Rural Artists Find Their Place in the Big Picture

Article excerpt

Byline: By Tamzin Lewis

Northumberland's artists are questioning their place in the contemporary scene, as Cathy Duncan explains to Tamzin Lewis.

Cathy Duncan's paintings are bright, cheery and musical. A bit like Cathy herself.

Cathy came to art later in life, completing her degree in art and design in 2001.

She is now a full-time painter and this month takes on the position of chairperson of the Network Artists in Northumberland.

Until now, Network has been a voluntary-run independent association of around 250 artists living and working in Northumberland.

The Network is soon to be incorporated into a not-for-profit company.

Mum-of-three Cathy swapped her career as a landscape architect for the life of an artist while in her 40s.

She studied Art and Design part-time at Sunderland University and first showed her work as part of the Network's Art Tour in 2001. The Art Tour is now a regular fixture in the calendar with around 80 artists opening their studios to the public.

Visitors can talk to artists in their studios and purchase work directly from the maker. This summer, the Art Tour also looked to contemporary art and Cathy chose recent graduates to show alongside more established artists.

Cathy, 51, has also helped organise a critical debate called After the British Art Show ( where now? which will take place in January. This is a new development for the Network and will raise the question as to whether there is a place for rural artists in the contemporary art scene.

The four panellists will represent different areas of the art world. Nathan Coley, who installed Show Home outside Baltic as part of the British Art Show (BAS), and national art critic William Feaver will be joined by Judith Winter, curator of Fine Art at the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, and new graduate Jenny Mathers.

Cathy says: "This is new for Network to have an in-depth discussion about what modern art was going to be in Northumberland. We need to do more talks and discussions. There is an opportunity to encourage Network members to reassess what they are doing. There are lots of questions which come up from the British Art Show and even if people don't produce work which is like BAS work, there might be some influence.

"Whether you think the exhibition was brilliant or a load of rubbish, it doesn't matter: you have seen it, criticised it and thought about it. This can be a way forward. It is probably true of any profession that you need to discuss ideas."

She adds: "Art is changing so much and a lot of Network artists are using new digital technology and our members are quite receptive to this. …