YORK seascape artist Carolyn Coles will hold her first exhibition since lockdown at Village Gallery, Colliergate, York, from August 4 to September 19.
Favouring a limited palette to give her work identity, simplicity and life, Carolyn paints mostly on bespoke canvasses in oils and sometimes acrylics, applied with palette knives and flat brushes.
“I like to capture atmosphere, usually with a leaning towards dark and moody and generally on a larger scale,” she says.
Carolyn’s formal artistic education began with studying art and design at York College, then specialising in illustration at Hereford College of Art and Design, earning distinctions in the early 1990s.
After a career taking in marketing art materials and graphic design and illustration in journalism, Carolyn now devotes her time to painting, exhibiting and selling work both on the home market in York, London, Derby, Manchester and Leeds and internationally too.
Carolyn’s love of the seaside and nature in general is reflected in her new collection. “The impressionistic style allows the viewer to interpret their own story and pull their own memories back into play,” she says.
Carolyn was invited by curator and owner Simon Main to mount her “Oh I Do Like To Be Besides The…” show at Village Gallery.
“We select artists by going out to events like York Open Studios and North Yorkshire Open Studios, Art& and the Staithes art festival… and occasionally we get artists coming through the door, canvasses under their arms, trying to find a place to show,” he says.
“We met Carolyn and saw her work at her first York Open Studios show back in 2019 and were so taken with her seascapes – many inspired by and maybe giving a different perspective of the Yorkshire coastline – that we started talking about a show.
“The exhibition starting next week is the result of over a year of talking and getting a match in the diary. So, we are delighted we have finally made it and are really looking forward to hanging Carolyn’s beautiful work. And who doesn’t love Filey?”
Here Carolyn talks the easel life with Charles Hutchinson.
You were due to exhibit at York Open Studios and Staithes Festival of Art and Heritage Festival this year, both alas cancelled. Will those works now form the Village Gallery exhibition?
“Yes. All except one of my bigger pieces that found its new home just before lockdown; a new one from a smaller set of works, which was bought as a special present for Mothering Sunday; another for a secret wedding, and lastly one I sold, giving all proceeds towards a group in York who set themselves up to make and distribute face visors using 3-D printing technology.
“The festival in Staithes usually happens in September, so I would have expected more new works by then.”
What did you do in lockdown when you couldn’t go down to the sea?
“I tried my hand in home-schooling, which wasn’t anything like I had imagined it to be. I rearranged furniture and took over our dining room as a studio, which offered mixed results, partly because I’d forgotten what it was like to have an honest live audience offering encouraging suggestions.
“I couldn’t escape to the loft, my old studio space, as it was now my partner’s office from home. And although I couldn’t go to the sea, the lockdown gave me a brilliant opportunity to sit and immerse myself intensively in the seascapes I had just been working on.”
Where have you been painting since lockdown easement?
“I’ve been back in my studio with the Southbank Artists group at Southlands Methodist Church for a month now, and I’ve more than welcomed the return to what feels a bit like the old normal.
“I’ve been working on a commission, which is huge, so it’s probably just as well I’m not painting at home.”
How does it feel to be painting en plein air again?
“I’ve not managed a huge amount of this yet but hope to when holidays come. Luckily, I enjoy working from photos and sketches, as a lot of my field trips are indeed family days out.
“I love painting with my daughter although I end up assisting, which does get easier with time. Nothing beats painting on location.”
6. What draws you to the sea as a subject matter? The sight, the sound, the light, the dark?
“Hands down, light is the winner. However, the energy, mystery, its patterns, unexpected treasures and its mood all play a massive part.
“I always feel I’m happy with a piece when I can hear the sound of the sea whispering its relentless chatter. I’ve always loved the sea. It’s just so completely fascinating.
“I’ve spent hundreds of hours contemplating life looking at it. I was a big fan of fossil hunting in my twenties, though I never really thought about painting the sea back then. I think partly the reason for painting seascapes now is because it’s a good way to take myself back.”
How do you settle upon the painting techniques you use?
“Over the years, I’ve definitely settled into my way of working. I love using broad, flat brushes alongside palette knives, which enables more random marks, producing less contrived mark-making.
“I prefer oils, the soft buttery texture; the incredible depth of colour leaves acrylics standing really. But I do like to work with speed at times and acrylics do tick a lot of boxes. I also love working in lots of other media; charcoal is sublime.”
Do you have a favourite seascape? Sandsend? Staithes? Wherever?
“I couldn’t say really as every place has its own merits. I’ve painted Sandsend a lot, but recently Filey has become more prominent. The light there can really be incredible.
“Runswick Bay can be as still as a milk pond – really quite surreal. Staithes has its own beauty but different again.
“I’m not fussy but do prefer quieter spots if I can find them. Saying that, Saltburn is incredible but more for messing about in the sea. Great wave action there.”
In the Yorkshire versus Northumberland battle for the best coastline award, which one wins?!
“Ask me again after the summer, as I’m planning a few trips to the Northumberland coast. I doubt it could beat Yorkshire, though I couldn’t say for sure yet. Maybe I’ll get marooned as fellow York artist Malcolm Ludvigsen did at Holy Island. It’s pretty easy to lose the sense of time when painting. I bet that was exciting!”
Who are your fellow artists in the Southbank Artists group. What do you most enjoy about working out of Southlands Methodists Church?
“There are 16 studios in all at South Bank Studios, ranging across all disciplines, even performance artists! I’d feel bad mentioning some rather than others, but they really are a great group to work with. A really interesting bunch. I’ve missed seeing them.
“Special thanks are always due to Donna Maria Taylor who gave me the chance to join her in her space at first, and who remains a brilliant source of support. It’s a great space to work in.
“My studio has a wonderful North light, which was lucky. It can be busy at times, but I feel very much at home there.”
Who are the Westside Artists? Will you be hosting a joint show at some point?
“The Westside Artists (York) – fondly known as ‘The Westies’ – came to be when we grouped together in early 2019. Our close proximity to each other was a great support network at the time and the reason for its name.
“Now we keep in touch offering each other support, advice, laughs. Sharing ideas, and even helping out in a material crisis, is perfect when working locally to one another.
“We’re planning to host a joint show in December, when there’ll be around 12 of us exhibiting at Village Gallery. We’re really looking forward to it.”
What’s coming next for you? Any upcoming shows?
“I have work being exhibited until next January at York Hospital, presently enjoyed by workers and patients, but no visitors. I’m really sad the Staithes festival has had to be cancelled, though it’s totally understandable obviously.”
Carolyn Coles, “Oh I Do Like To Be Besides The…” exhibition of seascape art at Village Gallery, Colliergate, York, August 4 to September 19. Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 10am to 5pm (4.30pm, Sundays).
For more information on Carolyn, go to her website: carolyncoles.co.uk.
Please note: Village Gallery’s Covid-secure etiquette:
“WE are only a little shop, so to conform as far as possible to social distancing, it will only be possible to have one person/family-friendly group in at a time,” says owner Simon Main.
“Even if you cannot see anyone in the shop when you arrive, please shout out to check it’s OK, as there may be people upstairs. And if you have to wait, please queue responsibly outside, maintaining that essential two-metre separation.”