Evocative art on display in Wymondham

A fashion meets art exhibition aims to engorge the senses and reveal a few surprises as Norfolk talent is unlaced in Wymondam next week. Emma Harrowing finds out more.

A Christian Dior gown from 1954 in bronze taffeta, lavish paintings of the female body, digital drawings inspired by catwalk models of the forties and fifties and beautiful dresses adorned with butterflies, hymn books and snake skin. It's an eclectic mix of art and fashion set to shock, surprise and entertain the viewer in equal measures at an exhibition in Wymondham Arts Centre this week.

Curated by artist Krys Leach, Unlaced – clothing and the female form is an exhibition of work by Norfolk artists intended as an elegant reflection on the female image; with and without clothes.

'The female image is one of the most evocative forms of art,' says Krys. 'Her body has dictated style – in art and fashion – but it has also been moulded by it. Some of the work is innovative and eye-opening. Some is witty, and some is just ravishing. It all adds up to a vibrant celebration of a subject that is as enduring as it is varied.'

This is the third Unlaced exhibition from Krys, who launched the installation in Cromer a few years ago when he was a curator at the Church Street Gallery. This time, nine artists from differing mediums will present their work based upon the female image and how clothing has changed over the past century, from the Victorian era to the present day. Krys will also be exhibiting his paintings depiciting the female form.

'The exhibition is a mix of arts and crafts,' explains Krys. 'There is no distinction between fashion and clothing, ceramics and art. All represent the female form in ways that will surprise not only through the pieces on show, but I also think that people will be surprised to learn that we have so much variety of work that is produced in Norfolk. There are lots of high end art exhibitions and also pieces that are mass produced for the tourist industry, many artists that fall between these two stalls are not as well-known or represented. This exhibition aims to give both well-known and lesser known artists a platform to showcase their work. It's interesting to see what emerges from the work when it is put together in one show.'

One of the eminent artists to exhibit is Sprowston's Louise Richardson, who is one of Norfolk's foremost artists and a part-time lecturer on the textiles course at the University College of the Arts (NUCA) – she also studied at NUCA in the days when it was known as Norwich Art College. Her work involves turning wearable dresses into the unwearable by incorporating unexpected materials in beautiful pieces of fashion.

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'The idea behind my pieces is myth, memory and storytelling,' says Louise. 'I use similar techniques to painting a portrait but clothes are used instead of a person. I take a dress as the basic format and then turn this into something beautiful, but totally unwearable, by incorporating surprising materials such as butterflies or dandelions.

'The idea is based on how people would stitch herbs into the hems of children's clothing or would leave a needle in the fabric for protection.'

One of Louise's most startling pieces is entitled Telling Tales and is a dress made out of nine-inch nails which, at first glance, looks like fox fur.

Each item of clothing can be interpreted in different ways depending on the viewer and this is the intention of curator Krys Leach – to create a journey that is innovative and eye-opening, witty and unexpected.

Other items include the work of bespoke wedding dress designer Rebecca Spragge from Norwich, who has supplied bridalwear to Harrods as well as exhibiting her work in the Mall in London. The theatrically trained designer makes made-to-measure bridal wear and evening wear, specialising in traditionally boned corsets using luxurious fabrics – one of her more recent designs is made from gold leaf.

With each of her designs Rebecca also makes a toile to help achieve a perfect fit that flatters the figure. It is the hidden work that enhances the form beneath the material and the intricate engineering that goes into making such elegant garments that will be part of the Unlaced installation.

Fashion sits alongside the paintings from David Cottrel, the former head of art at Sheringham High School. The exhibition will also display fashion pieces through the ages and a talk by former chair of the Norwich Costume and Textile Association, Vivienne Weeks.

Vivienne will be showcasing selected items from her private fashion collection including a 1880s gown, a 1950s Dior dress and a printed circa 1980s Jean Paul Gaultier dress. Again, each piece has been selected to provoke the viewer's train of thought.

Vivienne says: 'The garments I have selected reflect the spirit of the work being exhibited. The 1880s gown was the last expression of idle womanhood, the bustle, multiple petticoats and corset restricted women's movements and new fashions were introduced that gave women the freedom to play sports, causing a major change in the 'unlacing' of women.

'The 1950s Dior dress shows how fashion restructured women into what Dior regarded as the perfect form of blossoming womanhood, with corsets to create tiny waists and padding pinned to the hips for a fuller curve, dubbed by American Vogue as the 'New Look'. Finally, the Jean Paul Gaultier is the direct contrast. The kaftan may loosely cover the female form, but there is an outline of the perfect woman's body as part of the printed design – so not so hidden promise!'

Unlaced – clothing and the female form takes place at Wymondham Arts Centre, Becket's Chapel, on Church Street, from now until Sunday September 30. The exhibition is free and is open daily from 10am until 5pm and Sundays from noon until 5pm.