I have an appalling sense of direction. I won’t say that I have no sense of direction because I’ve got a reasonable idea of where I’ve been once I’ve got there, if you catch my drift; it’s just the getting there that proves a little problematic. There are plenty among us who can stride purposefully left, right, north, south, east and west in an eminently admirable fashion and I have really tried to adopt the same approach but, truth to tell, most of the time I just amble. I rather like the sound of ambling, it has a comforting roundness to it. The m and the b go so well together. Philip E Marlow in Dennis Potter’s ‘The Singing Detective’ felt the same about elbow. For Ray Bradbury it was cinnamon, J R R Tolkien argued the case for cellar door and James Joyce had a thing about a cuspidor. Personally, I like to amble, because when I amble, by sheer serendipitous happenstance (try saying that without smiling), I’ll sometimes find a rare delight. This was the case last week when I was in Teignmouth and I wandered into an art exhibition.
It was the open door that attracted me – well, you have to look inside, don’t you? And then it was the brightness of the light and the explosion of colour as I entered. By serendipity, I learned that this exhibition was part of a countywide two-week event to celebrate the incredible diversity and creativity amongst Devon’s artistic community or, to give it its full title, Devon Artist Network’s Open Studios, 2019. I had happened upon one of the one hundred and thirty-six venues across the county, involving contributions from two hundred and fifty artists – staggering statistics. This one, ‘Eight Studios @ TAAG’, was run by the Teignmouth Action Arts Group. Here for two weeks from 7th to 22nd September you could pop in and chat to eight artists as they worked. The artists involved were Jan White, Michelle Greenwood Brown, Donna Hogarth, Emma Appels-Riley, Jayne Farleigh, Diana Kleyn, Avenda Burnell Walsh and Ann Lunn
I spoke first to Donna Hogarth, whose fabric work was startling in its bold use of line and colour, prompting me to recall the orestone Robert MacFarlane refers to in ‘Landmarks’, rich and redolent with the sea’s tang. To be able to talk to Avenda Burnell Walsh about her series, ‘The Corsets Are Off’, her take on centuries of women’s portraiture, was a delight. Her portrait of Anne of Cleves is begging for an ekphrastic poem, just to put the record straight, if nothing else, for Henry VIII’s much-maligned fourth wife. What arrested me most, however, was the generosity with which these artists shared their work and ideas. I felt a sudden rush of gratitude for the way this whole venture with its excellent (free) guide had enabled me to amble unannounced into the creative spaces of such talented people. It put me in mind too of other ventures, where people give freely of their time in order that we all might cast our creative nets yet more widely and I remembered ‘The Blue Nib’, with Dave Kavanagh steering his team of volunteers towards their next launch and I felt wonderfully blessed. Blessed by the moment, blessed by the sunshine, blessed that, when the designer price tag is all you see, there are still people who strive freely to share their artistic wealth with us and to support us on our own creative journeys.
As I stepped out into Northumberland Place once more, I forgot about ambling, I started to skip.