The newly-opened exhibition at Thelma Hulbert Gallery (THG) features the work of 36 artists walking in the footsteps of the Camden Town Group.

For a moment, the Blackdown Hills were the focus for a few avant-garde painters of the Camden Town Group. Their bold Post-Impressionist paintings, dating from 1911 until 1925, marry the intimacy of the English ancient landscape with the progressive French artistic approach of Cezanne, Gauguin and Van Gogh.

36 contemporary artists including past and present members of The London Group (previously the Camden Town Group) have recaptured the same 12 sites painted by the Camden Town Group. A range of works from large-scale, imposing canvases to intricate prints:  the 12 sites have been captured in all weathers by artists venturing into the hills on foot, some even in a plane.

'Paradise Found: New Visions of the Blackdown Hills' features these contemporary works exhibited alongside paintings by Robert Bevan and Stanislawa de Karlowska from private collections. 

Robert Bevan first came to the Blackdown Hills in 1912 as a guest of Harold Harrison, a landowner and amateur artist, at his home at Applehayes, Clayhidon. In the following year, he was joined by his wife, Stanisława, and also by Spencer Gore and Charles Ginner. Although Bevan was unable to stay at Applehayes after 1915, due to wartime conditions, he clearly felt a strong attachment to the area, and returned for extended periods for the rest of his life, inspired by the Culm Valley and the picturesque village of Luppitt.

THG, once home to artist Thelma Hulbert, is shining a spotlight on the Camden Town Group’s activity in the area and the art historical importance of the landscapes surrounding the gallery. Thelma Hulbert’s first professional exhibition was with The London Group in 1938 (the group which succeeded the Camden Town Group). On display alongside this exhibition are key works by Hulbert from the THG collection.

The environment appears to have changed little over the last 100 years, partly due to its inaccessibility for modern development. From the surreal, abstracted, expressionist and the hyper-real to the conceptual and post-modern, the Blackdown subjects are a vehicle to survey and consider recent developments of drawing and painting in the British landscape tradition.

The exhibition provides a fascinating insight into the ecological, social, industrial and historic issues particular to the Blackdown Hills over the same 100 year period, examining the values and characteristics which so attracted the Camden Town artists.

Tim Craven, Sandra Higgins and Fiona McIntyre have co-curated the exhibition selecting the 36 contemporary painters, printmakers and photographers walking in the footsteps of the Camden Town Group because of their diversity in technique and practice including:

Michael Porter lives and works in Newlyn, Cornwall. He exhibits widely both in the UK and internationally, his works are owned by The National Gallery, The V & A and Arts Council England. The main influence on his work is 'landscape in its widest sense' whether it is from people who work on the land, or music or literature that uses the land as subject matter. He respects the native tradition of landscape painting whilst reinventing it with innovatory techniques.

Paul Finn studied at The Slade and is a member of The Arborealists, the association of British and French artists who find inspiration from trees. Getting up close to trees is just the beginning of the creative process. He first makes drawings, then creates the paintings themselves when he is back in his studio. While his work appears figurative in style, the colours and forms in his work are often more imaginative than representational, verging towards the abstract.

Robert Brooks depicts Clayhidon Church located in a small churchyard in the Blackdown Hills. In his painting, he sought to create a haven of serenity and tranquillity, isolated from the outside world.  Unlike Robert Bevan, who painted Clayhidon Church from a distant farmhouse, his painting is from a very close perspective, just a few meters away.  His aim was to paint the church to show its structure through the energy of movement in his brushstrokes.

Abi Kremer is inspired by the mood and rhythm of landscape. Her career has focussed on site specific art, with work in both public and private collections. Studying the Blackdown Hills provided a fruitful opportunity for reflection on our relationship with nature. In common with the painting of The Camden Town Group, she works with prismatic colour. Experimentation with transparent washes and layering led to spontaneous compositions, resulting in fantastical landscapes.

Belinda Crozier spent considerable time researching her site through the the different seasons to get to know it. The area was overgrown with brambles and the trees unrecognisable. She was inspired by the nostalgic beauty of the Blackdown Hills and its unique light. However it took a combination of her mother dying and the golden light of a warm winter’s day to present her with a motif that resonated with her. She produced many drawings to work from in the studio (with the very strong presence of her mother by her side) to develop this painting.

John Ball creates unsettling images of bleak suburban landscapes. He was a finalist on Sky Arts ‘Landscape Artist Of The Year’ for his “incredibly cinematic, foreboding vacant landscapes comparable to the work of Edward Hopper and David Lynch.” His interpretation of St Andrews at Clayhidon is an homage to the golden age of British Horror. His intention being to transform this idyllic location to compose a scene not out of place in ‘The Village of the Damned’ or ‘An American Werewolf in London.' 

The exhibition also launches THG's Create Our Space (COS) programme, providing new opportunities for East Devon’s young people aged 7-25 to engage with arts, culture and climate through a programme of workshops, demos, talks and events coordinating with this exhibition. 

The project has been developed through partnerships led by THG with the University of Exeter, the Blackdown Hills AONB, Honiton Community College and SW Museums.

Councillor Nick Hookway, East Devon District Council’s portfolio holder for tourism, sport, leisure and culture said: " This latest exhibition at THG has been ranked as one of the top five art exhibitions to see this week by The Guardian.  The exhibition will continue to spread the word about the work of Thelma Hulbert and members of The Camden Group, as well as providing a showcase for these 36 contemporary artists who have been inspired by the legacy of The Camden group.

"Crucially, the exhibition shows how the beautiful Blackdown Hills have proved such an inspiration to artists for well over a century. This is a tremendous opportunity to promote this area in all its forms to all who live and visit our district. The exhibition contains works of art which have not been seen together for a considerable time and therefore is an opportunity not to be missed!"

Paradise Found: New Visions of the Blackdown Hills (18 March - 3 June)
Conceived and arranged by Tim Craven, and co-curated by Sandra Higgins and Fiona McIntyre
Open Tuesday - Saturday, 10 - 5.

This project has been made possible through partnerships with the Blackdown Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the Bevan family.

See more from Thelma Hulbert Gallery

THG is an acclaimed public art gallery featuring an inspiring programme of contemporary art & craft exhibitions of local, national and regional significance. The gallery operates as a ‘cultural hub’ through an annually changing programme of exhibitions, events and workshops, which…