTHING is quite what it seems in this picturesque seaside village. Or should that be port? Full of granaries, no grain ship has moored up since Christmas 1806. RAF Boulmer Control and Reporting Centre being so close, there could be spies everywhere. But how would you know? That spire-shaped tree? It's a mobile phone mast. The station is open, but the branch-line to Alnwick? Gone, although not for long – Aln Valley Railway is on the case. And is that Criquet being played on the Crocket lawn? Best head for the Old School Gallery to fi nd out, just the place for the creative imagination!

I'M IN ALNMOUTH, talking to Dale. He's cleaning a beach hut, part of the business that he and his wife Penny run. It's busy, even more so post lockdown, as people scramble for the beautiful Northumberland coast, if they can make it through the logjam of campervans!

The school makes an ideal gallery, big rooms, high ceiling, lots of light. The playground is full of tables and chairs, perfect for coffee alfresco and a take-away pizza, or something more exotic from the vintage Citroë n van parked up there. When the Old School came on the market Dale and Penny, living in Brighton then, but with roots in the north-east, were drawn back.

While studying film and photography at the Northern School of Art in Middlesbrough, Dale designed record sleeves for his musical mates, pretty successfully, leading to book illustration, and poster design. Penny studied the philosophy of aesthetics. An interesting double-act then, and, underpinning it, a love of art and design, reflected in the quality and variety of work in their exhibitions, in the gallery shop, and on-line.

Running a commercial gallery is never easy, but they're doing OK which, in these tricky times, means good. Partly because they're creative, adaptable, going with the flow, trying out new ideas all the time.

Alnmouth's Old School Gallery

There's no shortage of talent to choose from in Northumberland. Alnmouth, sitting pretty on a narrow spit of land between the North Sea and the Aln estuary, has been a backwater since that ferocious storm blocked the estuary in 1806.

Just the sort of place artists love! There's a featured artist every couple of months. Coming up, from September 4 to October 19, new work from Jonathan Lloyd. Initially an ice sculptor, he is a master of the woodcut, drawing inspiration from the way abstract geometry can dissolve solid form.

'Altarpiece in Dazzle Camouflage' was inspired by dazzle ships, and a fourteenth century altarpiece at Thornham Parva in Suffolk. It attracted a full house of red dots within hours at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 2015.

Italian artists of the early Renaissance also inspire; so much so that, in 2019, Jonathan undertook a 3,000 mile round trip by bicycle to Arezzo, in their footsteps. You'll see some of the resulting work in his show.

Then comes Clive Hicks-Jenkins, Welsh painter, illustrator, producer of artists' books, and much more. He brings to book illustration insight and experience from a career embracing theatre, film, dance, puppeteering, choreography and stage design.

Hence Simon Callow's description of him as “one of the most individual and complete artists of our time.” Recently awarded the V&A 2020 Illustrated Book Award for his work on Simon Armitage's Hansel & Gretel: a Nightmare in Eight Scenes, his show runs from October 25 to January 28, 2021, in a collaboration with the Penfold Press in York, set up more than a decade ago by Dan Bugg, who studied printmaking at the Royal College of Art.

He produces beautifully editioned prints, books, wallpapers and more. So this too is one of those must-see exhibitions, nicely timed in the run-up to Christmas.

The Old School is more than an excellent gallery. Future plans include artist retreats, in association with the Baltic in Gateshead, and collaborative residencies for artists, writer and musicians. It also runs a programme of one and two day workshops, so that you can get hands-on yourself.

Here's a taster from derailed plans, hopefully back on track soon: Making wire bird sculpture with Zoe Robinson; Making a children's picture-book with Orange Beak Studio, award winning illustrators and designers Maisie Paradise Shearing, Ness Wood, and Pam Smy; An introduction to Intentional Camera Movement (ICM) photography with Andrew Gray; A sketchbook workshop with Jenny Bloomfield, exploring new materials and at different scales; Acrylic painting with Ken Spencer; and a sketching workshop with Kittie Jones, working outdoors and translating work into larger scale mixed-media work.

Need somewhere to stay? Dale and Penny's camping huts look out over the North Sea, but you may have to wait a while. Or perhaps you can lay hands on a passing narrow boat, yacht, or redundant cruise liner? Just don't try bringing it up-river!

The Old School Gallery, Alnmouth, NE66 3NH. O1665 830554. www.theoldschoolgallery.co.uk

NICK JONES


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