WELCOME TO GROUNDLEVEL
GROUNDWORK GALLERY’S BLOG
Our blog will provide a regular virtual window into the workings and musings of the remarkable GroundWork Gallery, a new space committed to all aspects of the environment, and to the artists and designers whose ideas and works enable us to think about the fundamental elements of the world which we inhabit.
Our first posting offers an introduction to the recently inaugurated GroundWork Gallery, established in July 2016. We invite you to visit the Gallery in King’s Lynn, to explore the GroundWork website and to keep an eye open for forthcoming educational events, talks and discussions. Please sign up to our mailing list to receive regular GroundLevel postings (right).
This month, GroundWork launches a new exhibition Out of the Wood, 5 November to 17 December 2016. Out of the Wood celebrates trees, forests and the art of wood through the work of ten artists and designers: Dominic Ash, Lorraine Bewick, Lee Grandjean, Doo Gurney, Ian Tyson, Calum McClure, Par Avion, Tim Plunkett, Tim Simmons and Tara Books & Gond artists from India. This arboreal exhibition marks the beginning of a year-long Trees, Woods and People campaign by the Woodland Trust culminating with a Charter in November 2017. GroundWork has signed up as one of more than 50 Woodland Trust’s charter champions and will work through 2017 to raise awareness of the importance of trees, woods and forests, in King’s Lynn and beyond.
GroundWork is a new contemporary art gallery located in the heart of King’s Lynn, a pebble’s throw from the historic Purfleet Quay. There are several unusual things about GroundWork and its founding concept that make this gallery an important addition to King’s Lynn, to the national art scene and the international contemporary art world: the Gallery’s broad vision, its pioneering aims and commitment to the environment and the building itself, transformed from a modest derelict brick building into a sleek town centre arts hub.
GroundWork is the vision of Director, Veronica Sekules, a passionate environmentalist with a wealth of experience working in art galleries and museums. GroundWork is dedicated to all aspects of the environment: from the wider atmosphere, the landscape, sea and shore, to its physical elements, stones, sand, water, mud, trees and plants. Veronica’s concept is to reflect and show the ways in which artists record its character, its beauties, its puzzles and its threats and its dangers.
Veronica Sekules says: “GroundWork aims to be a centre of activity, information, discussion and conviviality where people see and enjoy art, which helps them to think about the environment more deeply.” By bringing together and displaying works of local, national and international artists, Veronica plans to encourage conversations and debates about the world in which we live and the ways that as humans we interact, respond and are inspired by our environment.
Environmental Passion Veronica Sekules brings more than 30 years of experience working with artists both as a curator and as an educationalist. She was Curator, Head of Education & Research and Deputy Director of the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, University of East Anglia. During her career, she ran many projects, including Culture of the Countryside, a three-year Heritage Lottery funded programme, between 2008 - 2011. The project aimed ‘to encourage a better understanding of the culture and heritage of the East Anglian counties through direct engagement with the Sainsbury Centre collections of art from around the world’. Her forthcoming book, Cultures of the Countryside and the Museum, is published by Taylor & Francis and traces the relationship between the museum and the micro-cultures of the countryside over the last 50 years, including: agricultural mechanisation, rural depopulation and changing demographics, the growth of environmental activism and the development of the heritage industry.
Veronica was one of the editors for World Art, a peer-reviewed journal published by Routledge. She trained as an art historian, has an MA in education, a PhD in Medieval Art and is an active educational researcher and writer, specialising in the Middle Ages and 20th-century art. She is widely published in these areas. She is also a member of the Children in Museums Award committee and is currently chair of judges.
To underline the fact that this pioneering space intends to place King’s Lynn on the international art map, GroundWork opened in July 2016 with a literally groundbreaking exhibition Sunlight and Gravity featuring the works of two internationally renowned British artists, friends and collaborators, Richard Long and Roger Ackling.
Richard Long made his indelible mark on the main wall of GroundWork, ‘baptising’ the gallery with mud from the nearby Great Ouse to create his latest Mud series work: The Great Ouse River Drawing July 2016 (detail above left). Richard Long began creating his Mud series of works in the 1990s, with dramatic thrown splash works made spontaneously on gallery walls and floors in London, New York, Los Angeles, Athens, Paris, Dusseldorf and Rome. The GroundWork Gallery now counts among these major art centres as a location for a site-specific monumental work.
