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Wednesday, 08 February 2017 11:51

Love is in the air at The Witham

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Audrey Hepburn is reputed to have once said, "There is a shade of red for every woman." It is with that quote that I summons all Lovers and Admirers looking for that 'special something' for Valentine's Day to visit the Gallery at The Witham to take in a passionate, heartfelt exhibition composed largely of shades of red (and several shades of grey!).

Romance and Roses is an exhibition that draws upon artists' interpretations of love and romance. It continues until Saturday 25 February 2017. The Gallery and Dispensary Gallery are open from 10am to 4pm Tuesday to Saturday, admission is free, and all works are for sale - purchases should be made in the Shop.


This exhibition aims to present interpretations of that special something at a time of the year when people are turning their attention to matters of the heart, from the serenity and balance of Sarah Robley's Love Birds, to Mark A Pearce's tulip prints depicting stamens bursting beneath passionately coloured petals. From Gary Walsh's photographs depicting the bashful inability to look a loved one in the eye - when one finds oneself blushing and gazing at our shoes, to the flirtatious playfulness of Katie Edwards' True Love, the inescapable tumbling sensation of falling down a fantastical rabbit hole, as painted by Margaret Weavill, to the sensual fluidity of paint across the canvas of Jane Young's abstract painting, Love Flows... here is a selection of art that depicts how love and romance come in all shapes and sizes, introducing itself when least expected, taking one by surprise, and taking hold with an all consuming gush of inescapable emotion.

From a depiction of a quiet walk in the woods, a last Rolo, a remembered sunset, a single red rose, or a tender caress, there is no single way to describe the intangible sensation that means so many different things to so many different people. This notion of the multi-faceted nature of love, and the evolutionary behavior of love is perhaps best illustrated in Royden Astrop's oeuvre.


Taking the seemingly straightforward motif of a love heart Astrop uses transforms its simplicity into something a whole lot more complicated, and real. Constantly pushing the boundaries in his use and selection of materials, Royden Astrop’s alchemic art practice is innovative, experimental, and often very dangerous to make.

A self-taught artist, he works across different media constantly striving to invent new techniques to create highly original, powerful pieces of art work. Although the methods he uses are often extreme, the end results are beautiful, carefully considered, and intricately worked ethereal works of art. From painting with fire, sculpting with reclaimed barbed wire, to identifying the potential in the most difficult parts of wood to work with, Astrop’s oeuvre is truly unique.

The fire paintings shown in this exhibition are created using a single red pigment, all other shading and tonal structures are formed by the fire and soot deposits on the manipulated impasto paint and surface of the support. The final painting of a single heart is both striking and fragile, and can only hint at the extreme process that created it. Equally, the barbed wire sculptures that hang high in windows and overhead throughout The Witham are new works of art created for this exhibition, and were hung by Astrops' bleeding arms and punctured palms, lacerated by the process of working with such hostile material (he assured us that his tetanus was up to date!). In his previous career as a warzone TV news cameraman, Royden traveled extensively, and his experiences continue to influence both the explosive nature of his techniques, and the resulting beautiful abstracted interpretations of his subject matter.

All artists exhibiting in this exhibition are regional. By investing in high quality, original artwork, you are supporting both The Witham arts centre, and the local economy.

by Sarah Mayhew Craddock
Visual Arts Coordinator at The Witham

Give the Gift of Art this Christmas

The inaugural Teesdale Christmas Art Fair is now well underway, and we're all very pleased to report that the exhibition has been met with great enthusiasm. It's an exhibition of painting, printmaking and sculpture by thirty artists working in, or inspired by, County Durham, Cumbria and Yorkshire, and it presents a very exciting opportunity to buy unique works of art created by some of the most talented, regional fine artists just in time for Christmas.


There are over 100 works of art on display as part of the exhibition, and about the same number again in the browsers, adding up to A LOT of beautiful art to enjoy and hopefully purchase!

We've had some lovely feedback from those of you that have managed to make a trip to The Gallery and the Dispensary Gallery  already to see the show, and the *ping* of the till drawer opening has been jingle bells to our ears! In short, we'd just like to say thank you to all who have visited and "THERE'S STILL TIME!" to those that haven't! The exhibition 'officially' closes on the 20th December, however, our doors will still be open on the 21st, when people will be coming to collect works that they have bought (you're welcome to take things away the day that you buy them if it's easier).

