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Sunday, 15 September 2019

Spotlight: the Coastal watercolous of William Toplis

'Port Gouray, Sark' - William Toplis. Watercolour
William Arthur Toplis (1857~1942) is known as the artist of Sark.  Sark is a small island in the Channel Islands, now inhabited by about 400 people. William's paintings bring out the beauty and colourful movements of the little island. The features and landscapes he depicted are still today, there to enjoy.
'The Venus Bath' (This painting took Toplis a decade to complete. The area is now more usually known as "The Venus Pool", and is still as depicted here.)
William was born in Sheffield. He taught himself to paint and sold his first painting at the age of 10. In Sheffield he attended Bowlings School and the People's College, then studied at the Sheffield School of Art, graduating at the age of 15. He married in 1878, and he an Eleanor had, over the years, 8 children. They stayed in Scotland and at Betws-y-coed, where William produced many landscapes. His painting "Sermon in Stones" was accepted by the Royal Academy in 1880, and the Royal Academy remained a reliable promoter of his work.
In 1881 the Toplis family moved to Jersey in the Channel Islands.  Two years later, following a holiday in the neighbouring small island of Sark, they moved to Sark, where William continued to paint the details of its rugged coastline and landscape.  He had many works exhibited on the mainland, including large scale Sark paintings accepted for both the 1885 and 1887 Royal Academy exhibitions.  Toplis was a dedicated painter with a determined eye and hand, and went to great lengths to capture impressions of the island... 
    "...he built a wooden platform and fixed it to the side of the cliff with the use of ropes. Christmas lowered him to the platform by rope and he was then able to obtain the view he required for the painting."
There are always painters on Sark, as everywhere.  Rocks on waves.
William upheld the beauty and nature of Sark, during a transition from a wonderful and advanced island of freedom and peace, through the early changes of the times. In the nineteenth century, ahead of his time, Helier de Carteret had created a somewhat Utopian democracy in Sark under the guise of a feudal state. By the end of the nineteenth century, Sark was still ahead of the times, in that it had degenerated into the first of Europe's fascist dictatorships.  This was under the control of one extended family, which was under the control of one man.
'The Causeway, Sark'
This pattern of control, though the periods of industrialisation and wealth generation, became a more dominant feature of the island, and one which William riled against. The island’s ruler sought to evict Toplis and his family, however William resisted keenly, his sense of decency and rightfulness aided by always having, at any time, several unfinished landscape paintings to complete on the island. The dominant family was itself over-ruled when Sark was captured and occupied by German forces during the second World War. Toplis’ troubles, such as "Last night at 11.30pm another shot was fired at the same bedroom window..." were then at the hands of the new oppressor.
Sark remains a troubled island today, through the political and economic interference of the wealthy Barclay Brothers who have had a castle built for themselves on a neighbouring island.

Waves over rocks.
'Creux Harbour, Sark'. Watercolour
William passed away on Sark in 1942, during the German occupation, and Eleanor followed in 1944.

In the summer of 1993 I lived on Sark for 9 weeks. On the neighbouring island of Brecqhou, a castle was being built. From Sark’s cliff tops we saw crates delivered by helicopter. 
The rocks and waves and colours of Sark are still as William Toplis painted. If you holiday on Sark, you may also wish to stay there.

William Toplis' paintings are mostly in private collections, and rarely seen.  Some remain in the Channel Islands as part of the collection of the Guernsey Museum and Art Gallery, along with many of his sketches, and works by some of the other Channel Islands artists.  The Gallery is at St Peter's Port, which is also where one can take the small foot-ferry from Guernsey to Creux Harbour on Sark.

Monday, 2 September 2019

Call-out for artists to talk to children at Busy Bodies Child Care

We have received the following request from James Boddey, director of Busy Bodies Child Care Centre in Ludlow. 

For two weeks (16th - 26th Sept) our nursery theme is Art and we are going to be exploring a range of famous artists and their processes. This will all lead to our first ever Art Show on the 27th September 2pm - 4pm. The Art Show will be open to all and an opportunity to show off the Artwork the children have created.

We are looking for local artists, sculptors and designers to come in to talk to the children about how they create their work. This is an opportunity to inspire the children, share their work and get a shout out on our website and Facebook page.

If you need any more information please email and I will forward your email to James.