Norwich’s answer to the summer exhibition

A bright and brilliant art show at Norwich Assembly House aims to be our region's answer to the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. IAN COLLINS reports.

Art is the great leveller – or rather it brings the hope of raising everyone up – and a new show in Norwich proves that young and old and many abilities can make for a joyful mix.

The Assembly House Art Show 2011, Flying Colours: Fascinating Forms, brings together work by more than 150 creative spirits from all over the region.

So long the preserve of modest art and craft displays, the Georgian gem in the heart of Norwich is suddenly reborn as a major gallery via an event which aims to be the region's answer to the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition.

Curators Yvonne and John Millwood from Wells – key organisers of the first decade of Salthouse shows in that beacon church near Blakeney – have gone for quality over genre. And quantity, too.

From 1,200 submitted proposals they have chosen a vast array of painting, drawing, collage, prints, installation and sculpture. The prize-winners are among the wide variety of artworks that fill the Grand Hall, Caf�/Bar, Noverre Gallery and Ballroom, then spills down corridors and across the gardens.

The overall award of �1,000 has gone to painter Margaret Thomas, who turns 95 next month, and who works with as much vigour and rigour as when first emerging from art school in the 1930s. She won for three recent oils which revel in the Waveney Valley view from her attic studio near Bungay, a characterful flower piece and a lively still-life study.

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Among the two runners-up were Barbara Symmons, a bright star of the Barrington Farm Day Services Centre at Walcott.

This haven for creative people with conditions such as epilepsy, autism, schizophrenia and Downs Syndrome has produced a string of internationally-noted 'outsider' artists. Really, untrained talents are allowed free rein there.

Barbara's winning Reindeer Chair resembles a maharajah's throne, being adorned with painting, embroidery and collage via jewel-like buttons and badges. I liked it so much, I bought it.

The second runner-up prize went to sculptor Stephen Henderson for his Big Tuna model beautifully fashioned from wood and found metal. He's the son of photographer and collagist Nigel Henderson, a late and much-loved tutor at what was the Norwich School of Art and Design.

Prize for wittiest exhibit has been given to lyrical painter Dee Nickerson for A Middle Aged Moment.

Dee, who lives and works in a Mendham caravan, here imagines three women of a certain age lifted from everyday activities (dog-walking, gardening, pegging-out washing) for an aerial spin over the Waveney Valley village. Flying colours and fascinating forms indeed.

Other works to look out for include a vibrant suite of Scottish landscape, flower piece and concert studies by Leslie Marr, of Gimingham near Cromer; three distinctive church watercolours by Gunton Hall's Gerard Stamp and a remarkable equine oil portrait by daughter Eleanor.

Noteworthy too are a suitably sinister depiction of the Blyth Valley winter solstice molly dancers by Southwold's Katherine Hamilton; a particularly successful Ship with Lovers scene of seaside surrealism by Sheringham's Peter Baldwin; and a beaten metal octopus with glowing glass eyes by Blakeney-raised Geoffrey Image.

This is the sort of exhibition where you can leave with a mental picture of a masterly townscape of montaged prints by Sprowston's Laurie Rudling overlain with a giant Pink Prawn in layered plywood by Burnham Market's Andrew Ruffhead.

But then, as Dee Nickerson has already shown us, the sky is not the limit for the marvellously motley creativity in today's East Anglia.

Everything is for sale, at prices from �45 – with the venue commission aiding future art projects.

t Flying Colours: Fascinating Forms is at Norwich Assembly House throughout August, open daily, admission free,