Visual Arts Reviews


The traditional Welsh hat dates back to the 1830s, and has come to symbolize the iconic image of the Welsh woman – strong, no-nonsense, down-to-earth. So redoubtable is this image that it is tied up with the repelling of a Napoleonic force at Fishguard, where the womenfolk, clad in these hats, were mistaken for soldiers. To the present time, young girls dress in this traditional garment on St David’s Day.

The Welsh blanket is similarly iconic. The product of the Welsh wool industry and flourished in its uplands, its pattern has been used on many Welsh products and images.

For her installation, Keep It Under Your Hat, artist Mary Gwen has brought these two Welsh icons together. She has created a massive Welsh hat (I guess a couple of metres high and wide), constructed from Welsh blanket tweed, which is suspended from the ceiling of the Pavilion Gardens foyer. At first glance it appears to float in mid-air, a powerful statement of magic and power. Mary Gwen describes the work as depicting cultural secrets and identity, sense of place, purpose and belonging in Wales today, while exploring themes of dichotomy, fear, heritage, shared knowledge and diversity with an environmentally-aware backdrop.

Keep It Under Your Hat is a striking piece of work and well worth a visit during its time in Buxton.

Robbie Carnegie

ART ON THE RAILINGS - Buxton Art Trail

A taste of Paris' art market at Montmartre came to Buxton today, with Art on the Railings outside on Boardwalk.

The lovely weather justified a move of date from last weekend and brought out the crowds.  There was a relaxed holiday atmosphere with lots of people enjoying the display and the chance to chat with the artists about their work.

Listening to the conversations this one off event had clearly attracted a good mix of art enthusiasts, locals and holiday makers making the most of a rare opportunity to enjoy art in the open air.

Art on the Railings has been running since 2014 when a group of four artists took part, the event has grown  in subsequent years through the biennial Buxton Art Trail.  Today at least 13 local artists were displaying their work exhibiting a wide range of styles and mediums from watercolour to oil to felt to mosaics.  The quality of the work on show was exceptional with something to appeal to all tastes, the prices were varied enough to suit most wallets, and of course it's free to look!

Carole Garner

BUXTON PHOTO CHALLENGE 2021 - Chapel Camera Club

On Saturday 10th July 2021 photographers old and new were invited to take part in the online Buxton Photo Challenge: to take 6 photos in 6 hours on 6 themes and upload them onto a Facebook page. The challenge was free of charge, open to all ages, and for anyone who enjoys taking photos.

The themes were: summer; new; connect; free; view; rest.

Refreshingly, there were no prizes on offer, just the fun of taking part. I found all of the photos to be of a very high standard (well, nearly all!) and I hope the organisers will indulge me mentioning a few personal favourites:

I loved:

Sara Davis’ Rose

Patsy Fairclough’s stunning view

Loise Moon’s black and white rest shot

Heather Claire’s adorable dog

Robert Wade’s stunning wild flowers

My earlier caveat (well, nearly all) is because I am slightly less keen on snaps of Covid tests!

Well done to all participants and to Chapel Camera Club for organising this.

Ian Hamilton

CONSIDERED CONSOLIDATION - The Louise Jannetta Gallery & Studio

Louise Jannetta has had a very fruitful period in the last year or so and her gallery cum workshop is full to the brim with new paintings - some abstract, some representational and some hovering between the two.

Louise is a generous, friendly host who is on hand to talk about what she has done and what she is doing currently, such as brushing graphite powder onto a textured acrylic surface creating something curiously akin to fossils. I found my eye caught by a delicate oil painting of trees that wasn’t formally part of the exhibition and we had a fascinating conversation about her use of glazing to bring out subtle colours. Her glowing small landscapes also make use of this technique combined with tactile impasto using not, as I imagined, a palette knife, but scrapers she found at the Discount Centre! Her use of colour is extraordinary with Field of Barley for example suffused in a golden haze that extends to the sky in the subtlest imaginable way.

Fans of the artist may be familiar with her highly textural lace trees. It’s good to see she is still finding new approaches with this, the leaves proving as significant as the branches in one large cross-section of silver birches. Texture is hugely important to her abstract works too, meaning that whether or not you feel you are 'getting' them on an intellectual level, you will react to their physical presence. In fact if you can relax into this process, it is this simple response that frequently leads to lightbulb-like enlightenment. Life Force, for example, using strings applied to canvas, quite literally bursts out of the canvas; Grass Harp with its sleek, raised lines on an all-white canvas manages to be grass, harp and nothing at all. Exquisite Pain featuring rips and tears on the canvas successfully holds the two words of its title in play - the colours are soft and beautiful but the rips are dangerous and the shapes the rips create are troublingly intimate.

