by Jess Howard
Norwich city centre is home to a plethora of well-known art, by many famous and reputable artists. The Sainsbury Centre collection holds paintings and sculptures by artists such as Alberto Giacometti and Francis Bacon. A multitude of texts have been written on our Cathedral and the remains of the historic city walls. However, just because a piece wasn’t created by a world famous practitioner does not make it irrelevant.
I frequently find myself guilty of thinking this. Guilty of assuming that certain pieces of work around me are inferior because they are not held in well-known collections. Simply because they are not flanked by a well thought out gallery label, or hold price tag reaching financial levels equal to those involved with purchasing a small house or remote tropical island. Therefore this past week I have spent some time opening up my art historian eyes a little bit, and finding things that I didn’t appreciate before.
The focus of this piece will be on one of the many sculptures proudly scattered around our main roads and roundabouts. A piece I walk past at least twice every week on my way into the City Centre. There has been no nationally distributed literature on this piece, there were no fan fairs or exclusive gallery openings when it was set upon its base. But it’s still beautiful.
Sitting proudly between Earlham road Co-op and a string of charity shops and take away restaurants, stands a piece by Matthew Frere-Smith. It is tall and narrow, towering above my 5 foot 7 inches. A mottled and bronzed colour, somewhere further south than traditional beige brick, the piece was installed in 1961. The sculpture was removed during the council’s renovations of the surrounding area, but was reinstalled to its original position on February 18th last year.
Dancing around the idea of positive and negative space, you’d be hard pushed to think of anything other than fluidity and movement when you first look at it. Whilst it may come across as clichéd, there is a clear demonstration of life to the piece. This movement acts as a freeing and mildly liberating contrast to the severity of its brick base. Looking to the piece from the road side, inner curves and spaces allow us to see through to the flats and shops behind it. Allowing sunlight to ease itself through. As solid as the artificial stone and brick sculpture is, movement and vitality are clearly present.
Frere-Smith also has a piece held in the University Collection at the Sainsbury Centre, entitled ‘Mother and Child’. The influence of family, motherhood and pregnancy are also evident in this piece. The curves removed from the centre of the sculpture could easily be seen as reminiscent of a pregnant woman’s profile.
Whilst there is no full colour, obnoxiously heavy text book relaying every thought the artist had whilst creating his masterpiece, the information still has to exist.
Quickly Googling the piece, with no information aside from its location, I came across a database that fully disproved my original theory about art in Norwich going unmarked. There, under a dull grey banner, is a meticulously filled in information sheet about the piece. Listed on the site is every mundane and specific detail that I used to kid myself didn’t exist in the art world. I thought it was all splashes of paint on raw canvases thrown just for the sake of expressing love, not producing a sculpture to pay the bills and documenting it as you would car tax.
Whilst there is no full colour, obnoxiously heavy text book relaying every thought the artist had whilst creating his masterpiece, the information still has to exist. It may take a little longer to find, but everything you need to know about the art works that have been dusted across the city centre and its surrounding areas really is tucked away in a google page or blog post. Somewhere. I intend to continue my hunt for Norwich’s unsung art. To keep hunting for the visual pieces that we pass every day and think nothing of. Giving them a little more of the promotion, love and attention they deserve.