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Why Art?

North Norfolk Open Studios 2024

What makes art so powerful? Humans have been using art to communicate their feelings, emotions and stories for thousands of years. The early cave paintings demonstrate how both creating and viewing art are almost primal instincts. The tools may have changed, but the essence of the practice remains the same. Georgia O’Keefe said famously ‘I found I was able to say things in colour that I couldn’t express in words.’ 

It seems that humans find catharsis through art and it can be a powerful healing experience. Recent research has shown that just twenty minutes of art a day can significantly improve your wellbeing. Looking at a piece of art lights up the pleasure centres in the brain, flooding them with feel-good hormones like dopamine. The process of actually making art has an even stronger affect. Ahead of North Norfolk Open Studios (25 May - 2 June), Antonia Clare talks to North Norfolk artists about why they make their art and why it is so important to them. 


Image Vince Laws ‘DWP shrouds’

Image Vince Laws ‘DWP shrouds’

Artist and campaigner Vince Laws is joining North Norfolk Open Studios (NNOS) for the first time. Vince’s protest pieces highlight the deaths of disabled benefit claimants while dealing with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). The ‘DWP Deaths Make Me Sick’ shrouds (spray paint on recycled bedding) have been seen in street protests, in Parliament and in arts venues around the country. Vince says, ‘Art is so many different things, it gives me a voice, it gives me an outlet, it can be frustrating but usually ends in some variation of satisfaction. It’s like a puzzle that needs working out.’

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Rachel Reid:  Holy Cow, ceramic, mixed media

Rachel Reid has lived all over the world as a human rights investigator and a journalist. Having moved to Trimingham on the North Norfolk coast, from London, 3 years ago, she has found that the space of Norfolk really is a spur to creativity. She says, ‘After a career in journalism and human rights, politics inevitably infuses my art.’ She has produced ‘guerilla work “Royal Slavery,” which elicited calls for her arrest, and has a sculpture at Harvard University, which was a 2018 commission to commemorate the photographer Anya Niedringhaus, killed in Afghanistan. She will be exhibiting a mix of works for the open studios, including some of her conflict related works, but she is most excited to show ‘a series of upcycled works called New Gods, that are playful, subversive, and eco-friendly.’


For others, art forms part of a healing process. Chris Waller is a ceramics artist. He took up pottery full time after retiring from a career in risk management, partly due to a deteriorating eye condition (which left him legally blind in his forties). He remembers the delight he experienced sculpting small figures with plasticine at Primary school and later he enjoyed the same kind of satisfaction working with pottery at an evening class. He felt ‘so comfortable using this art medium and there were so many possibilities in creating pieces of all shapes and sizes.’ He’s keen to dispel any doubts of disability as a blind and deaf person being a barrier to achieving great things, including worthy art work. He says, ‘…focus on ability. I hope I can inspire those in a similar position to give ceramics a try!’


Chtis Waller & Pennard


It is said that art is the cultivation of play, and this joy of playfulness through connection with nature is the inspiration for qualified artist, Kinesiologist, yoga and advanced meditation teacher, Hannah Hardy's innovative and uplifting artworks. She says, ‘…art reminds me to remain open and playful, to witness the changeful waves of life with curiosity bringing joy and gratitude. Art reminds me that our creativity is naturally inherent and through play we are all able to create uniqueness.’ 


Suzanne Chisnell is also inspired by the local landscape. As a professional artist and retired landscape architect, she explains, ‘I’ve always felt so at home here in Norfolk, on the Broads, the marshes and beaches. That strong sense of connection with the elements, the earth, the open spaces. I’ve been tested by wind and tides sailing too many times to recall, walked miles across tranquil marshland accompanied by birdsong and rustling reeds, and stood amazed as crazy easterly storms surge onto our wild woolly beaches. And it’s the emotion these experiences evoke in me that I’m so keen to capture in my paintings and sketches. It’s a constant process of experimentation, trying to express this beautiful county and all it contains, on a canvas with paint alone.’


Suzanne Chisnell

Louise Heller uses painting to describe her environment in her own unique way, often using expressionist forms and colours. She wants to convey how she feels about the beauty of the world we live in and talks of the many emotions encompassed in a painting. Louise says, “Painting gives me a great deal of pleasure. I am constantly reminded that this is who I should be. In my studio at art school in Gothenburg, I put a sign up on the wall, ‘Chaos before order’. Painting takes me through all emotions possible. At first, there is excitement. Then come the sighs and struggles which almost cause physical pain. Then lo and behold, oh joy! it magically all comes together.”

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Paintings by Louise Heller

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Working in clay, Kate Vogler makes sculptural pots built in response to the eroding landscape and its history. Some try to capture the timeless joy of moving water, birdsong or stillness; others contain hidden birds. The birds are carved into the clay surface. They are barely noticeable, concealed within the natural surface colouring.

Ceramics by Kate Vogler

Some artists like to be out in the landscape as they create. Kate Gabriel is a self-taught artist living in the Norfolk broads. She describes her ‘new-found love of plein air painting in oils, and a hope to capture the light. I am inspired by the amazing beauty and diversity of the natural world and the Norfolk countryside. Hares, boats, the huge skies and weather, sunlight bouncing off water, meadows viewed along with the music of larks singing, my cats basking on the sunny garden seat amongst the flowers, a recently vacated hammock strung under a shady tree… All these things can inspire my need to paint.’


