Arne for art’s sake
Lindsay Neal looks at an exciting art project in Purbeck
Published in March ’17
Fresh from its close-ups for the BBC’s Autumnwatch and Winterwatch broadcasts, this spring Dorset’s latest TV star, the RSPB reserve at Arne, will again submit to the attentions of visual artists for Purbeck Art Weeks. Following the success of last year’s inaugural fortnight, it has been decided to repeat the initiative that saw a trail not usually accessible to the public opened for artists and non-artists alike. The intention was to see how artists might respond to Arne’s irrefutable beauty and produce work that could help broaden the appeal of the reserve and raise the profile of the RSPB’s work there. Given the freedom to explore their surroundings and working ‘en plein air’, artists were also on hand to encourage members of the public to use the art materials provided and have a go at making their own images.
‘Working with RSPB Arne was a bit of a first for all of us,’ says Purbeck Arts Weeks co-ordinator Judy Tate. ‘The weather was kind and a good painting experience seemed to be had by all – beginners to experienced artists, youngsters to pensioners, art lovers to ornithologists: the experience was a complete leveller.’ The work produced has been shown in the RSPB’s café over the course of the year, as will the results of this year’s venture.
The reserve opened in 1966 and is one of the most important areas of lowland heath in the country, supporting significant populations of nightjars, stonechats, woodlarks, and on the mudflats spoonbills, while ospreys can also be seen on migration from late summer into autumn. In recent years the reserve has had marked success in nurturing up to forty breeding pairs of the once very scarce Dartford warbler.
Poole Harbour and its immediate surroundings are considered the most bio-diverse region in the country and there are reckoned to be more species of animals and plants within ten miles of Wareham than anywhere else in the UK. Apart from the birdlife Arne is also home to a carefully managed herd of sika deer that roam freely through the reserve, as well as some 22 species of dragonfly, not to mention a host of rare plants including the Dorset heath heather. Clearly there is no shortage of inspiration for the artists.
‘We’re delighted to be working with Purbeck Art Weeks,’ says Beki Williams, the RSPB’s visitor operation manager at Arne. ‘The artwork looks stunning in the café and the fact we have a new artist every month or so keeps it looking really fresh. It’s also great to be able to showcase some of Dorset’s fabulous artists.’
The Arne project is part of a year-round sketching programme run by Purbeck Art Weeks at a variety of locations throughout the area from beauty spots and familiar tourist attractions to lesser-seen settings and even a humble allotment. All present opportunities for artists to respond to the natural environment in their work.
‘It’s a really exciting project, as a direct result of which my wife Maria and I now volunteer at Arne every week,’ says Wareham artist Roger Lockey. ‘I was captivated by the location on my very first visit as a tourist several years ago and my affection has grown with each subsequent visit. Being able to walk through heathland, deciduous woodland, wetlands and farmland, as well as look out onto Poole Harbour, means that there is a richness and variety of scenery almost unrivalled anywhere I have seen. As an artist, how could I not be captivated? As a former art teacher, I feel it’s important to challenge the way I work, so for me the idea comes first and then I decide on the materials – some of my pieces are like monoprints, others could be photographs or paintings. Sometimes I bring things home with me, but I prefer to make decisions and work in situ because it’s a more immediate response to the environment. I’ve completed more than twenty pieces of work at Arne, most of which take between forty minutes and two hours, in what is becoming a lasting personal document of a unique and inspiring location.’
Swanage-born wildlife artist Roy Aplin’s intricately detailed watercolours of Arne’s birdlife reflect his lifelong interest in ornithology and the countryside. ‘I have visited this outstanding area of Arne for more years than I care to remember,’ he says. ‘I always find great inspiration for my work in and around the RSPB reserve, which is home to a great number of species all nestled within vivid colour throughout all four seasons. I can never tire of visiting my local area, whether it be Middlebere, Hartland or Shipstal.’
And it is not only the subject matter that attracts artists to the Purbeck Art Weeks sessions at Arne. In spite of its increasing popularity with the visiting public, it is a haven of peace and calm away from the busy urban bustle, offering time and space for reflection and contemplation. According to West Lulworth-based artist Martha de Chazal: ‘The rewards from painting at Arne are multi-layered – the unique location is very diverse, peaceful and close to tidal waters. The location of the RSPB mess tent last year was very special, next to a stretch of water not usually open to the public. I produced my most successful work by arriving early and completing a painting before many other people had arrived. In contrast, I enjoyed meeting the public and encouraging them to have a go, often for the first time or after a break of many years – the willingness to have a go was all that was needed.’
If, as Cezanne said, art is a harmony with nature, there’s every chance that sound and vision will resonate freely at Arne this spring.
- Purbeck Art Weeks Festival runs from 27 May to 11 June with a programme of open studios and exhibitions of visual and performing arts, as well as talks, walks and workshops.
This year’s theme is ‘A Moment In Time’. Further information can be found at www.purbeckartweeks.co.uk.