I live in the land of big skies. Constable country they call it. No wonder so many artists live here. The fact that this is the end of the line – the train line that is, just a few miles further and you come to a halt in Great Yarmouth – makes this a frontier land, which, of course, is deeply attractive to artists. It’s properly wild here. The coast is eroding, a full moon always means great bites are taken out of the sandy cliffs, the meadows flood, the wind can flatten you to the ground if it’s in the mood, all good creative material. Here the elements definitely have a say in how you live.
If you’re lucky, when you wander on a footpath over fields you’ll see giant flints tossed up out of the ground, like the earth has spat out the lumpy bits. These knobbled, misshapen, fractured stones are just the kind of thing that YBA artist Sarah Lucas now thrills to find. Where once the contents of a skip in Clapton or Hackney would be the source of her artistic inspiration, now the land has a say in her work, and sheep skulls too. For she, like me, has chosen this frontier land as her new home. In fact, she has chosen to live in one of Benjamin Britten’s old houses, a place where he composed Death in Venice in the garden shed.
Lucas and a group of artists (some YBAs and some East Anglians too) decided it was too much of a coincidence that they were all drawn to make homes here and so have put on a show of their work as part of the Aldeburgh Festival of Music and Art.
There is a giant sculpture by Gary Hume, who has a studio at Snape, standing alongside Barbara Hepworth’s famed ‘Family of Man’. Juergen Teller, who has a house near Bawdsey, has produced a generously free book of his ethereal Suffolk photographs. And local artist Mark Fuller created an ingenious performance piece involving beer cans crushed around his feet called ‘Walking on the Moon’. There is a giant hare playing cards by Abigail Lane perched high on a concert hall wall. It sounds crazy, and it is a bit. But using the derelict hop warehouses at Snape alongside the giant concert halls means that every visitor to Benjamin Britten’s famed festival can connect with surprising new art work, and not a watercolour in sight.
People can get a bit watery eyed about the romanticism and poetic beauty of the countryside, but you can still be inspired by those vast skies and do something different. Darren Almond’s work, using the same cast iron name signs you see in old train stations, repeats the Russian-American poet and essayist Joseph Brodsky: ‘Only sound needs echo and dreads its lack’, while facing it on the opposite wall is, ‘A glance is accustomed to no glance back.’ The work and these words repeat themselves over and over in your head. A museum quality show, in a place at the end of the line, who’d have thought it?