West Beach Watchet: Image Davina Jelley

On Friday I joined the Contains Art Lunch Pad for an extremely cold, cold walk on Watchet’s West Beach – the sun may have been shining but the wind was bitter.

The Lunch or ‘Launch Pad’ sessions have been running throughout January and February and have been part of their wider winter art school. These informal gatherings have provided an opportunity for artists to meet, discuss ideas, gain feedback, collaborate and enrich each others working practice and were inspired by former art groups such as the Bloomsbury Group, the St Ives Artists and the Surrealists, all held such gatherings and who knows in the future we may be citing the Watchet Group?

I had attended a previous session, admittedly in the warm, where artist Andy Davey led the discussion focusing on Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner and was aimed at those artists considering submitting work for the publication that Contains Art in partnership with ARTLife aim to produce this coming Summer. It had been a thoroughly enjoyable session, I went home totally enthused and listened once again to Richard Burton’s reading of the poem. The session had reminded me of how enjoyable the art lectures and debates had been during my college days.

So why were we out in the cold last week? This session was for the artists who have been invited to participate in a forthcoming exhibition that aims to highlight the rich and distinctive geology that is evident on this particular stretch of coastline. This was literally a ‘recky’ for those that may not have discovered West Beach, to chat through ideas, choose a title for the project, and question if the May exhibition was to act as an introduction to a wider project that may last a year. All food for creative thought, inspired by the ever changing coastline – one rich in alabaster, blue lias and the many fossils that are uncovered with each storm and landslide. Sadly we did not find a ‘sea dragon’ that day, but there are always future opportunities.

The SAW artists involved with the project currently are Alison Jacobs, Sue Lowe, Leo Davey, Jenni Dutton and Lucy Lean.

After being weathered on the sands we did more geological research in ‘Pebbles Bar’, where a keen local amateur geologist was very happy to share his knowledge – if only he had come on the walk with us I am sure we would have ‘seen’ so much more. This Friday’s Lunch Pad on the 13/02/15 is currently the last planned session but there are thoughts about how and where these sessions may continue for those who have found them a valuable stimulus.

Now we have not been the only Somerset artists out in the cold recently as SAW member Fiona Campbell lead a similar investigative walk with the artists involved with the ‘step in stone’ project that she is curating; they were not walking the coast but a hidden disused quarry located in the Mendips. Fiona is thrilled that the project has recently reached it’s full funding target with an award from the Arts Council England alongside Somerset Art Works, the National Lottery, Mendip Hills/Mendip AONB and Ganes Trust.

Fiona has brought together a team of like-minded passionate artists, scientists and educators and has an ambitious programme planned for the months ahead, culminating in a finale fortnight during the 2015 Somerset Art Weeks Festival and it’s Momentum programme.

‘I am very excited to have on board such high calibre artists, including Tessa Farmer, who’s work I came across at London’s Saatchi Gallery.  Her miniscule plant-fibre skeletal ‘fairies’ and other alien creations involving taxidermy will be perfect in the magical Fairy Cave quarry – a wonderful contrast to some of the larger pieces we’ll produce.  Ralph Hoyte, a well-known Bristol-based artist who makes ‘sound poetry’ may create a piece that can be listened to via GPS while walking round the sites.  I plan to make some large-scale work using found and recycled materials inspired by the sea life that was, particularly crinoids and corals. It will certainly be a challenging project!’

It would seem that the artists of Somerset are no longer merely looking at the landscape that presently surrounds them but time travelling via the county’s geology, as the quarry like the coast reveals the layers of prehistory buried deep within.

When you view these two projects at the close of Summer, do remember the cold walks that sparked that initial creative impetus. I look forward to the rich and varied results that will no doubt be delivered, if artists can find such a buzz to create in the depths of the cold, cold months then I am sure the energy aimed at these two projects can only gain momentum.

step in stone: Image by Duncan Simey


Further details regarding aspects covered in this post may be found on the following links

step in stone

Contains Art


Published on February 9, 2015 // Davina Jelley