Louise writes in her accompanying leaflet that words do not do visuals justice. I agree. In fact I fear they can be off-putting or misrepresentative. So make sure you catch this sensuous exhibition in person and do also check out Louise’s website where you can learn about her physical and online workshops.

Stephanie Billen


It’s great to see Funny Wonders back with their flowerpot trail. This year the theme is ‘Go Wild, wildlife and wilderness.’ In the run up the to Fringe people and businesses were encouraged to make their flowerpot men and creatures. Funny Wonders provided pots, instructions, workshops and lots of support for those who wanted it. And the result is a fabulous trail of 53 different places to seek out around Buxton. A free map can be downloaded, or you can pick up a printed one for just £1 from The Green Man Gallery, Poole’s Cavern and The Pump Room. If you’re wandering around town just keep your eyes open and you’ll certainly spot some of them. It’s lovely to have a mix of organisations, businesses and individual homes taking part and you can easily see the effort that has gone into making them.

There are those much more tucked away down little alleyways or in the middle of a housing estate, and the map is essential to helping you seek them out. You can of course do as much or as little of the trail as you wish; and spread it out over a few days. But it’s well worth working your way through it and admire the creativity and imagination of the makers. A few select highlights would include Hogshaw Villas, where several neighbours have all joined in the fun, you’ll find bees, owls and a ‘froggy went a courting scene’! Along Fairfield Road keep your eyes peeled for a wee flowerpot man pointing the way down a secluded alley – a little way down you’ll find a menagerie, including a giraffe, zebra and monkeys. Bees are a common theme around Buxton this Fringe, and I loved the wee bee-keeper at Bell’s Shoes. You might have to look down to spot some of them, such as a monster long snakes or look up to see the one tucked away in a hanging basket. Some you get up close and personal too – a few are to be admired from slightly further away!

It’s a really nice focus to help explore the town, and take you a little way off the beaten track, and works well with other walking trails available at this year’s Fringe. And if you feel inspired to make your own flowerpot man or animal when you get home, some instructions can be found on the Funny Wonder’s website!

Maria Carnegie

WHERE WE ARE NOW - The Green Man Gallery Artists

There is a real sense of new beginnings at Where We Are Now. For starters, the participating artists - Geoff Chilton, Mara Edwards, Dawn Featherstone, Amanda O’Neill, Suzanne Pearson, Caroline Small and Jo Spencer - are all exhibiting in a new space at The Green Man Gallery. This part of the building dates from 1896 and is a former bedroom on the first floor of what was once the Peak Hydropathic Hotel. Having had some water damage, it is a little rough around the edges but the staff’s efforts in clearing, rewiring and repainting the room have paid off, making it a light and pleasant new space for smaller exhibitions.

After the year we have all had, the artists have been forced to take stock and respond to their personal circumstances to work out what they can do and what they want to do. The excellent individual write-ups give a real sense of this creative process and there are some fascinating surprises. Caroline Small is best known for her photography and there are some wonderfully 3-D pictures of reeds here, but having broken her wrist last November she also discovered that knitting was great physiotherapy. This has led to her “painting” with yarn, making an oversized cardigan with all the colours and movement of the sea.

When I think of Dawn Featherstone, I think of her pastel landscapes, but during lockdown when she couldn’t get to a shop to buy a birthday card she ended up using a triangle print to make a card. Her Triangles at Play artwork is as fun as it sounds.

Geoff Chilton shares his painting Fishing Boat at Orford, talking candidly about his dissatisfaction with it at times but also how he is enjoying moving a little away from abstracts and how he has fallen in love with the texture and feel of oils again.

There is a great deal more to enjoy here including an insight into mosaic artist Jo Spencer’s Bilberry Bee work with the Friends of Buxton Station, animal sculpture from Amanda O’Neill, painter Suzanne Pearson’s adventures in her new dream garden and Mara Edwards’s large, light-filled painting Through the Doorway, created while she listened to Shostakovich.

Above all, this feels like a very honest exhibition that leaves the viewer feeling more intimately acquainted with the Green Man’s talented artists.

Stephanie Billen


Buxton Spa Art Prize

The Buxton Spa Art Prize is in its seventh year, but still a relative newcomer to the Buxton Fringe programme, where it is a very welcome addition. The competition allows artists, both professional and amateur, young and old the chance to create 2D artworks inspired by sights and locations around Buxton and every year brings surprises and delights.

This year’s crop of pictures is no exception. The exhibition, expertly mounted by the Green Man Gallery contains the work of over 100 artists. The pictures cover a wide range of Buxton landmarks, from the more obvious Opera House and Crescent views, to railway bridges and fence posts.

