Artists who made waves by the seaside

Some places become inextricably associated for long periods with colonies of artists. But there are other places that attract all kinds of visiting artists - if only for a short time and however significantly or not - and one such place is the English eastern seaside town of Southwold.

It cannot be called an artists' colony. But writer Ian Collins has compiled an attractive, anecdotal, informative, amusing, and virtually encyclopedic book about "artists in Southwold."

It's called "Making Waves" (Black Dog Books, £30), and it is amazing how many artists he has come up with. He has left few leaves unturned, and any artist with the slightest connection with this East Anglian coastal resort - or its surroundings and nearby villages - is included.

Others are included because they have connections with artists who have connections with Southwold. Looking out from this microcosm, Mr. Collins offer glimpses of the larger British art cosmos.

He is not narrow in his definition of "artist." Local artists are featured alongside artists of national and even international repute - the character of the place itself being the main point.

It is the way in which artists can be touched by a strong sense of "the local" that this book celebrates. In our "global" times, a strongly felt interface between art and locality can take on poignant meaning. Collins quotes essayist Adrian Bell, who, in 1956, "pondered the distinctive spirit of Southwold" - "It is not that [the people of Southwold] are exclusive, it is just that their own place preoccupies them."

What is unusual about this book is that it is concentratedly local in attitude, while at the same time wide-ranging in its art-world scope.

Many of the artists came to Southwold for short periods and left. Some returned and stayed, like Margaret Mellis and her husband, Francis Davison, in the 20th century.

In the late 19th century, Southwold and its neighboring village, Walberswick, played a crucial role in the sparkling and daringly original art of Philip Wilson Steer. He seems to have been utterly liberated, for a very short time, by the light and breeze of the place, "an incendiary effect," as Collins puts it.

Steer's contemporary Walter Sickert recognized the place's importance for Steer. Of his "Two Girls on a Pierhead, Walberswick," he wrote: "I have never seen a canvas which is more like sun and wind.... You feel that sunshine and wind and youth are glorious things, and that life, if it be only a reprieve, renewed day by day, is a gift to be grateful for."

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