The premises of the Rye Art Gallery have been described as being like a Tardis (you need to be familiar with Dr Who) and there is certainly something in this description. A small relatively modest facade conceals a cavernous interior made possible by occupying two adjoining back-to-back buildings and extending over three floors and all displaying the talents of artists, both home-grown and from further afield. And it is not just paintings, but pottery, sculpture, objets d’art, jewelry and more.
Right now, and in an exhibition entitled Re: Collection, up on the second floor, the gallery is showing paintings, etchings and sculpture from it’s permanent collection. The quality of the exhibits was demonstrated by some of the names: a lovely little etching by Whistler and a superb Epstein bronze of a local lady, Clare Sheridan, who was by all accounts something of a character. Well-travelled, she was reputed to have been, at one point, in Russia where she had a fling with Trotsky. Another Epstein there, was a truly beautiful drawing ‘Child’s Head.’
There were contemporary artists, too. Anthony Bennett was there in person with his sculpture ‘Eyes Shut’ – a piece that regular visitors to the gallery will have seen before, and the promotional image for the show was Fairlight by local artist Ken Townsend who, although no longer with us, passed away only in 2001.
A further local artist was Kitty French, yet another character it would seem (but then Rye has always been full of characters). Sadly dying at the comparatively young age of 64 in 1989 she was not just an artist but an inspirational teacher who also loved a good party. Her humour particularly comes to the fore in a collage entitled ‘Private view’. Produced in 1970 the characters depicted hold their invitation which is addressed to the “Sneerwells”.
But this is just to scratch the surface of an exhibition that was the idea of Louise Simkiss, the education manager of East Sussex WEA (Workers Education Association) with the exhibits being chosen by WEA art students at the Jerwood Gallery in Hastings and working in conjunction with Rye Art Gallery as a Community Curated style project and learning experience. Whatever is origins, however, this is a fascinating exhibition: a truly eclectic collection displayed to advantage in the Stormont Studios on the top floor of the Art Gallery. With over 700 pieces in the permanent collection to choose from, the students finally came up with the themes of ‘Women collecting’, ‘Women at work’, ‘Local Heroes’ ‘Surprising masterpieces’ and ‘contemporary landscapes’.
One final word for those who have not been to Rye Art Gallery yet: this is not one of those intimidating galleries where you are expected to be an expert in the items on display, but a collection of smallish – almost cosey – rooms and staffed by knowledgeable assistants for whom no question asked is a silly one.
If you haven’t been (or even if you have), do go. Entrance is free and Re: Collection is on from now until February 24. It is open 7 days a week, Monday – Saturday 10:30am to 5pm and Sunday 11am to 4pm.
Image Credits: Peter Wiles, John Minter.