Aspects of Rievaulx Abbey Exhibition

I was quite excited last week – I’m an excitable sort of woman really.

‘What about?’ I hear you asking… well, this time it was the prospect of seeing a new exhibition of art at Nunnington Hall, about six miles from Helmsley or about 22 miles from York in North Yorkshire. The exhibition is called ‘Aspects of Rievaulx Abbey‘ which lies in ruins nearby (just the other side of Helmsley).

Now I realise that other people don’t necessarily get all worked up about heaps of old stone ruins in the same way that I do, but that’s not what I was focusing on here.

Oh, I do love old ruins for all sorts of reasons – as a bit of a history buff I have always been fascinated by the plethora of particularly ecclesiastical ruins that abound in Yorkshire, dating way back to Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536, which is all tied up with his driving urge to separate England from the clutches of the Catholic Pope largely because of course, he wanted to bed the woman of his dreams, Ann Boleyn. Which meant getting a divorce at a time when you simply couldn’t. Plus it caused all sorts of other headaches for Henry’s advisers and subjects. It’s an especially juicy period of English history that truly captivated the imagination of a secretly romantic teenager that I once was.

When we  were planning our Gold Duke of Edinburgh’s trek (36 miles to be covered in four days/three nights), my friends and I decided to tromp around the area and paid Rievaulx Abbey’s ruins a visit to give a feasible, specific purpose to the trek. I have fond memories of rocking up there, three days in to this mammoth trek (which it seemed like at the time – I can’t manage a whole mile nowadays of course!) and being deeply affected by the calm surroundings, the distinctly ethereal light that played on the moss-covered stone walls. It was a slightly surreal experience.

I’ve often meant to go back and re-visit the place again, with adult eyes and a lifetime of experience to inform me but have not yet managed to make time to do so. Hence my flurry of feelings at the prospect of seeing an exhibition of art dedicated to this subject.

But that wasn’t the only reason – as if I needed another.

There are four featured artists participating in this particular show; Anne Thornhill, Paul Blackwell, Sue Morton and Peter Hicks. I’d seen several Peter Hicks pieces before and love his wonderful abstract landscapes, which have all the raw emotion of Turner about them. I’ve also seen Sue’s work in the past too – much more figurative and precisely detailed, she uses colour so effectively in her exquisitely captured images of North Yorkshire landmarks.

But it was the other two, Anne and Paul that I was in a tizzy about. These two people were my own art teachers, some 38 years or so ago, when I was a student at St Hilda’s School in Whitby. They inspired me so much back then, teaching me virtually everything I know about what it means to be an artist. My obsession with colour theory was sparked by Paul’s ‘white still life’ lessons and has never really gone away, thankfully.

Paul arrived at the school first, fortunately just in time for me to take my Art O level and pass with a good grade, something I hadn’t really expected to happen before his intervention. I knew my way round a sheet of cartridge paper with pencils and could handle basic drawing reasonably well, but he taught me to look and see as an artist does, with a critical, analytical eye. He caused quite a stir among the all-female staff at this convent boarding school – which was also all-girls, especially since he was *young* and *hip*, with long(ish) hair and a ‘tache (it was ‘The Seventies’!) and there were many giggling girls who invented elaborate reasons to come and visit us in the Art room just to catch a glimpse of this strange being! He was brilliant and took it all in his stride.

The girls were all more than a little disappointed when the following year, as three of us began our A level course, the lovely Anne arrived, with her thigh-length mane of gorgeous hair, usually kept in a demure plait tumbling down her back so far she could sit on it. Within a few days as our class-mates realised that she was Paul’s wife, the level of interest in our art work seemed to wane inexplicably, although not for long as we began to understand how exceptional a teacher she actually was. Kind, understanding, intellectual, thought-provoking and creative beyond measure, I found something I had never seen before – someone to emulate and look up to. It was a watershed moment in my life, for sure.

So, here I am all these decades later and whilst of course I’ve looked them up on the Internet and discovered their artwork anew, I hadn’t actually seen their work in person for so long. Here was a wonderful opportunity, a chance to see some wonderful art that I felt a personal connection to in so many ways. I was definitely going to see it.

And then I found out ( from my friend Joy Green at the Scarborough Arts Forum) that the artists (all four) would be holding a ‘Meet the Artists’ session at Nunnington Hall on Saturday afternoon and I was quite beside myself with delight! I emailed Anne (from her website) to check what times they would likely be there and received a polite and enthusiastic response outlining the rough schedule for the day. Then I received a second email, sent an hour or so later, declaring with what seemed to be almost the same excitement that I was feeling, stating simply ‘I just realised who you are!’ – and that she too was looking forward to seeing me again after all these years.

It is a wonderful exhibition, full of beautiful images reflecting on the quietude and sublime loveliness of this rare location. Each of the four artists has such distinct and unique styles of painting, their fondness for the subject deftly uniting them for this exhibition. For me, the standout impression is of exquisite use of colour to create peace-filled images that are almost as transcendental as the actual place.

PAP Rxsm
Anne’s work sits between two of Paul’s (already sold, I understand)
Anne T Rievaulx sm
My favourite of Anne’s pieces – simply sublime!
Sue Moretons Rievaulx triptych sm
Sue Morton’s triptych panorama of the abbey and surrounding area
Peter Hicks sm
Peter Hicks with one of his emotive impressions of Rievaulx.

I was enjoying it immensely from the start, scanning skilled sketches and masterful panoramas drawn by Paul and Peter and then, when Anne and I finally met, the years (and there have been far too many!) simply fell away and I was no longer a mid-fifty-year-old grandmother, but a girl of seventeen; reminded of my ‘fiery nature’ and obsession with Manchester United Football Club and many other sweet memories.

Being able to share with Anne and Paul that I have recently made a small foray into exhibiting my own work at last, I suddenly felt like I belonged, for the first time in a very long time, to a place, to people, to my own life. It was another watershed moment indeed.

Anne Rievaulx scene sm
Anne with another of her paintings of Rievaulx
Anne Liz Paul sm
With my favourite Art Teachers!
Paul Rievaux Temple sm
Paul with one of his exquisite paintings of the Temple at Rievaulx

If you are in the area, it’s an exhibition I cannot recommend too highly – I would have bought every piece if I had the money and space to display the work, which, sadly, I don’t. That’s probably a good thing though, because it means that they can share their wonderful talents with a wider audience. Please don’t just take my word for it though – I’ve asked permission from each of the artists to publish these pictures here and if you see anything you like, I’m sure that you can contact any of the artists via their websites – click on the links attached to their names above. I hope you enjoy looking at these works of art as much as I have done.

Thanks for reading again!



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