This isn’t my first blog about Staithes, the tiny village on the Yorkshire coast that was once home to Captain Cook, and given that it combines a built-in beauty with a shoreline location it doubtless won’t be the last. Why this time? Because since 2012 there has been an annual arts festival and this was my first visit.
With a number of creatives living there the town’s art gallery is always worth a visit, but as a space it’s never going to be able handle lots of visitors, and even taking into account the church hall and no less than three former Methodist chapels that would still make for a small-scale affair, albeit one that many villages would be happy with. Not so Staithes.
To draw so much interest over 100 of the cottages in the little town are given over to pop up galleries for a couple of days, and even then the event is oversubscribed with painters, sculptors, silversmiths, potters and more. There was even a female blacksmith taking part this year (Katie Ventress).
My motivation to be there wasn’t to buy; my walls have plenty of imagery on them already, though a monochrome watercolour by Suzanne McQuade tempted me all the same. Instead I was there for a bit of inspiration and conversation; after all I’d spent my working week recommending that people who wanted to develop their creativity should associate with other creative people. Suzanne’s other watercolours were of many of the same coastal scenes that have attracted me in recent years.
In contrast Rob Shaw‘s work in oils or acrylics is robust and dramatic, despite being of many of the same subjects. His seas are grey and stormy, but in contrast his paintings of Staithes itself are bright and vibrant.
This highlights one of the areas where the artist has an advantage over the photographer; their ability to paint a scene as they would like it to be, unconstrained by the reality of obstructions, light or weather conditions. I was shooting a lot of black and white this weekend given the flat, overcast day.
Another thing that surprised me was something I’ve long been familiar with as a photographer; duplication of images. I’m always reluctant to take the “cliché” shot, the image that everyone already has in their portfolio, unless there is some technical challenge involved for me. Why would I want to produce something that was already in existence? Given the individual aspects of style I didn’t expect that the same would be a problem for the painter, and yet saw similarly sized images of the same scene, with similar colouring and composition in the galleries of Keith Blessed (in pastels) and Kate Smith (in oils), assuming my memory hasn’t deceived me!
In contrast there was one area where my camera gave me an advantage over the artist. Portraits. Shirley Hudson told me how long her works might take and the liberties she might take with colour (with the sitter’s agreement). I walked out of her display and within minutes had captured multiple personalities.
And if you’re expecting to see examples of the art itself then you’re going to be disappointed. Pictures of pictures aren’t my thing (unless by Renaissance masters!) and the spaces are often too tiny and packed with people to make this feasible.
There are of course works to see in town that are permanent features, and permanent features that have value in my eyes so I still shot plenty of images that were interesting to this artist’s eye, and to these can be added the wire and willow sculptures of Emma Stothard.
For me of course even the rocks of the breakwater have potential!