Art is alive in Norfolk’s answer to summer exhibition

Art Alive show at the Assembly House in Norwich. Yvonne and John Millwood. Photo: Bill Smith

Art Alive show at the Assembly House in Norwich. Yvonne and John Millwood. Photo: Bill Smith - Credit: Archant © 2013

A landmark Norwich building is springing to creative life with East Anglia's answer to the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. IAN COLLINS reports.

An artful assembly now spilling through and out of Norwich Assembly House gives a grand tour of current trends and talents in East Anglian creativity.

Art Alive! features a huge range of work by 120 artists from Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire and includes paintings, prints, photographs, drawings, video installations, textiles, ceramics, collages, constructions and sculpture. This regional equivalent of the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition is the second show to be arranged by Yvonne and John Millwood of Wells to establish the Grade I-listed city centre building as a premier venue for contemporary art. And the latest torrent of images duly ?ows over every available space - from the Grand Hall, Cafe/Bar and Ballroom, to the Noverre Gallery, Hobart Room, corridors, courtyard and garden.

Guarding the entrance, if not charging it, is a life-size skeletal rhino by Wreningham sculptor Rachael Long. The great lumbering beast is formed from a hollow mountain of scrap metal brilliantly welded together to retain the ghost of former machine movement. Near the door a cast bronze Birdman by Norwich's Chedgey looks as if he has just crash landed on sheet copper wings.

Five of the ?nest exhibits, chosen on merit alone, are by adults with learning dif?culties who attend Walcott's Barrington Farm Day Centre - now recognised as a world leader in untrained 'outsider' art. Indeed, an impressive range of textile art is led by an intricate ?oral embroidery from Barrington Farm's James Gladwell - an exercise in pure joy which just opens the heart of the viewer.

Salhouse's Nick Ball has contributed two hugely ambitious sculptures - a Slidescraper light-box tribute to the iconic Mies Van Der Rohe Seagram Building in New York, in which every window is a different art-work slide, and an Arbour of Complex Waste made from discarded circuit boards, metal and wood.

Hard to believe that two vivid, vibrant and lately-completed oil images of Poppies and Blythburgh Church are by an artist now in his 91st year.

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Leslie Marr, of Gimingham near Cromer, proves that youthfulness can - and should - be a life-long condition. There are some excellent portraits by Great Yarmouth's Bruer Tidman, Lowestoft's Donna-Maria Jones (who also appears in a haunting image by Mark Burrell) and Amy Rogers of Norwich - the last of these among the youngest and best of exhibitors with three touching likenesses of her dad.

And abstract artists are well represented via Gil Mutch of Yaxley near Diss, Suffolk's Jane Lewis and, with a dynamic relief Light Gleams an Instant, Norwich's Mary Mellor.

Inspiration has been taken from countries and cultures across the planet, but the key in?uence here is far closer to home in the landscapes and seascapes of Norfolk and Suffolk.

The versatile Norwich artist David Jones has produced a cracking study of the ancient city thoroughfare of Tombland Abbey and Ed Klutz lovely collages of Norwich in general and St Peter Mancroft Church in particular.

I also admired suites of industrial farmscapes by James Colman and Cromer pier in contrasting light by Emma Hedgecoe of Trunch.

More highlights: a sparking tree in beaten copper by Blakeney's Colin Miller, four new Wave paintings by Maggi Hambling and Queen of the Night by Norwich artist Jaqi Clayton-Church - in which the Cassiopeia (Queen) constellation is overlain with exquisite calligraphy in 33 languages naming the character from Mozart's The Magic Flute and signifying, as the Norwich artist explains, 'that music and astronomy may be enjoyed by all'.

That's the verdict on this exhibition too. Everyone can enjoy it.

t Art Alive!, Norwich Assembly House, until May 8, Mon-Sat 9am-5pm, admission free, 01603 626402,

t Five critics' prizes of £500 apiece - selected by Charlotte Crawley or the East Anglia Art Fund, Lizzie Fisher of Kettle's Yard in Cambridge and Ian Collins - have been awarded to James Gladwell, David Jones, Rachael Long, Leslie Marr and Mary Mellor.