We had a nice write up last week in the Darlington and Stockton Times about the exhibition, that's available to read online here, and even closer to home, The Editor of Barnard Castle's local paper, the Teesdale Mercury, has been in to visit the exhibition. He made lots of positives noises, and took a particular shine to Sarah Harris' screen print, Upper Wensleydale, which he felt is so very evocative of local landscapes both in terms of palette and the physical markers on the landscape that divide it up and tell the story of the land's various functions.

Commenting on the print, Harris said,
"The valley has been shaped into what we see today by it’s farming heritage. The high fells are home to Swaledale sheep that roam around the miles of dry stone walls, dotted with stone barns, which create wonderful patterns in the landscape."

With regards to feedback from the public, here's a selection of comments that we've heard and received...

"What a great exhibition. Certainly the very best we've had here!" (our favourite!)
"Great collection of quality work!"
"It's so exciting to see The Gallery and Cafe filled by so many diverse works of beautiful art."
"Stunning work in a variety of media. Well worth a visit."
"Super, diverse exhibition showing how the area can be reflected in so many ways."
"I need to bring my husband here to decide which we are going to buy!"

All work in the exhibition is available to buy, and works start at about £30. By buying art from The Witham you are helping to support the livelihood of individual artists in the region, and helping to develop the programme and visitor experience that we are able to offer at The Witham - please spread the word about this exhibition amongst your friends and contacts (we need one another!).

That said, there are other ways that members of the public can support the visual arts programme at The Witham... we are currently looking for volunteer Gallery Assistants, and would be delighted to hear from you if you are an enthusiastic individual with an appreciation of the arts, and a bit of time to dedicate to helping us to be our very best. Katy Taylor our Executive Director explains;

“Christmas is about giving as well as taking, by supporting The Witham, you’re supporting arts and culture in the community. The Witham sits at the heart of Barnard Castle, and aims to be a beacon for the arts in the region. Volunteers are the backbone of our organisation, and critical to our success. We’d love to encourage more volunteers to join our small, and friendly team to help us realise our ambitious plans.”

More information about volunteering at The Witham can be found here

Now all that is left to do is wish all of our visitors, and artists, a happy and healthy festive season and new year. We look forward to welcoming you back to The Witham for more creative feasts in 2017.


Wednesday, 30 November 2016 16:58

Anne Mason exhibition in the Gallery at The Witham

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Regular visitors to the Gallery at The Witham will probably have come across Anne Mason's work before, however, her current exhibition marks a departure away from the accomplished watercolour landscapes that she has become known for.

Anne Mason is an illustrator, painter and printmaker who lives and works in Eggleston, Teesdale in the North Pennines. Whilst her works spans various media, her subjects remain consistent. Mason is a keen fell walker and birdwatcher, and as such her work mainly depicts local landmarks, rural life and encounters in Teesdale, the Yorkshire Dales, and Cumbria.

Her current exhibition at The Witham, which opened on 22 November and continues until 3 December, shows much of her new work, wood cut engraving, drypoint engraving and monoprints, alongside some of her watercolours and some beautiful oil paintings.

Mason was moved to start printmaking after a trip to Norway where she became interested in woodcuts after a visit to the Bergen Art Gallery. In the gallery Mason encountered work by Nikoli Astrup (1880 - 1928), a contemporary of Edvard Munch. Astrup was an artist and a farmer from South-West Norway who made work about Norwegian rural life. He often used oil paint to make his prints and turned them into mono paintings by reworking the impressions, he also made his own plates by planeing down pieces of alder wood.

Upon returning to her home studio Mason started to make work in black and white as a contrast to her coloured paintings and has started to make small drypoint engravings with print runs of about 20. Commenting on this new body of work Mason explained,

"Each print is unique depending on how much ink is wiped off the plate; some are darker, some are lighter... Recently I have been making some oil paintings, I have made these looser and more expressive than my watercolours. I like to work in contrasts. The lush application of oil paint against the delicacy of fine watercolours and drawings."


Mason's is a very beautiful exhibition that portrays the physicality and challenges of rural existence in and around Teesdale through a palette that is harmonious yet moody, brushstrokes and cuts that are purposeful and powerful, and drypoint engravings that are fine and sensitive. Whilst Mason is clearly a talented watercolourist, her oil paintings and printmaking offers so much more emotion and tells a much greater story than is offered through her earlier work.

by Sarah Mayhew Craddock
Visual Arts Coordinator

Wednesday, 16 November 2016 13:20

paperscissorsbook by Highlights Contemporary Craft Tour 2016

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Highlights Rural Touring Scheme have returned to the Gallery at The Witham with their Contemporary Craft Tour 2016. This year they have brought yet another stunning exhibition to Barnard Castle showcasing the best of current paper-cut and artist's books. From exquisite hand-cut paper to the latest laser-cut techniques; ambitious sculptural paper works, installation and intimate book works.

The artists explore a variety of themes with a deft stitch here, a sharp scalpel there, coated with a generous helping of wry humour. The exhibition shows work by British and internationally celebrated stars of paper-cut and artist’s books as well as exciting emerging artists and an exceptionally talented artist from Teesdale. Exhibiting artists include:

Rob Ryan, Mayumi Arakawa, Linda Toigo, Priya Pereira, Andy Singleton, Chloe Wing, Clare Lindley, Jan Hopkins, Christian Barnes, Elizabeth Shorrock, Annwyn Dean, Les Bicknell, Florence Boyd, Alison Waters, Elizabeth Willow, Claire Peach, Nicky McNaney, Shannon Bartlett-Smith, Marta Daeuble, Joanna Robson.

Below are a few images highlighting a selection of these fantastic and fascinating works. The exhibition expands beyond the Gallery into Barnard Castle's library closes this Sunday at 3pm coinciding with The Witham's Designer Makers Market (which will take place on the 19 and 20 November:

by Sarah Mayhew Craddock
Visual Arts Coordinator

Friday, 04 November 2016 16:51

Barnard Castle Art Society Annual Exhibition

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The Barnard Castle Art Society Annual Exhibition is now up in the Gallery at The Witham... and it looks great! There's a real variety of works on display from some truly fabulous felting (not in the least bit twee, but beautiful gradations of colour making up a delightful, painterly, yet appropriately textured, seaside scene), to perfect pastels with palettes and compositions that echo those of Dutch Still Life paintings, to charming, semi-abstract mixed-media works on canvas. In short, there's something to delight everyone in this exhibition including a display that explains what it means to be a member of the long established Barnard Castle Art Society. Here are a few images to whet your appetite, though the nature of the works, some of which are behind glass, mean there's no substitute to coming to the Gallery and seeing the display for yourself!


The Barnard Castle Art Society Annual Exhibition continues until 4pm on Thursday 10 November 2016. The Gallery is open 10am to 4pm Tuesday to Saturday. Admission is free.

by Sarah Mayhew Craddock
Visual Arts Coordinator

Having gone to see Mavis Sparkle on Wednesday, I was very excited to see what David Gibb could offer the audience today. On stage resembled something of an unconventional orchestra pit – a guitar, a banjo, a keyboard, an accordion and a soprano saxophone adorned the stage. As 11 o’clock struck, David Gibb came out from the curtain, and introduced himself. He had grown up in Derby, but now lived in Oxford – quite a way to come. Right from the word ’go’ he did not fail to entertain us. We started off doing the all-important warming up, in the key of C. Oli Matthews was then introduced to us, and the duo played a couple of numbers; David on the acoustic guitar / singing and Oli on the clarinet. The first of these was called ‘From A-B’, and involved audience participation, singing a few bars from the chorus. After Oli had switched to the soprano saxophone, they went straight on to play ‘There’s a Dragon in my Bedroom’ which made us all laugh. Oli then left us to take a break, whilst David asked us all our favourite animals. He then told us a story from his childhood, when his family had a dog who could do all the standard tricks but just wouldn’t perform them for David. He explained that this was because he was six, and their dog was seven, and so higher than him in the pecking order. A song about this experience followed which included woofing and howling from the audience. David then got his banjo out, and we had fun listening to the English Folk song he played, whilst making the sounds that our favourite animals make.

David then invited Oli back to the stage and they played ‘Climb that Tree’, which is the title track for his second album. For this song, we had actions. Oli was back on clarinet and David was on the keyboard. Next David jumped back on his trusty guitar, with Oli on sax to deliver the penultimate song. It was called ‘Colours of the Rainbow’ and we had actions for this one too. Finally, it was time for the last song. The guitar and accordion were played, which provided a really nice blend of sound. The song was titled ‘Sailing 1, 2, 3’ and the words were from a poem which David had found in a book. This was a great closing to the show, and everyone had had fun.

It was an inspiring performance with many laughs. Oli and David are brilliant musicians, and David in particular has certainly achieved his goal of developing “brilliant music for children with lots of actions and singing along.” There was simple construction to all these songs, but that made the performance very effective. It was amazing. David Gibb will be performing at the Sage, Gateshead on the 21st October 2017, and I strongly urge that you go and see this wonderful musician for yourselves.


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