The colourful world of Mary Webb

The paintings of former Norwich art teacher Mary Webb is alive with bright colours and bold patterns. The largest ever exhibition of her work is the perfect antidode to autumnal gloom reports SIMON PARKIN.

The world of Mary Webb is a colourful one. Her paintings are alive with bold colours made all the more visually striking by zinging abstract shapes and patterns.

If there was ever an exhibition to ward off the coming autumnal gloom it is the largest ever exhibition of works which goes on show at the Sainsbury Centre on Tuesday.

Mary Webb, who lives in Eye, Suffolk, has been producing bold abstract work for nearly 50 years as well as teach-ing painting at art schools in Harrogate and here in Norwich.

Journeys in Colour celebrates her work from 1965 to the present day and includes some 60 paintings together with screen prints, drawings and collages.

The exhibition also includes a brand new series of recent works never seen before, which have been inspired by a trip to Utah in America.

Also included are a number of works by the artist from the UEA Collection of Abstract and Constructivist, Art, Architecture and Design, which is permanently housed at the Sainbury Centre.

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Mary's work is abstract and striking, the designs composed of squares and rectangles using a bold palette of col-ours. Colour is evenly applied within each section and the shape of her work is always square.

'Colour is my main concern, and the emotional and spatial sensations it can evoke, frequently linked to the mem-ory of place,' she explains. 'From quite early on I wanted to see what one could do with colour on its own.

'I like making two or more colours work very hard together to make a lot of things happen. At the same time there are a great number of things I wish to avoid, one the hardest is avoiding having a centre, or part of the picture that claims attention more than the rest. Rather I want the colour to set up a process of renewal where relationships change with the looking. First assumptions are confounded the longer the painting is contemplated and this is how I like to them of them, as objects of contemplation'

Despite the abstract nature of her paintings, she has the sensibility of a landscapist. Much of her work produced as reflections on her travels, naming her works after the places that inspired them.

Though her most recent series of works relate to her trip to Utah, other localities that form the basis and titles for works in the exhibition include Corsica, Crete, Manhattan, Russia, San Luis, and San Filippo. Other works relate to places closer to where she lives such as Dunwich in Suffolk and Brancaster in Norfolk.

The exhibition reveals Mary Webb's continued interest in experimenting with colour. The Spring Colour Study series (1993), produced when Webb wasn't travelling and was working on generating ideas in her studio, is a typi-cal example of her setting herself a challenge and posing herself the question 'what would happen if…?'.

She explains that the 'choice of colour was an attempt to find a red red, a blue blue etc' and that the black lines around the shapes were 'the result of curiosity about what would happen if I put them there'.

She adds that 'up to then colours did not have a boundary round them. It made the shapes very distinct but hard to arrange'.

Mary studied in the Department of Fine Art at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne from 1958 to 1963. She then took a postgraduate course at Chelsea School of Art in the swinging sixties before teaching at Harrogate for two years.

From 1966 until 1990, Webb taught painting at Norwich University College of the Arts — then known as Norwich School of Art. Mary Webb met Sonia Delaunay in Paris during the 1960s and cites her as an influence. The exhibi-tion includes a work by Webb from Centre's UEA Collection, which explicitly acknowledges the importance of Delaunay, entitled Hommage � Sonia Delaunay (1969).

Though she is not as widely known as perhaps her work deserves her work has fans in the art world. Writing in the Observer, respected critic Tim Hilton described her as 'a little known but treasurable artist'. Hopefully this exhibi-tion will highlight her work more widely — in bright colours obviously.

? Mary Webb: Journeys in Colour is at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts from September 27 to December 4, joint admission (includes entry to The Face of the Artist exhibition) �4 (�2 cons), �8 (�6 cons) family, 01603 593199,