The end of the first week in my new job coincided with one of the annual highlights of our region’s cultural calendar. What makes the Stockton International Riverside Festival so special for me is not just the fact that world class acts appear there year on year, it’s also the fact that audiences in Stockton seem so ready to embrace these acts and enjoy (or critique) what they have to offer. Watching the opening act Frameshift by Stalker Theatre and Seoul Street Arts Festival was enjoyable as much for witnessing the huge crowds that had assembled on the banks of the river to watch the act as it was for the visually spectacular performance.
The following day couldn’t have been more different as I travelled to Scarborough to think about an example of home grown talent that has had an international impact. I spent the day talking with a fellow enthusiast of the work of Albert Strange an artist and yacht designer who as Headmaster of the Scarborough School of Art taught some of our region’s artists at the end of the 19th century. It was really special to see a class room style photograph from about 1900 with Albert sitting next to Fred Appleyard one of the most significant Middlesbrough born artists of that era. Much though I love Albert Strange’s paintings it was his work as a teacher and designer that we spent most time talking about. Strange believed that the skills he passed on to his students needed to be of value to the industry of his day. I believe that we can build upon Albert Strange’s legacy to our region and the discussion has given much food for thought.
Finally if you are interested in the work of locally based visual artists then I can highly recommend visiting Inspired by … gallery at the Moors National Park Centre in Danby, who currently have an exhibition of postcard sized works of art. All works are for sale at £25 but the trick is you don’t know who has made the work until you have bought it. It’s really interesting to see how the lack of names and labels really concentrates your mind to think about the art work itself: what you look for and what makes something stand out. It’s a lovely way to encounter new artists and see if you can spot old favourites. I’m afraid to say though if you’re a Peter Hicks fan I managed to grab two of his works from the show for my own collection. But with a retrospective coming up in Danby next month there’ll be plenty more opportunity to see his work and his take on our region’s landscape.
James is Tees Valley Arts’ Executive Director. He has previously worked as Senior Curator at Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art and as Co-Director of the art project NEW LINTHORPE. He is currently completing a PhD examining the cultural history of Teesside.