Trying to find enough time to paint has been a theme running through Andrew Blyth’s life. Whilst juggling employment and voluntary roles in Rye, his ambition has always been to devote more time to his real love – painting. Andrew has made an enormous contribution to the town with his voluntary work, but he has now largely put that aside to develop new creative ideas that he has been mulling over for some time.
A selection of Andrew’s work is currently showing at the Rye Society of Artists Exhibition at the Dance Hall in Conduit Hill until August 31, 10:30am-5:30pm daily. If you read this in time, do go and see some of Andrew’s landscapes of the area and also to get a flavour of the work of many practising artists living in and around Rye.
Andrew is well known for his watercolours that are inspired by his love of light, atmosphere and movement. “I enjoy the architectural uniqueness of Rye with the mix of styles going back over many centuries. The relationship with the landscape offers a lot of variety for artists. I love the Romney Marsh churches and each one stands out as a piece of sculpture in the landscape – particularly Fairfield”. His paintings are figurative: townscapes, marshes, sea, still life and floral and, more recently, animals.
Developing his craft
Andrew’s love affair with art as a child initially led him to a long period of study – a seven year course in architecture at Brighton School of Architecture followed by a five year part time course in landscape architecture. “The school was also part of the Art school so my interaction with artists began early on”. He went on to set up in private practice where his work led him to the Middle East for six years designing for the royal court including palaces and a royal hospital.
After retiring from architecture in the mid 90s, he and his partner, Liz Butt, set up The Fountain Gallery in Hampton Court which they ran as a conventional commercial gallery for two years. “Running a commercial business didn’t allow me any time to paint, so I decided to set up an artist co-operative which went from strength to strength and is still running. I still exhibit there, recently with two other Rye artists – Andy Wood and Andrew Ashton”.
Asked about the link between art and architecture he said : “My painting style is very different from architectural rendering and I moved away from a prescribed way of drawing. My god is Turner and I’ve tried to absorb what he stood for. Underneath the looseness there is a discipline but the craft of draughtsman stops there.” Through his subtle use of line, tone and colour, Andrew’s work conveys beautifully the language of watercolours.
He had always liked the South Coast and hoped one day to design and build a house in the area. Liz’s grandfather, Eric Mason, lived in South Ridge in Rye and so they were frequent visitors. Whilst looking at a property for sale in Rye they noticed the house next door which had an enforcement notice relating to the structure of the balcony (pictured). “It was an architect’s dream, an attractive period house in need of a lot of refurbishment but with great potential”.
The owners were happy to sell and they moved in and began renovation work in 2002. There is no mistaking that the house is home to two creative individuals – art and musical instruments fill the rooms and his light-filled art/design studio looks out over a beautifully landscaped garden.
Andrew’s talents were quickly recognised when he moved to Rye and he was snapped up for voluntary work by local organisations. He became Head of Planning with the Rye Conservation Society for seven years, reviewing all applications to Rother and working with the Society to protect Rye’s heritage.
At the same time he became a Trustee of the Rye Art Gallery where he masterminded the architectural design of the new extension (pictured below) which took four years from concept to completion. The Rye Art Gallery design went on to win a major award from Sussex Heritage Trust as well as a Townscape award from the Rye Conservation Society. In addition to his design work he was also involved in artistic development, considering all items to be displayed or sold in the Gallery.
The time has come
Since retiring from voluntary work, Andrew has started to travel more to paint. He had a recent exhibition in London of his paintings of Venice and intends in the future to feature Florence, Edinburgh and Dublin – as well as Rye. “I am planning to develop a book of my Rye paintings with the text written by my partner, Liz”.
Music plays a large part in his and Liz’s life. She is a music therapist who set up and runs The Music Well Charity which promotes well-being through music. As a jazz pianist, Andrew is a fan of the Rye Jazz Festival which he feels is a great addition to the town. Of the annual Rye Arts Festival (booking now) he said: “I welcome the development of the visual arts events this year as they haven’t always promoted them fully in Rye”.
Andrew takes commissions, mainly from people in Rye wanting him to paint their houses, but his most recent commission is to paint Battersea Power Station as it was in 1943 taken from a set of photographs. With the iconic chimneys being rebuilt after demolition this sounds a really interesting and topical project. Now that Andrew finally has time to paint we look forward to seeing more of his work in and on Rye – and to hearing his jazz quintet.
Photos: Andrew Blyth and Dee Alsey