Artist with 20/20 vision

HIDDEN down a backstreet in the extraordinarily beautiful French hilltop village of Saint-Paul de Vence is an unassuming chapel which was once the home of a brotherhood of pious laymen who did good works to earn forgiveness for their sins. 

Today it houses some remarkable works created by the Belgian artist Jean-Michel Folon, who was commissioned by the town’s mayor to renovate the building. It was to be the artist’s final commission before his death in 2005 at the age of 71, and it turned into a sanctuary of light and serenity encapsulating the work of the Pénitents Blancs while at the same time immortalising Folon’s love for the village.

Known for his illustrations and posters for Unesco and Amnesty International as well as large-scale sculptures in Brussels and Lisbon,  Folon’s vision was completed posthumously by a select group of artisans and master glassmakers. One wall is dominated by an immense mosaic of the village (above), while other murals and stained-glass windows evoke the theme of giving, in keeping with the vocation of the Penitents.

The first traces of the brotherhood in Saint-Paul date from 1581 and they existed in the village until the 1920s. Their charity work with the underprivileged included caring for the sick, handing out clothing and food, and giving grain to farmers in trouble. They would also offer food and shelter to lost travellers and penniless pilgrims. Similar religious congregations of penitents are known by the different colours of their habits – white, black, blue, grey, red, violet and green.

Formally opened in 2008, the chapel is a light-filled joyous place, from the stunning baptismal font (below) to the pastel walls and striking sculptures – but these works also hark back to earlier themes about the preservation of the environment, which is why his work seemed so well suited to being singled out as the first Beyonder tweet of the new decade.

It’s almost 30 years since Folon brought together a series of engravings and posters in an exhibition called Notre Terre which ran in several small towns in France, followed by a collaboration in Italy addressing the same subject – and leaving a legacy of large posters covering the walls of Italian cities for several years afterwards.

Today, the artworks in the Folon Chapel provide a welcome oasis of peace in the heart of the village, which became such a focus for artistic endeavour almost exactly a century ago.

Artists first started frequenting Saint-Paul at the beginning of the 1920s. The trail blazers – Paul Signac, Raoul Dufy and Chaïm Soutine – set up their easels attracted by the colours and rich, intense light, and were soon followed by visitors like Matisse and Picasso.

The artists enjoyed the company of Paul Roux – a painter, art collector and the owner of the famous Colombe d’Or restaurant, whose walls are still adorned with their paintings today.

By the 1950s and 1960s, the village had become a melting pot of talent, with poets, artists and writers rubbing shoulders with the movie stars drawn to the French Riviera by the Victorine film studios in Nice and the Cannes Film Festival.

Find out more about the Folon Chapel on the village website.

Local artists open their doors

ART lovers in Buckinghamshire who enjoyed this year’s open studios events should make a note in their diaries for June 2020.

Once again, hundreds of local artists and makers across the county will be throwing open their doors for a fortnight next summer to showcase their work.

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SOUNDS OF NATURE: Two Wrens, Singing by Sue Graham

The Bucks Arts Weeks project – which follows similar events across Oxfordshire in May – allows the public a unique opportunity to hear artists, sculptors, printmakers, photographers and jewellery makers talk about their work and see them in action.

The open studios scheme has been running in Buckinghamshire since 1985 and all the events are free to the public – including exhibitions, pop-up displays and dozens of working studios.

From calligraphy to ceramics and sculpture to digital art, the skills on display include printmaking, jewellery, drawing and painting, metalwork and photography.

For wildlife and nature lovers, highlights include many works inspired by or reflecting the natural world, including animal portraits and sculptures, and paintings rooted in the local Chilterns landscape.

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OPEN STUDIOS: artist Sue Graham at work

Geographically the open studios and exhibitions stretch from Milton Keynes and Buckingham in the north to Aylesbury, Chesham, High Wycombe, Chorleywood, Henley and Maidenhead, on the southern edge of the county.

Some towns like Princes Risborough, Amersham and Chesham have their own trail maps and exhibitors are grouped geographically to make it possible to visit a number at a time.

In 2020 the programme takes place from June 6 to June 21, incorporating three weekends.

Past highlights have included striking works by local artists like Sue Graham which have graphically illustrated the loss of birdsong from woods and gardens.