Although they lived at opposite cardinal points of England: Roger Ackling in Norfolk and Richard Long in Bristol, the two friends exchanged pieces of driftwood to create works for their 2006 New York exhibition: 1 + 1 = 2. ‘Long would mark his Avon driftwood and sent them to Ackling, and Ackling did likewise in reverse with his Norfolk driftwood’, says Veronica. Ackling inscribed his trademark sun-etches on the wood; Long, his muddy fingerprint stamps. Together they created works that occupy both the physical and spiritual realm, each in their own personal way (above right).
Roger Ackling, who died in 2014, harnessed one of the most powerful sources of nature in a direct and transforming manner. His careful and deliberate use of the sun’s energy to inscribe indelible scorch marks into wood ensured that his work was highly weather-dependent. His neatly systematised weather notebooks were on display in Sunlight and Gravity for the first time.
17 Purfleet Street One of the last remaining 1930s industrial buildings in the centre of King’s Lynn, 17 Purfleet Street started life as a modest two-storey, flat-roofed brick-built carpenter’s workshop and store. After the death of master carpenter and reproduction furniture maker, Charles Winlove, the building lay empty and neglected for two decades before Sandy Heslop and Veronica Sekules found it. Spotting the potential of the site as a gallery and accommodation, they began complex negotiations with local planning and national heritage authorities to restore the building and breathe new life into the overlooked space; at the same time, they evolved their ambitious plans for regeneration.
As with so many grandes passions before, finding 17 Purfleet Street was accidental and their love affair was whirlwind. Veronica Sekules recalls: “We bought the building by chance almost. Having inherited some money, we wanted to invest wisely and decided to buy a lettable property in King’s Lynn. We had always loved the town, beautiful, historic but not quite flourishing at the moment and in need of wider discovery and attention. We imagined buying a little terraced house, then we saw 17 Purfleet Street, a plain and modest little industrial building in the heart of the historic town and despite its damaged condition, immediately realised it had huge potential. The setting is amazing, right opposite the seventeenth century Custom House, which is, as our late friend, architectural historian, David Thomson used to say: ‘one of the best small buildings in Europe.”
So began Sandy and Veronica’s two-year long process to transform the Winlove Building, as 17 Purfleet Street is known, from a derelict ruin of a building into contemporary art space, shop and holiday accommodation. For the first part story of their Grand Designs transformation, read Veronica’s post Regeneration from the Ground Upwards in King’s Lynn (Part I).
The tardis-like building is deceptive from the outside (above). Behind its unassuming brick facade, the interior has been sensitively transformed by Hudson Architects and the Norfolk Building Company. On Ground Level is the 60 square metre Main Gallery, complete with Richard Long’s The Great Ouse River Drawing, in situ on the entrance wall, created for its opening exhibition in July 2016. There is a certain additional aptness to this work; during a building survey they discovered that No 17 stands upon the ancient silt of the Purfleet, a tributary of the River Great Ouse and while the present building is quite secure, it was not be possible to add the planned new second storey without prohibitively expensive deep-pile raft foundations. Original plans for the top floor were creatively reworked to become a penthouse loft, with a light-weight wooden framed roof, in order to maintain the building’s structural integrity.
The bright First Floor Living Room with its enlarged windows (left) provides flexible space acting as additional gallery or project space, meeting room, shop-come-studio space, complete with fully functioning kitchen and a wooden terrace.
A top floor Penthouse loft apartment looks out at beautiful views across central King’s Lynn and to the neighbouring Grade I Listed Custom House and Purfleet Quay. The modern in-the-eaves Penthouse studio has a contemporary style, including colourful soft furnishings by London-based artist, Ptolemy Mann and decorations of British wool and slate. The Penthouse is available as a holiday let, sleeping between two to four people. The First Floor Living Room can also be converted into sleeping accommodation with sofa beds for two to four people, available after 5 pm. Proceeds from the rentals support the funding of the Gallery’s programmes.
A connecting industrial stairwell allows further display space for large-scale works, such as Richard Long’s From Circle to Circle from Space to Earth during Sunlight and Gravity. During the current Out of the Wood exhibition, a large patterned barkcloth from Tonga hangs on the stairs up to the Penthouse.
Woodland Trust Charter Champions GroundWork Gallery is one of more than 50 Charter Champions for the Woodland Trust’s Trees, Woods and People Charter. The Woodland Trust aims to produce a new Charter ‘to influence policy and practice and celebrate the role that trees and woods play in our lives’. The Charter will launch on 6th November 2017, the 800th anniversary of the Charter of the Forest.
Throughout 2017, the Woodland Trust and its Charter Champions are collecting stories about what trees and woods mean to people; and building a picture of their value to everyone in the UK.
Pippa Lacey, November 2016