Kate Gabriel


Vanda Richards lives in rural North Norfolk and in her oil paintings she tries to capture the atmosphere and scale of wonderful Norfolk skies. She also fosters sick or injured hedgehogs and shares her studio space with a hedgehog called Joseph!

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Holkham Skies by Vanda Richards


Vanda Richards


Antonia Clare has her studio in Glandford. Her work is driven by a love of colour and a desire to spark a connection with the viewer. ‘I hope you are reminded of a place, or a moment, an experience or feeling. Painting, particularly my more abstract work, allows me to connect with my innermost thoughts and emotions. I go for long walks along Norfolk beaches and later paint the colours, the feeling of expansion and freedom with those huge skies and the sound of the sea. In still life work, I’m looking to explore that sense of joy and everyday wonder experienced looking at a favourite vase from my travels, a bowl of lemons that remind me of Italy, or how the sunlight catches on some tulips, drawing long shadows across the kitchen table. There’s a huge satisfaction to capturing that moment in paint. When people come into my studio or a gallery and they enjoy the work, and it sparks something in them, that’s the best feeling. It starts a conversation. Being part of the art world enables you to connect with so many interesting people. Everyone has a different story to tell and I find that fascinating. Art is what brings us together.’


Antonia Clare

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Connie Flynn

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Connie Flynn

Connie Flynn has been making art for over 30 years using a variety of materials. During this time, she has exhibited her work in the UK and abroad, worked with all ages, abilities and community settings. She has completed residences in a number of countries and met so many fascinating people along the way. ‘My life is so much richer (rich in culture but by no means money) for this.’ Connie likes to spend time in natural environments to observe details and use this as inspiration. She enjoys ‘the simplicity of using my hands to make Art, experimenting with materials and working with different tools continues to bring new challenges which drives me to find solutions. This is the enjoyment.’


'Red Rabbit' by Joy Pitts

Joy Pitts

Sometimes an artist’s journey takes unexpected turns. Joy Pitts makes art with 1000s of clothing labels. These could be unpicked from tons of rag garments, commissioned from fashion designers, or in collaboration with Savile Row Tailors. Talking of her work, Joy explains, ‘The only thing I wanted to do when I left School in 1982 was to go to Art College, however my parents would not allow it so instead I became a Civil Servant. In the 1990s when my children were old enough, I began part time study and 7 years later I received an MA Fine Art with distinction. During this period, I continued to work part time in the office, juggling child care and study and loved every moment. I later found out that my mother had been a tabber, working in a factory assembling garments, her job was to sew in the labels at side seams and collars.’
‘A turning point was when I wrote to Sir Paul Smith to ask him for some of his designer labels to use in my work. He said NO, but he was so impressed with my technique that he commissioned ‘Red Rabbit’ for his private collection. My technique involves using 1000s of dressmaker pins to attach the labels to stretched canvas, a time-consuming process that creates unexpected texture and rhythm.’ 

Tess Meadows, who lives in Cley, is a mixed media artist who mainly paints on board and canvas, using layers of acrylic and house paint, torn scraps of paper, text and mark making. She describes how art has the ability to ‘inspire, create awareness and communicate ideas.’ She says, ‘My art is important as it gives me a means of creative exploration and personal development. It gives me the freedom to express myself and allows me to be present.’


Chrissie Lines has inspiration on her doorstep. A jeweller and artist working from her home studio which sits amidst the recent and developing West Acre Rewilding Project, she talks about how ‘Art is important … as it stimulates one’s senses in a way that nothing else quite touches. I admire the skill to express and interpret a scene or emotion in mediums that will elicit a response in the viewer; positive or negative.’ 
‘In my jewellery work I like the processes of manipulating the silver/copper etc.- the absolute focus so no other thoughts have room. I enjoy the design stage as much as the making, problem solving is just part of my design background. Being able to create wearable pieces that others enjoy is wonderful affirmation of what I do. My figure drawing is an indulgence - a desire to produce an emotive response with skill (or very often not). A challenge a bit like climbing a mountain.’ 

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Neil Dalton


Nell Dalton carves in wood or stone, enjoying the challenge of hard material. ‘My early working life was with wood, including carving for furniture restoration and creating animal-shaped boxes for fun and to commission.  More recently I returned to the workshop and in stone I found the satisfaction of a durable material, very dependent on the contrast of light and shadow for effect. My current non-commissioned work reflects my enjoyment of life or depicts animals and curious people, often carved from stone offcuts which challenges my creativity, inspiring me to see what ‘lives’ in the confines of each shape.’

  Carole Griffin  

'  Behind The Scenes' ~ Carole Griffin  

For award-winning artist Carole Griffin art is ‘a form of meditation in action. When there is full concentration with no distractions allowed to interfere during the process of painting. Then time and results become irrelevant. One rests in a stillness without mental movement, which is completely restful and satisfying. One is ‘at home’.’


  'Dancing Collage' ~ Helen Breach  

  'Just Sitting' ~ Helen Breach  

Helen Breach, who lives and works in Castle Acre explains how art is a way of life. ‘If ‘art’ can be defined as a means to communicate ideas, information and emotions, then my ‘art’ has been very important - it provided an income, it was work. A life-time of drawing, whether at the drawing board, tutoring or informal sketching was the backbone of my practice. Learning new processes meant engaging with other people, provoking reactions and was often a cathartic experience leading to a sense of achievement. ‘Art’ therefore has been a passion and a way of life. 

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