Thor­oughly mod­ern city

What be­gan as a kitchen ta­ble chat six years ago has turned into a high pro­file, in­ter­na­tional con­tem­po­rary art event, dis­cov­ers AN­DREA COWAN.


Wells Art Con­tem­po­rary, or WAC as it is af­fec­tion­ately known, is an open com­pe­ti­tion at­tract­ing work in a wide range of medium in­clud­ing paint­ing, sculp­ture, pho­tog­ra­phy and film. It was orig­i­nally launched to cel­e­brate and sup­port emerg­ing and es­tab­lished artists in a time of aus­ter­ity, of­fer­ing an im­pres­sive ar­ray of mone­tary, ex­hi­bi­tion and pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment prizes.

This year WAC re­ceived its high­est num­ber of en­tries: 1,397

‘Ev­ery­one as­sumes that con­tem­po­rary art is some­thing for the big cities’

works of art from 26 dif­fer­ent coun­tries. A judg­ing panel of highly re­spected and na­tion­ally recog­nised artists has as­sessed each en­try to come up with a short­listed se­lec­tion of 123 works for a sell­ing ex­hi­bi­tion at The Bishop’s Palace in Wells from 6-22 Oc­to­ber.

Paddy O’Hagan is WAC’s new chair­man, a Wells res­i­dent with a life­long in­ter­est in art. “I feel hon­oured to be in­volved, es­pe­cially this year,” he says. “A fan­tas­tic num­ber of con­tem­po­rary artists have been in­spired to en­ter, from Aus­tralia to Azer­bai­jan.”

WAC has also an­nounced two new pa­trons: Sir Christo­pher Frayling, for­mer Rec­tor at the Royal Col­lege of Art and Hauser & Wirth, the in­ter­na­tional gallery which has a venue in Bru­ton. “This is real val­i­da­tion that

WAC has be­come a se­ri­ous con­tender in the con­tem­po­rary art world,” con­tin­ues Paddy.

Eleven artists from Som­er­set have made the short­list, with over half en­ter­ing for the first time. There is the cel­e­brated mo­saic artist from Pil­ton, Can­dace Ba­houth, who ex­hib­ited this sum­mer with Kaffe Fas­sett in Bath, as well as Annabel Lu­dovici from Wells, a mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary artist who will be ex­hibit­ing to the pub­lic in the West Coun­try for the first time. Dr Rob Irv­ing, an artist from Frome with a back­ground in pho­tog­ra­phy, ex­plains why he en­tered: “Open ex­hi­bi­tions like WAC democra­tise con­tem­po­rary art. It of­fers the op­por­tu­nity for ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, chal­leng­ing con­ven­tion.”

The Bishop’s Palace has been se­lected as the back­drop for the ex­hi­bi­tion. “It’s a mag­nif­i­cent venue, ideal for the dis­play of large sculp­tural works as well as small and in­ti­mate pieces,” says Paddy. “And there is some­thing very sat­is­fy­ing in the jux­ta­po­si­tion be­tween con­tem­po­rary works of art and a me­dieval back­drop.”

The lo­ca­tion for the ex­hi­bi­tion is im­por­tant for ev­ery­one in­volved with WAC. “Know­ing

the pow­er­ful and life-en­rich­ing im­pact that vis­ual arts can have, we are pas­sion­ate about mak­ing it re­ally ac­ces­si­ble, which in­cludes bring­ing it to ru­ral ar­eas,” ex­plains Paddy.

This is a sim­i­lar re­frain from the Som­er­set artists them­selves. Jack Hicks, a painter from Hut­ton, says it pro­vides, “an op­por­tu­nity to show­case con­tem­po­rary art in an area where this is still a com­par­a­tive rar­ity”. For Bath artist Zi Ling the rel­e­vance goes even fur­ther: “Many mod­ern and con­tem­po­rary artists af­ter Cu­bism have taken in­spi­ra­tions from the ru­ral set­ting. This does not only ap­ply to land­scapes but also to coun­try life and its peo­ple…art can­not be sep­a­rated from life.”

The ac­ces­si­bil­ity of art does not just come down to the lo­ca­tion. Ex­hibit­ing artist Toni Davey ex­plains: “Con­tem­po­rary work is al­ways about the ex­plo­ration of ideas which may not present it­self in a fa­mil­iar form.” Too of­ten there is lit­tle prepa­ra­tion to help vis­i­tors un­der­stand what an

‘It of­fers the op­por­tu­nity for ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, chal­leng­ing con­ven­tion’

artist is try­ing to do or say and it can feel in­tim­i­dat­ing.

To ad­dress this, WAC has or­gan­ised a se­ries of eight fo­rums en­ti­tled I know what I like, chaired by Robin Sewell, an artist and long-stand­ing univer­sity se­nior lec­turer in fine art. Robin will lead groups through the ex­hi­bi­tion and hopes to en­rich their view­ing ex­pe­ri­ence by dis­cussing art­works that they re­spond to and en­joy, as well as the ones they find more dif­fi­cult. Dates and prices can be found on the web­site.

“Ev­ery­one as­sumes that con­tem­po­rary art is some­thing for the big cities,” con­cludes Paddy. “But I think WAC is help­ing to dis­pel that myth.” well­sart­con­tem­po­

ABOVE:The me­dieval Bishop’s Palace and Gar­dens pro­vides a mag­nif­i­cent set­ting for the con­tem­po­rary art ex­hi­bi­tion

ABOVE:The Sec­ond Temp­ta­tion of St An­thony at Coney Is­land by David Cuth­bert from Win­scombe. A tra­di­tional theme from Euro­pean Chris­tian art has been re-imag­ined in the en­vi­ron­ment of a theme park

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