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MISSING VOICES: Going, Going, Gone by Sue Graham

To the north of the county, the striking fine art photographs of David Quinn have reflected landscapes from the Outer Hebrides to Vietnam, while Katy Quinn has also found inspiration in the landscapes of Scotland and Scandinavia for her jewellery and glass art.

Pop-up exhibitions suddenly appear in churches and village halls across the county, but visitors have to slip into Bedfordshire to see the striking landscapes of Graham Pellow, who works in a variety of mediums and has found inspiration in his local surroundings since moving to Leighton Buzzard.

Another artist inspired by local landscapes is Alexandra Buckle, many of whose linocuts are woodland themed, reflecting her love of walking her dog in the woods. Her proximity to National Trust properties like Stowe, Waddesdon and Claydon also allows easy access to locations which can provide watery reflections and scenes with interesting combinations of colours or dramatic light.

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SENSE OF HISTORY: An Epsiode of Sparrows by Julie Rumsey

Further south in the Chalfonts, working from her gorgeous garden studio in Chalfont St Giles, Julie Rumsey has branched out into mixed media work using acrylic as well as her eye-catching collagraphs, many of which have been inspired by ancient naïve artefacts.

She haa exhibited alongside contemporary fine artist E J England, who often uses damaged vintage books as a canvas and whose works are inspired by the landscapes, cityscapes, flora and fauna of the British Isles.

Animals, flowers and the natural world also provide inspiration for the work of Jay Nolan-Latchford,whose eclectic body of art and home decor ranges from watercolour illustrations with embellishments through to large mixed media canvases.

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INTO THE NIGHT: Jay Nolan-Latchford creates a mystical mood

Sally Bassett is another artist inspired by the Chiltern countryside, as well as the wild sea coasts of the west country. Her work explores and celebrates the seasons of the year, her paintings dynamic, bold and full of colour, energy and movement.

Similar themes are echoed by artist and tutor Susan Gray, who runs workshops and painting days from her studio in Wendover and exhibits in Cornwall and London, as well as in Buckinghamshire.

Also drawing inspiration from the beauty of the Chilterns countryside is Christine Bass, whose vivid tropical colour schemes betray her Trinidadian roots and feature extraordinary scenes across the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty from Ivinghoe Beacon to Bledlow Ridge.

She is one of a number of artists and craft workers who have shown their work in the atmospheric surroundings of St Dunstan’s Church in Monks Risborough.

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FAVOURITE WALK: a track beneath Ivinghoe Beacon

During the fortnight of displays and demonstrations, visitors can buy or commission work – or even try their hand at some of the skills or sign up for classes. Prices range from postcards and small gifts costing a few pounds to major pieces of original artwork or sculpture costing hundreds.

Any artist or maker interested in taking part next year should contact the organisers on admin@bucksartweeks.org.uk.

Hundreds of artists are featured at venues across Buckinghamshire from June 6 until June 21. Free hard copy directories are available from May from art galleries, libraries, tourist information centres and participating venues.

Vivid view from the ridge

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UP TO THE RIDGE: one of Christine’s AONB landscapes

PLENTY of artists draw their inspiration from the beauty of the Chilterns countryside.

What makes Christine Bass’s contemporary landscapes so unusual is the vividness of her tropical colour schemes, which betray her Trinidadian roots.

More than 30 of the paintings on her website feature extraordinary scenes across the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty from Ivinghoe Beacon to Bledlow Ridge.

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NEAR BLEDLOW: original acrylic and mixed media

Her landscapes are characterised by strong lines and shapes, flattened planes and the use of vibrant colour. She grew up in Trinidad and it’s easy to see how the bright light and vivid colours of the tropics still exert an influence in her paintings.

She draws inspiration from the countryside where she lives, on the Buckinghamshire border with Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire – and her work is on show until Sunday June 24 as part of this year’s Bucks Arts Weeks displays.

She is one of nine artists and craft workers currently showing their work in the atmospheric surroundings of St Dunstan’s Church in Monks Risborough.

Track beneath Ivinghoe Beacon

FAVOURITE WALK: a track beneath Ivinghoe Beacon

Although other parts of England feature in her paintings too, from the South Coast to Cornwall and the Lake District, the gentle beauty of the Chiltern Hills provides a constant source of pleasure, her pictures capturing the patterns of fields scored by furrows and bounded by hedgerows, the bare trees of winter, the colours of crops and of the seasons.

