New Norwich art to inspire us all

An exhibition of contemporary Norfolk art in a new Norwich office building turned gallery shows us contemporary creativity at its most inspiring says IAN COLLINS.

If you want to see how and why Norfolk is at the centre of UK contemporary art, a new show in Norwich will put you in the picture.

Inspirations 2011: New Art from East Anglia is the second venture on Jarrold's St James Court development behind the cathedral. But, like the latest art from our county and region, it feels wholly fresh.

An amazing second-floor office looking over trees, the puppet theatre and a city panorama is only half-filled with a vast assembly of work by 31 talents. Here are sculptures, paintings, collages, drawings and prints - often massive in scale. Big is beautiful also.

Although I have a strong romantic attachment to Cornwall, down there so much art is derivative. Up here we have the space and confidence to be ourselves.

And yet there are also deep and fascinating connections among these individualistic Norfolk-linked folk.

The cast of Inspirations 2011 ranges from Norwich University College of the Arts (Nuca) students to stalwart artists rising in seniority to 94-years-young Margaret Thomas, still painting energetically and idiosyncratically in her Waveney watermill.

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Hurrah for Leslie Marr, of Gimingham near Cromer, whose wildly expressive landscapes and flower pieces would continue to delight the early 20th century painterly pioneer David Bomberg, his one-time father in law.

I defy anyone to guess the artists' ages from any of these works. All look youthful - one great advantage of art that is endlessly advancing.

But several modern masters and their flourishing former pupils feature here.

A little masterclass in prints, drawings and paintings by Weston Longville's Derrick Greaves - most abiding star of the 1950s Kitchen Sink movement, though he has long pursued his own path - hangs near inspired abstractions by one of his ex-students, Ditchingham's Dom Theobald.

Three fine illuminated relief 'window columns' by Derek Morris are close to the wittily and ingeniously reconstructed farm implements of North Walsham's Bob Catchpole, the latter attending the former's fledgling sculpture school at what was then the Norwich School of Art and Design (and is now Nuca) several decades ago.

A yellow-lit wooden Morris construction is especially effectively alongside a vibrant canvas of larva-like cracked orange gesso by Susan Gunn - who also has a retrospective show now at Nuca from which she graduated with a masters degree.

And here are bonds of friendship and creative kinship - as in Group Eight works by allied artists meeting in James Colman's Framingham Earl studio since 2007 (the visiting company comprising Mark Cator, Alex Egan, Katie and Tor Falcon, Cornelia Fitzroy, Fred Ingrams and Auriol Innes).

A huge and heavenly abstract painting by Kenninghall's internationally-noted John Loker converses with further adventures in this fertile field by Hempnall's Martin Battye, Mundham's David Lindsay and Norwich's Alec Cummings.

Still only 23, Alec Cummings has moved beyond his heroes among the giants of 1950s Cornish art via a recent visit to Jaipur. His lovely new palette confirms the maxim of the late fashion icon Diana Vreeland that 'Pink is the navy blue of India.'

There are mighty and marvellous figurative works by John Kiki and Bruer Tidman of Great Yarmouth - and perhaps the most magical of Colin Self's Ploughman series to date.

Here, the Thorpe St Andrews Pop Artist adds to the familiar assemblage (gold leaf, ink and furrowed field of corrugated card) a foreground of rubbish suggesting both surface litter and buried treasure.

Work by three distinctive figurative artists is both exquisite and monumental: Gunton's Gerard Stamp with watercolours of churches and charcoal drawings of watery landscapes; Southwold's Katherine Hamilton with oils of beaches and circuses; and James Dodds with print portraits of East Anglian ports and a huge Yorkshire fishing boat in paint.

And then there's almost a show within a show by three splendid women sculptors: Wreningham's Rachael Long offers a stupendous Norfolk black turkey in recycled steel; Norwich's Polly Cruse lyrical constructions of plexi-glass, wood and wire recall rocks and waterfalls; and, silhouetted against windows, there are puppet-like wire-and-card figures of Great Yarmouth's Bridget Heriz.

Two powerful sculptors - Forncett St Mary's Ainslie Yule and Garboldisham's Bruce Gernard - are seasoned mi-grants from Scotland and America respectively.

They show happily alongside two Nuca students - Kerry Jones with her compelling portraits of strangers and Maxine Turner with a beautifully constructed mobile of burned circles on paper cubes.

Chief curator Ian McIntyre says: 'Many people have tried to analyse what has attracted artists to East Anglia from the time of the Norwich School to the present day, but this exhibition invites people to make up their own minds and just enjoy looking at a wealth of inspirational creativity.'

n Inspirations 2011 is at St James Court, Whitefriars, Norwich until March 20, Mon-Fri 12pm-2pm and 5.30pm-7pm, Sat 10am-1pm, admission free,