At one time, if you fancied going to see some art, you would have to take yourself off to the local museum or gallery
More recently, there has been a welcome trend to make art more accessible. Visit a country park, National Trust property or even a reservoir, and the chances are you’ll be offered a map of the local art trail, with activities to keep the kids happy and maybe even a backpack and some crayons. Here in Leicester, each year on the second weekend of June, Art House offers a different take on the art trail
Our trail takes you through city suburbs, with houses taking the place of galleries. You might not get a backpack, but this trail gives you a chance to see “extraordinary art in ordinary houses” and meet the artists who have created it.
Art House Leicester started in 2008, when Hannah Devine-Wright went round to her neighbour, Katarzyna Klein to buy a couple of her paintings for gifts. Katarzyna had her art stashed away in boxes, and Hannah suggested that she should open her house and try to sell some.
One thing led to another and the first Art House weekend took place with 3 houses and 8 local artists taking part. Something about the event struck a chord with the public and the annual event has gone from strength to strength.
In 2012 there were 9 houses involved, showing the work of over 40 exhibitors. It’s easy to see the appeal. Not only do you get to see a wide variety of fantastic art, from sculpture and ceramics, jewellery and textiles, to fine art and photography; you also get to meet many of the artists and in some cases, get to have a bit of a nosy in their houses. The exhibition also gives visitors the opportunity to buy directly from the artist, with the added advantages of being able to talk about the inspiration for the work and the artistic process, and having the chance to commission unique pieces.
The range and background of the artists taking part is also impressive. As well as full time professional artists, many of whom are represented by galleries across the country and have had solo exhibitions, there are a number of participants who manage to fit their creative activities around alternative careers.
Sue Ryan, Heather Morris, Austin Orwin and Gerry Unsworth all have a background of teaching art across the ages. Louise Ellerington is a professional fine artist and formed the Leicester Contemporary Art Group. Louise has also recently opened "Ellerington Fine Art" on Clarendon Park Road where she exhibits her own work and that of local artists. Jane Askey teaches at De Montfort University and was joined in the exhibition by two recent graduates. Amy Bonsor and Perin Towlson were both given the opportunity to take part in Art House after impressing in the DMU degree shows.
I could go on, but one of the joys of Art House is discovering the depth of talent that the city has to offer as you make your way around the trail.
2012 saw new ways to make that journey. It is possible to visit all the participating houses on a pleasant two mile stroll – in previous years, the most popular way of getting around. Conscious that this might be difficult for some people, the organisers arranged for a couple of “hopper” buses to ferry visitors around the route, with a voluntary donation to a local cancer charity replacing a fare. Ride Leicester were also involved.
With the Riverside Festival and Building Cycling Cultures event also taking place on the same weekend, there was a cycle trail around the houses, with secure bike parking available. A delivery service within Leicestershire is provided for any purchased art, so why not leave your car at home and join in?
For the future, the Art House group has plans to develop links with the local community and Leicester City services to encourage greater opportunities for seeing art in different locations.
Art House Leicester, with its special atmosphere, gives you a unique opportunity to see art and meet artists in homes in the local community. To give you a better feel of what to expect, have a look at Bill Newsinger’s excellent videos of the event on the website. Just remember to bring your own backpack and crayons!
by Andy Ward