Culture: Young Artists in Starry Company; from a Man Made from Wool to a Blow-Torched Chair, Barbara Hodgson Previews Some Truly Original Work at a New Gallery Showcasing Local and International Art

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Byline: Barbara Hodgson

ARTISTS from the USA and Spain attended the opening of the new Opus Gallery in Newcastle, where their cutting-edge work is going on sale in the converted church hall.

And Don Smith, the businessman behind the enterprise, is confident the unique venue will continue to attract interest from artists of world renown.

Pop candy motif paintings by Opus favourite Dan Baldwin and burned and epoxy-sealed chairs by Maarten Baas were among the original works unveiled at a preview night, just before yesterday's opening to the public.

Among the first exhibitors are two fast-emerging local talents, Steve Dryden and Emily Robson.

And the pair clearly cannot quite believe their luck at having their work appear alongside that of established artists, including Abigail Fallis, who was mentored by Damien Hirst.

"It's a kind of fear mixed with happiness," laughed Steve, 26, from Newcastle.

A student completing a BA in fine art at Northumbria University, he came to the attention of Don, and Opus sales director Emma Poole, when his strikingly original sculptures were picked for display in a tutor's show.

The sculptures of a man's torso - modelled on his brother - are cast in plaster and made from materials ranging from wool to latex. One, a bust constructed from straw, he modelled on himself.

He left work at a local off-licence slightly early to make the Opus preview in time and he and Emily were delighted to meet the well-known artists Steve says were as surprised as he was to hear about their rare opportunity.

"It's unheard of really," he says. "Don and Emma have given us an amazing opportunity - I haven't even got my degree yet!"

His sculptures and two of Emily's large eyecatching acrylic paintings, based on favourite photographs, are priced at pounds 2,350 apiece.

Former Newcastle University student Emily, 23, a fine art graduate, said: "The Opus directors had seen the degree show at the Hatton Gallery in Newcastle and they were interested, so they emailed m e. …