I recently stumbled across a small art exhibition in Shoreham that spoke so strongly of Sussex that I was compelled to stop and take breath. With what feels like a combination of symmetry and geometry, Wealden Dreaming explores the spiritual and cultural dimensions behind our Sussex landscape. The work is both strikingly simple and complex at the same time, causing the Sussex viewer to reflect on their own childhood anecdotes of the county whilst taking the viewer on a deep journey into what makes us Sussex.
The work is a nine-image cycle with three triptychs of Giclee images in a mixed-media format. Artist Chris Sedgwick describes the work as a “very personal journey through my 50 plus years of living in the Wealden area” inspired by an afternoon of daydreaming and reflecting on top of Devils Dyke in the Spring of 2019. “It draws on the internalisation of the landscape taking images and themes from my lived experience. A kind of partial biography.”
Each image tells its own story and a different aspect of the Weald that has touched Sedgwick in some way and the whole exhibition is “unified through the adoption of an organic downland form rotated via the points of the compass”.
The top triptych – Night into Day
The top triptych includes the Uffington Horse, 12th century Adam and Eve and the Millennium Horse and represents the transformation from the Iron Age Uffington Horse on the Berkshire Downs to the Millennium Horse in Kent – a rough line between these two might pass through Hardham and the well preserved 12th century murals in the church, from which Adam and Eve have been faithfully redrawn. Chris describes this triptych as a reflection of the spiritual dimension of the downland landscape and explains he was intrigued by Uffington Horse’s Celtic feel and its influence on local culture, even today with pubs and wines still named after it. Adam and Eve present a lifting of the darkness and as well as a representation of the amazing survival of the story of the Garden of Eden mural inside Hardham Church. The final image in this triptych symmetrically represents the persistence of the horse in its millennium form in Kent (whose symbol is Invictus). Often known as the White Horse, the colour of course comes from chalk – a feature in Wealden history which persists as strongly as any Christian image.
The central triptych – Above and Below
With Above and Below, Sedgwick seeks to capture the act of daydreaming and the formation of images in the mind’s eye. The geological story of the region is overlaid by fossilised shells often found in the chalk and Sedgwick includes their local, everyday names rather than their scientific ones: Lamp Shell, Serpents Shell and Fairy Heart.
The third triptych – Past into Present
The final of the triptych depicts the Piltdown Man, 17 Protestant martyrs and artist Paul Nash, representing those who have left a legacy, good or bad, which persists today: the fakery of Charles Dawson, the fundamentalism of Queen Mary, and the unique vision of artist Paul Nash. The Lewes bonfire is renowned for the 17 Protestant martyrs who were burnt to death under the orders of Catholic Queen Mary. The reach of the bonfire societies is long and practically every village in East Sussex has its own society which is usually represented at Lewes. The Piltdown man is a local legend etched into the memories of many of the children of Sussex, whilst artist Paul Nash (a huge influence on Chris’ work), spent much of his time on the south coast and on the North Downs.
Chris has lived in the Weald since he was six and completed a foundation year at art school and eighteen months as an assistant in a commercial art studio in London. With a degree in the History of Art, Modern Period and inspired by a move to Upper Beeding in 2007, he took evening classes in Lino printing and was lucky enough to be taught by Karolyn Mnich. Chris then discovered digital and Giclee printing and realised that many of the techniques learnt at a commercial art studio in the early nineteen eighties dovetailed very well with the principles of relief printing.
He now uses the layering principles common to both the pre – digital commercial art era combined with the experience gained working with Lino. He uses drawing, painting, collage, and paper cut to create pieces which are then put through the Giclee process, an extremely high-resolution digital method of reproducing artwork. His subject is the local landscape. Chris explains, “the landscape feels like part of me. As long as I live in this landscape I will never run short of inspiration!”
The exhibition is on until the 30th July at Shoreham Art Gallery in its entirety but some collected images will be on display until September. A collected edition may also be on display at the Worthing Open (Oct to Jan).
You can find out more or visit at: https://www.shorehamgallery.co.uk/