I’ve always loved visiting galleries, discovering what an artist has created, but in the first week of May, the tables were turned. For the first time, I was on the other side presenting a joint exhibition with my artist wife, Hazel. We called the exhibition, “Bees in a Landscape”, and it was based around Hazel’s semi-abstract paintings of memorable views from the South West of the UK depicting the local landscape in all its glories. Alongside the paintings, I showed photographs of some of the bees I have encountered in these same locations. We hoped that the exhibition would raise awareness of the variety, beauty and importance of these beneficial insects as well as showing how we can all support them.
It was more than a year and a half ago that we agreed to put on the exhibition and throughout 2016 I photographed bees and Hazel worked hard on her paintings. I didn’t spend hours looking for rare examples, I just photographed the bees that I saw, often in local gardens or when Hazel and I were out walking together by the coast. It has certainly made me look more carefully at insects and flowers when we go out.
As the week of the exhibition approached there were many things to arrange: had we done enough publicity, did we have enough wine for the Private View, had we sent out all the invitations, would enough people come? Fortunately Hazel has a lot of experience in putting on exhibitions. When we spoke to people in the run up to the exhibition, we detected a genuine interest in the topic of bees and the landscape which was very reassuring.
The most stressful time was “hanging” the exhibition. All the paintings and photos were ready but we couldn’t get in to the gallery until 1730, the evening before the exhibition opened on the Sunday. There were a few distractions, and it took longer than we expected to decide how to place the work around the gallery and to mount it on the walls, and we had to come back on Sunday morning to complete the job. In the end, we finished with just enough time to nip home to change and be back to welcome guests for the Private View.
The Private View is one of those special artists’ events that goes with an exhibition. It’s a chance to invite friends, other artists, and people with a special interest to share a glass of wine before the exhibition is open to the public. Many people came and everyone seemed genuinely interested and impressed by the work. We were also very fortunate that, during the Private View, Totnes women’s choir Viva, sang for us creating a magical atmosphere with their beautiful harmonies. Led by Roz Walker, and dressed in yellow and black, they sang songs about bees based on poems by Rudyard Kipling, Carol Ann Duffy, Vita Sackville-West and one based on the Finnish epic poem the Kalevala. We were so grateful that they gave their time to come and sing for us.
The Exhibition was open that afternoon and then daily until the following Saturday. Hazel and I split the stewarding duties which meant we each did a morning or an afternoon in the gallery. Totnes is a busy place and the gallery is in the centre of town so up to 100 people came in each day. We both had many interesting and unexpected conversations with visitors and I was very surprised at the warmth and interest shown by people who came to look at the pictures, both landscapes and bees. On many occasions, I heard the comment: ” I didn’t realise how many kinds of bee there were in this country and how beautiful they are!” Hazel found that her paintings evoked memories for visitors: of childhood picnics, happy holidays and even a honeymoon. The greetings cards featuring images from the Exhibition were also very popular.
On the Tuesday, I took a small group on a Bee Tour of the public gardens dotted around the centre of Totnes. It wasn’t a very sunny day but we had wide-ranging discussions and were able to see some interesting bees foraging on large patches of comfrey and cerinthe including female Hairy-footed flower bees, early and tree bumblebee workers and a garden bumblebee queen.
Our exhibition was featured on Soundart, a local community radio station. One of the presenters interviewed Hazel in the gallery and I went to the studio to talk about bees. This was an interesting experience, if not altogether satisfactory. After Hazel’s interview had been played, the presenters asked me about the exhibition and about bees which was fine. When we got on to neonicotinoids, however, the discussion was hijacked by one presenter. He challenged the possibility of obtaining “evidence” in scientific investigations of complex systems like bees and after his intervention, the bee discussion petered out which was a shame as there were many other aspects we could have covered.
Hazel and I were extremely pleased with the exhibition. Many people came to look and we had some fascinating conversations. Several people made special journeys to visit and talk to us. People went away knowing more about bees. What more could you we have asked for!?
For more about Hazel’s paintings click here. The featured image at the top of this post is Hazel’s painting “Seal Bay (Brixham from Churston Cove)”.
Birdwood House Gallery web site can be viewed here