When you hear the phrase ‘local artist’ you might think of someone sitting around wearing a smock and a straw hat, sketching flowers plucked from a nearby meadow. Someone who’d fit right into a Merchant Ivory film and who is now on their way to the organising committee for the village fete. On a bike. Whilst making jam. But you’d be wrong to do that, especially around here. Twickenham has a busy and diverse local art scene. Yes, support for the arts, or rather lack of it, is frequently in the news and spending real hard-earned cash on art is likely to be seen as a luxury purchase. But that doesn’t stop creativity. In fact, the leafy surroundings of this part of south west London, the River Thames and one place in particular have helped create a vibrant artistic community. Let’s take a look…
Perhaps the most well known and best established part of that community is based on Eel Pie Island. The island has been a creative hub for many decades, initially through its music scene which peaked in the 60s and more recently through its artists and other creative types.
Eel Pie Island Artists Studios
One island based artist who takes inspiration from the local area is Lee Campbell. Originally from New Zealand, Lee’s been on working the island for ten years. Many of her paintings are inspired by the Thames, the island itself and the surrounding area but also she produces a wide range of other work. Recently this has included commissions to paint the new “Shard” building in London and the refurbished Savoy Hotel. In addition to her painting Lee also makes her living from art tuition, coaching, and residencies (such as at Soho’s Piano Gallery and the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington). She told this site that her focus on Thames-side locations lets her reflect the tidal and seasonal fluctuations of this environment in her work. But what about the Island itself? Lee says that “crossing the river creates a physical transition into a leafy, mostly quiet environment which is highly conducive to creativity”. For her it’s all about the “uniquely creative environment generated by the working boatyards and artists’ studios bringing new energy into this unique historic location”. Perhaps no surprise that she also uses it as a base for teaching her students and coaching clients.
Meanwhile, just up the way, past the bits of scrap metal and old boating equipment – or is it actually an art installation? – and beneath the skeleton just chillin’ in its hanging gibbet cage is sculptor Sabrina Cant. With a Masters from the Royal College of Art, Sabrina works with glass to create impressive sculptural pieces which draw on the natural environment, the geometric world of design and abstract art. She cites Mark Rothko as a particular influence on her work. For the Eel Pie Island open studios she showed a range of small pieces including birds and glass textured with imprints of bark taken from nearby Kew Gardens. Her larger works tend to be on display elsewhere either in galleries or as commissioned work. However, one impressive piece sits on the side in her workshop. It’s a strip of multicoloured glass in which the flow of its wave-like form and the range of colours suggest a soft natural form which seems at odds with the brittle material from which it’s been created. You’ll need to travel to see her exhibited works but her studio gives enough of a flavour of what can be done with glass, colour and a lot of skill.
Wave by Sabrina Cant
Elsewhere on the island there’s an array of prints, ceramics, paintings, drawings and even metalwork. Some take their influences from far and wide while others look to the local. Like Lee Campbell, another artist whose work shows an affinity for the Thames is Wendy Mackenzie. Her work features several bridges across the river, including Richmond, but she also heads further afield for her inspiration as evidenced by the painting of tumbleweed blowing across a dusty road which brings a slice of Americana to the island.
But of course Twickenham’s art scene doesn’t stop when you cross back to the “mainland”. Twickenham Art Circle is a collective of local artists who get together for meetings, events and the occasional exhibition. There’s pretty much something for everyone ranging from Thames-side paintings right through to the steamy tropical and the abstract. The TAC website showcases the artists’ work but to see it close up you’ll have to head to their next exhibition which starts in October at the Stables Gallery at Orleans House.
And of course, even then not every local artist is an active member of the Island set or the Art Circle. Want more options? Well, locals like Jill Storey have also been inspired by the river around Twickenham and sell a range of work locally. Another opportunity to see local creatives in action is the annual ArtHouse open studios which ran earlier this month. And a bit further down the road in Teddington there’s the Landmark Arts Centre which puts on art fairs and exhibitions. Its next event, the Midsummer Art Fair, takes place on the weekend of 25th and 26th June and will feature art from up to 80 artists, many of them from this part of London. One exhibitor and friend to this very site (yes, we are disclosing it on our register of interests) is Twickenham based Dominique Holt whose large canvases juxtapose samples of interior design from the 1950s and 1960s with elements from the natural world.
So, whatever your taste in art you’re bound to be able to find something you like. And if you can’t find it online then you can always try Par Ici on Church Street which stocks a range of locally produced arts and crafts. So there’s no excuse for not keeping Twickenham arty.