Christine’s blogsite contains more details about her work and career. The show at St Dunstan’s runs until 5pm on Sunday. Other Bucks Arts Weeks events take place across the county throughout the week, with more than two dozen artists featured on the Princes Risborough Art Trail, which includes venues at Askett and Bledlow.

Landscape masterclass

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Stunning. That’s the word which springs to mind when you first glance through Paul Mitchell’s amazing portfolio of pictures chronicling the seasons in one of Britain’s most famous woodlands.

It’s a magical world which is constantly changing through the seasons, as Paul demonstrates in his startling photographs of Burnham Beeches – that tiny remnant of the ancient woodlands which once covered so much of the country.

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Paul’s ‘album’ contains dozens of uncaptioned shots of the woods throughout the year – draped in snow, dappled by sunlight, looking mystical and enchanting, sometimes intriguing and welcoming, sometimes otherworldy and even scary.

He explains: “The portfolio is my response to this world of wonder and features images made in the icy grip of winter, the vibrancy of springtime, the green canopy of summer, through to the richness of autumn.”

Burnham Beeches was bought by the City of London Corporation in the latter part of the 19th century to safeguard the area from property developers and to protect its future for generations to come.

As Paul explains, the landscape of the Site of Special Scientific Interest was created by human management going back many centuries and has provided grazing land for livestock and fuel via the pollarding of beech and oak trees which has not only helped to  prolong the lives of the trees, but help to give them their characteristic  gnarled appearance.

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Born in East Yorkshire, Paul now lives and runs his own design consultancy in Buckinghamshire and tries to devote most of his free time to photographing the landscape.

He has had numerous exhibitions and has had articles and images published in many photographic magazines.

Sunrise scoops top award

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Marcio Cabral’s award-winning Cerrado Sunrise

A picture of the vast ecological region known as the Cerrado in Brazil has won first place in this year’s International Garden Photographer of the Year.

Marcio Cabral of Brasilia, Brazil, scooped the award with his winning image entitled Cerrado Sunrise.

Tyrone McGlinchey, managing director of IGPOTY said: “Marcio has captured a spectacular vision of plant life in the Cerrado, displaying the beautiful flowers of Paepalanthus chiquitensis, stretching out on countless filaments towards the first light of the rising sun.”

Gardens and landscape scenes from all around the world have also been commended in the competition, showing nature in all seasons, from rolling hills of golden rice in China to a flower-smelling hamster in Austria.

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Early Dinner by Henrik Spranz shows a wild hamster smelling a flower in Vienna, Austria

Stunning images

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Turville, Michael King’s stunning portrait of a red kite featuring in this year’s online exhibition from the Chiltern Society’s Photogroup

The Chiltern Society PhotoGroup’s 2018 online exhibition has just opened, now in its 14th year and featuring nearly 300 photos from Chiltern-based members.

Landscapes are the most popular subjects in the 2018 collection, closely followed by some spectacular flora and fauna. This year’s guest reviewer is Terry Coffey, a judge with the Chiltern Association of Camera Clubs, who particularly liked this wonderful shot of a red kite over smoky Turville by Michael King.

The society will be featuring more submissions from PhotoGroup members on its Twitter, Instagram & Facebook pages. Follow them @chilternsociety.

Create some ‘happy little trees’

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THERE could hardly be a painter whose geographical sources of inspiration are further removed from the gentle landscapes of the Chilterns that the soft-spoken American cult art legend Bob Ross.

But budding artists don’t need to focus on the mountains and log cabins in Ross’s pictures to pick up some handy technical tips from the inspiring host of the US TV program The Joy of Painting, which aired from 1983 to 1994 and still enthrals millions today on Youtube.

There are plenty of “happy little trees” in Black Park, after all, and dozens of Ross’s video tutorials to choose from for anyone tempted to crack out the titanium white and give his trademark wet-on-wet technique a shot.

Perhaps part of Ross’s timeless appeal is the fact he was himself a convert to art after attending a painting class in Anchorage during his 20 years in the US Air Force and honed his own techniques at the feet of another TV artist, the German painter Bill Alexander.

Ross’s enduring appeal stems in part from his distinctive laid-back style, quaint catchphrases and eternal upbeat positivity, and in part from the sheer speed and ease of his quick-painting technique. If you’re ever tempted by the idea of painting but never got round to giving it a try, check out Ross’s official Youtube channel, which has around a million subscribers.