With such a range of styles on offer, there is truly something for all tastes. Amongst the adult entries I was particularly taken with Nicholas Leake’s spooky view of the Opera House featuring dog walkers in Venetian carnival masks (or possibly plague beaks?); Mark Langley’s pointillist-style depiction of the Pavilion Gardens; Eva Juusala’s atmospheric depiction of The Little Train, dominated by ever-present Canada geese; Natalie Whittaker’s resin recreation of various local landmarks in Love Buxton; Andrea Joseph’s stylized views of Broad Walk; and Nick Grove’s sunny view of the Cavendish Arcade and Crescent. I was especially drawn to Jamie Ebdon’s mixed media piece, depicting Solomon’s Temple, Set in Stone.

Alongside the grown-up entries, there’s an exhibition of work by younger entrants, in which I was drawn to 13-year-old Camilla’s painting It was forecast as sunny, and 10-year-old Beatrix’s painting of bees.

The beauty is this exhibition is it encourages the viewer to look at the landscapes of Buxton in a new light, and the paintings themselves encourage repeat viewing. Today I picked the list of paintings above – on another day, I might go for something entirely different. It’s a Buxton institution that deserves its place amongst the artistic highlights of the Buxton year, and long may it continue.

Robbie Carnegie

TAKE THE WATER - Nick Charnley

This small show is the artist’s first appearance at the Fringe, and it occupies probably the smallest venue I’ve been to yet. Compact and bijou is what Nick and I thought.

In a change to most exhibitions/shows, what is on offer here is a chance to see the artist’s work and discuss it with him. Nick is an artist/designer and almost everything you see has been designed and made by him – lamps, lightshades, stool, shelving – the works. And a lot of it is recycled or re-used material and can be multifunctional at the same time. There are some nice touches to things and your eye is clearly drawn to some of the detail. Repurposing can look good.

But it’s not just about what you see. You can take the water – fresh from the fountain at the bottom of the hill. Consider its story. How long does it take to get to you? More importantly you spend time with the artist, chatting about influences, experiences, what makes art and what doesn’t. The art dissolves into the background and you get to understand what drives that artistic impulse. Mass production its not, despite the materials.

Do go along and spend time talking to Nick about his work. Art isn’t just about looking at stuff, its talking and thinking about it too. He’s new to town, so make him feel welcome.

Booking preferred and recommended – only two visitors at a time, and take your own cup/glass.

Ian Parker Heath


Winner of international awards including Best Single Image at the 2019 Travel Photographer of the Year and Mountain Photographer of the Year 2017, Geoff Shoults is a real talent whose glorious pictures are well worth viewing in this Fringe exhibition downstairs at Jo Royle Outdoors.

His particular focus this year is winter woods with most of his photographs taken within walking distance of his Buxton home. Buxton does snow very well and Shoults has captured it in its many aspects from high speed blizzard to quietly beautiful as flat snow flakes fall on Lightwood. Sometimes he makes a feature of the black and white nature of woodland scenes during these conditions, but other times he reveals monochrome to be something of an illusion; Brown Edge Blue Light is particularly arresting featuring very subtle shades of brown, grey and blue, melting into dust as the trees recede into the background.

Shoults is also clearly interested in pattern, finding the abstract in disjointed silver birches against a perfectly white background or in multiple frosted tree branches looking like a map of endless cul de sacs.

We are told that he uses Fuji X system digital cameras and keeps post production to a minimum. His breadth of experience enables him to achieve some breathtaking results in pictures such as The Thaw, showing snow melting from the trees above Burbage with each astonishing drop in perfect focus.

The physical space may be small but there are great many more images to savour including spectacular mountain scenes and skiing pictures. There are also enticing cards and prints. For further information and photographs check out

Stephanie Billen


An art trail around the 23-acre site of Buxton’s Pavilion Gardens and The Serpentine featuring larger than life visually stimulating installations and arresting sculptures. Interpretation panels guide the viewer to the item itself, up high in the foliage and provide a glimpse of the Artists’ intentions - whether to provoke, entertain or inform.

As the Teddy Bear’s Picnic nursery rhyme says: “If you go down to the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise!” Nestled amongst the boughs and trunks of the magnificent mature trees are some truly scary-looking huge monsters, sprites, fairies and all manner of mythical beasts.

And there are artworks that stimulate, like the 80 or so bottles hanging, not on a wall, as referenced in another popular song, but from limbs of lumber.

A giant Anansi spider, the storytelling arachnid of African folklore tangles in its web the tales of community groups and their 18 month long survival under the Covid-19 restrictions.

A family-friendly romp around the public parks will garner a healthy appetite. Maybe locally sold ice creams and refreshments will banish that hunger and, like talisman protectors, keep the monsters up in the trees where they belong?

David Carlisle