I am very lucky to be beginning a Foundation Diploma in Art and Design at West Dean College, Chichester. I first discovered West Dean when Adele exhibited there in 2006, and then again when I sat for Adele’s Portrait Painting weekend course. Edward James was a patron of Salvador Dali and Rene Magritte; in 1964 he founded the Edward James Foundation, for the preservation of traditional arts and crafts ‘knowledge that might otherwise be destroyed or forgotten’. ‘Not to be reproduced’ is Magritte’s portrait of Edward James:
I was struck by the variety of courses available at West Dean. From blacksmithing, ceramics, glass and textiles, to conservation, clock making, instrument making, stone carving, and wood carving to name but a few. Reading the prospectus I was like a child in a sweet shop.
The diploma began with a weekend course ‘Exploring Approaches to Creative Journeys’, led by Frances Hatch and Jane Stobart. It was held in The Orangery, a long conservatory studio flooded with daylight. Outside was a ginkgo tree.
On the first evening, we were greeted by Frances, who had rolled out a length of plain wallpaper from one end of the studio to the other. Placed along the paper were pots of paint, ink, chalks and brushes and sticks. We were told to spread out along either side of the paper and pick up an ‘instrument’. Frances played music and conducted us to create a collaborative Pollockesque masterpiece, which we revisited throughout the course. It was an exercise in embracing chance as a creative energy.
We tore out scraps of it to describe different emotions. Later we used the remains sculpturally:
Frances took us outside to draw trees dancing in the wind, we used only materials that belonged to the trees, sticks, bark, soil and even a mushroom growing nearby. I responded to the sound of the wind in the trees:
For the next exercise we worked with charcoal, rubbing out sections with white bread. Passing round different materials we drew lines upon lines…
As the piece built up…
We began to pick out the shapes of trees
Later we explored colour theory and symbolism with Jane. We also used clay and form to express different ideas; here is ‘sensuousness’:
The weekend was an exciting beginning to what I hope will be an inspiring and expressive couple of years. It is hard not to be inspired by the place itself. I was particularly struck by the taxidermy heads near the Oak Hall. This bison is unfinished, so I will have to revisit him when I return for my next course: