Issue 196
Winter 2016


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Jun 27, 2017
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    The view from The Watchtower

    ArtWork's border spy, Nick Jones, breaks his cover to investigate a possible outbreak of slow art in the heart of the Slow Food town of Berwick-upon-Tweed


    STILL IN BERWICK, across Bridge Street from Foldyard, I spy Gallery 25. Here I meet scott, artist and promoter of the first 'Border Artists' exhibition, at the Watchtower Gallery in Tweedmouth.

    The artists? Peter Hallam, Mick Manning, Brita Granstrom, Samantha Cary, Mark Irving, Paul Stangroom, Peter Podmore, Penny Cuthbert, Sakina Jones, Eric Ritchie, Yvonne Parr, Ken Spencer, Jane Harbottle, Kevin Pedden, Simon Harwood, Gill Walton, Deborah Boyd Whyte, Julia Patton, Andrew Watchorn, Dave Watson, Morag Eaton, Mayger, John Stark, Helen Stephens, Gerry Turley, Jonathan Lloyd, Tania Willis, Chris Vine, Priscilla Eckhard, Paul Kenny, and scott.

    I asked him if artists from the borders are different. He felt that the area attracts artists wary, or simply not in need, of the bright lights, celebrity status, and big bucks of London and the international art scene. By keeping these at arm's length, they retain perspective, proportion, independence and integrity.

    Perhaps they sense how easily metropolitan glamour can seduce, dilute and distort the creative impulse. So, for this show, no agents, no Arts Council grants, no formal selection, no prizes. A collective of artists, showing together. Thanks to scott, making it happen, and to Kate Stephenson's Watchtower Gallery. A great space, run with passion and soul, important to local cultural life.

    The last exhibition, 'The Tweed & Its Industries,' showcased how the river Tweed has defined lives and livelihoods, including salmon fishing, boat building, coastal trading, and rope making. It attracted great interest from people who'd never been inside a gallery before. Now that they have crossed that border once, and enjoyed it, they will again.

    So my next question is, "Do the borders change the artist, and the art; or does the art change the borders?" Only one way, and one person, who can answer that – you!

    My pennyworth? Artists, seeing the world differently, change the way we see it. They push the boundaries, dare to look over, fall off, or create new edges – real, psychological or perceptual.

    Borders don't just define limits, they demand connections, making crossing thresholds important, symbolically or actually; and, sadly, in modern times, often difficult or impossible.

    So, another challenge for the artists, and you. Can they bridge the gap? Are you receiving them? Or is the language incomprehensible, the medium alien, and the message mysterious? Given the variety and quality of work in this exhibition, and the different styles, media and approaches of these artists, I feel sure that it will speak to you.

    Photography, printmaking, book illustration, painting, drawing, assemblage and more...all are here.

    Last question. Is this border town different to other border towns? Pass. But I sense that Berwick, a Slow Food town, is beginning to feel like a slow art town too – a place that respects and is inspired by local qualities and elements.

    I see its artists as alchemists. Clear light, sea, lots of space, a strong sense of past times, these are their raw materials, imagination the catalyst.

    So, don't think the borders a sleepy backwater for retiring wallflowers. It's no stranger to the edgy, dangerous, and risky. An unpredictable place where change, conflict and difference has been stark, raw, and unsettling.

    The Watchtower has a markedly defensive look about it. Ideal for keeping a weather eye on what's happening across the Tweed, once the border between England and Scotland. So, when you do visit, keep your eyes open, you never know what you might see!

    More details on the website : http://www.scottsgallery.co.uk/border-artists-2017
    The Border Artists, at the Watchtower Gallery, 79 West End, Tweedmouth, Berwick-upon-Tweed TD15 2HE. From May 6 to June 2.
    Open Thursdays to Sundays noon to 4pm.

    NICK JONES

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