Two Charleston exhibitions offer a great start to a year of events

Philip Hughes. Picture by Dan Welldon
Philip Hughes. Picture by Dan Welldon

The new galleries at Charleston come into their own this summer with two totally contrasting exhibitions, which celebrate diversity in art.

Philip Hughes’ cool evocation of landscape and its ancient places lend themselves beautifully to the airy South and Spotlight Galleries. Hughes conveys his passion for the South Downs of East Sussex and the extreme west of Cornwall with paintings of such simplicity, where just a series of lines conjure up the ancient tracks which he has walked over the years.

Working mainly in acrylic on paper, board and canvas, he captures the spirit of place with slabs of colour, ranging from muted to dramatic. His paintings are almost architectural, highly disciplined, yet somehow sing of his love of the wild.

There is a quirkiness too in the handwritten notes included in odd corners.

He has created new works specially for this exhibition, and a number of abstracts in a palette, which responds to the landscape in a totally different way.

An added bonus is a display of his sketchbooks, which show the processes through which he works – sketching on site and painting in his studio.

Walk from the stillness of Hughes’ work to the spectacular burst of colour in the Wolfson Gallery where Vanessa Bell’s granddaughter Cressida Bell has curated a mouth-watering exhibition of 20th century artists from Sickert to Bridget Riley, seen in the context of Charleston’s former residents, Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell.

This is a highly personal exhibition that celebrates colour in a way that owes much to the influences of Grant, Bell and the French Post-Impressionists.

Beautifully hung, it is a joy to walk through the three rooms to rediscover much-loved works that have become so much a part of our lives and to encounter newer works that may not be so well known, yet take their place happily in this wonderfully eclectic collection.

What works so well is the mix of abstract and realism; of still life and intimate interiors; of portrait and landscape.

Yet running through the exhibition is a joyous love of colour – at times brash and unapologetic, at other times gentle and subdued.

The two exhibitions are Charleston at its best and a wonderful start to the year-round programme of events in the galleries and the barns.

From Sickert to Riley curated by Cressida Bell and Land by Philip Hughes continues until August 26. The galleries are open Wednesday to Sunday and Bank Holiday Mondays from 10am to 5pm.

Ten things to see in East Sussex, Friday to Thursday, March 22-28. Click here to read more.