Julia Brett, who founded the Woodford Arts Group one year ago, looks at the group’s successes to date and their plans for the year ahead, and explains why the local area has always appealed to artists.
This time last year, the Woodford Arts Group consisted of a few local artists who had responded to a call-out on the Next Door app. This was for Woodford-based artists who were interested in getting together for mutual support and the possibility of starting an art-exhibiting group.
Within five months, we had our first exhibition. We had no idea what to expect and I suppose neither did any of the 250 visitors who came along to Packfords Hotel to see what we were about. We had lots of local interest and sales and were constantly asked when the next event was going to happen. We quickly followed up with an autumn exhibition with a pop-up cafe, again at Packfords, thanks to Debra Packford’s support. This time we exhibited for a week and it was gratifying to see repeat visitors as well as new ones.
Of course, we are not setting any precedents; Woodford and its environs have attracted other artists over the years. So, what is so special about Woodford and how does it influence artists?
One thing is Woodford being part of the forest and another is its historical context. Tudor queens have lodged nearby and many famous and infamous artists have been captivated by its verdant scenery. Jacob Epstein falls into the latter category. He scandalised society by keeping his mistress nearby and painted many scenes here and here about. I came across one of Epstein’s immediately recognisable Epping Forest paintings at the recent Tate Modern Van Gogh influences exhibition. In the same exhibition, Pissarro also had a painting from the same area, and he rented a number of properties locally. Twentieth-century artists include Churchill, Morris and Pankhurst. One of the newest artistic endeavours is that of Marsha David and her partner Digby, who have just started life drawing classes on a Tuesday evening locally.
Members of Woodford Arts Group are equally as influenced. Each season brings its own beauty, which we interpret in different styles. Sometimes, my own work is representational, like Summer Shadows in Knighton Woods (main image above). Others are more abstract, like the winter pond reflections in Lords Bushes (top inset image).
Group member Darren Evans portrays Woodford in a more illustrative style, such as his Woodford montage (bottom inset image). He says he takes in the views while walking with his family and dog. He captures the elements of Woodford, especially the chestnut trees, which are so emblematic of the area.
Shelagh French lives opposite Knighton Woods and is captivated by it and it shows in her work, while Cheryl Gabriel photographs the forest and last year produced a calendar showing the community of dogs in Knighton Woods.
So, how to follow up on our 2019 successes? In spring 2020, we will be travelling the world! Well, Traveller’s Tales is going to be our theme. We will be doing this over a weekend and offering tiffin, tea and tapas. We also plan some plein air painting sessions to encourage people to come and meet our artists so the community can get involved with us.
The best thing about us as a group is that we’re very flexible and open to anything. So, we’ll see what the rest of the year holds for us and respond in a creative way.