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Somerset Open Studios 2023

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16 September- 1 October

Autumn 2023 sees the long-awaited return of Somerset Open Studios with many Somerset artists opening their studio doors in the first full Open Studios event since 2018. Although a cause for celebration- even triumph- after the trials of the past few years, it is also a time of positive reappraisal as many artists reconfigure their working practice in a changing environment.

This year's event sees many new faces as well as different ways of making work as recent challenges have created fresh and innovative approaches. One thing is certain- the county's incredible community of creatives is as keen as ever to welcome eager visitors, curious to find out more about the alchemy behind the creative process.

Somerset has a proud history of rural craft, making and creative endeavour as showcased in previous SAW projects such as Abundance, Making the Most and A Landscape of Objects. This year, the focus is on the unique creatives industriously working in private and rarely seen spaces, inspired by Somerset's landscape, character and the ancient stories which have shaped this corner of the south west.

One of the great attractions of the event is the way in which established or professional artists show alongside those who are establishing their practice. It's also about discovery; whether it is seeing how the work of a favourite artist has changed or finding something new, unknown. There is a huge variety in art forms and mediums too, as well as traditional and more contemporary work.

Art Weeks is unique in uniting the visual culture, landscape and hospitality within the county. Let's take a tour ... ...

Starting in Mendip, Summer Auty is one of four SAW – supported Creative Pathway bursary winners, with Summer showing work about access to wild spaces and the impacts of new build developments in Frome. Her work will show in the Round Tower, a Grade 1 listed wool drying store at Black Swan Arts. Also in Frome, Raine Studio features three members of the same family including playful 'Pop-Surrealist' work by Evolver Magazine Prize 2023 cover winner Toby Holmes. In Walton, master carver Charlie Oldham produces relief carvings, letter cutting and castings. In the pretty village of Cranmore, Fiona Campbell's historic outbuilding studio and wildlife garden opens to show a range of sculpture, textiles and sketchbooks focused on environment and the Climate Emergency from this acclaimed sculptor.

Along the Mendips, at the foot of Cheddar Gorge, Sara Parsons opens her studio and garden where she works and teaches, producing distinctive and engaging sculpture and ceramic pieces. There is also a cluster of venues to the north of the Mendips worth exploring as part of this year's trail. Elsewhere in Sedgemoor, Sue Burne's studio in Chilton Polden produces beautiful engraved and intricate glass pieces inspired by nature, myths and legends. Nearby, situated in the Avalon Marshes Centre, Somerset Crafts are exhibiting and demonstrating original work from local artists and craftspeople, just a short walk from Shapwick Heath Nature Reserve.

In the west of the county, the isolation and beauty of Exmoor is perfect for spending the day unearthing the endless inspiration provided to artists and writers over the years. In the heart of the Moor, in Dulverton, Nancy Bixby shows paintings and prints exploring a diverse relationship with nature – greenhouses, potted plants, manhole covers, bees, horses alongside Exmoor landscapes. There are also clusters of venues along the coast, and studios dotted across the Moor, as well as more venues in The Quantocks including Fiona Meek and Joanne Horrobin holding a joint studio in Williton.

Towards Taunton, Jo Louca works mainly in oil and watercolour, concentrating on the effect of light, with woodland as inspiration, using the time honoured method of glazing with translucent colours to achieve this. Visitors to Rachel Smith and Gemma Merrell's venue can expect printmaking which explores memory, object and place in the reduction linocut method alongside nature and street photography. There are many other studios in and around Taunton, such as Anna Morris, as well as a special showcase exhibition at Taunton Brewhouse, 'Behind the Scenes'. Chiming with the idea behind Open Studios, the show explores artists' motives for making, with work accompanied by personal statements reflecting on how artists' practice has evolved or shifted recently. Issues such as localism, sustainability and wellbeing have altered and influenced the themes of some artists' work.

Into South Somerset, Derek Northfield and Gill Wright's ceramic studio near Chard shows high fired forms inspired by ancient metal tools and architectural structures, with references to early text and symbols, alongside sculptural forms based around the human body and organic structures in the landscape. Near South Petherton, Denise Webber is an acclaimed artist with work in the Arts Council and public collections, showing drawings, photography and film. Stephen and Lia Jenkinson's studio in Langport is another venue with a variety of art forms- Stephen paints atmospheric abstracts and impressionistic landscapes with restricted palettes and vibrant colour combinations whilst Lia weaves using different types of yarn to create pieces that reflect her travels and the countryside around her. Further east, Gael Sellwood produces botanical, natural history and landscape paintings and prints inspired by the English countryside.

There are collectives of studios too, such as Heritage Courtyard Studios in the heart of medieval Wells, the Old Brick Workshop near Wells, Shave Farm near Bruton and the studios at the exciting new East Quay development in Watchet. All four venues are in unique, intriguing locations in which to engage with a variety of art and to meet the people behind the work. Other groups include Yeovil Creatives and nearby, the Old Tannery Works features work by four exciting artists in this unusual building in the heart of Yeovil's old industrial area.

There are Family Friendly weekend activities to enjoy too, with free artist-led workshops at Crewkerne Museum, Taunton Brewhouse and Westlands Yeovil for all to get involved and to respond to exhibitions and displays. Have a go at fresco painting, match book making and portrait painting!

Somerset Open Studios is a county wide event but with a regional focus, celebrating the distinctiveness of each area of Somerset. SAW actively encourages visitors to travel by foot, bike, car share or use public transport. The event will feature on the SAW website with full venue and event details, an event calendar plus a digital flipbook of the Open Studios guidebook. The printed guidebook will be available at cultural and information centres across the county and beyond from August. The Art Weeks App, developed over the last three years, allows visitors to access information on the move as well as providing a more accessible resource. SAW Members' work can also be viewed online in the Member Directory on the SAW website.

It is, of course impossible to include everyone here, the venues mentioned give just a small glimpse of what's to see this year, but with nearly 300 artists taking part, there will be plenty for all to intrigue, interest and inspire!

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