James Dodds’ Exhibition: A Reminder of our Maritime Heritage Beneath the High Street
James Dodds is perhaps one of the most important artists to come out of Wivenhoe, and Essex as a whole, in recent times. With an exhibition of his work currently being displayed at Red Lion Books, we sent Peter Fitzgerald to the Independent Bookshop to investigate the work of this local treasure.
Dodds is perhaps the epitome of everything we, at the Colchester Circle, want to support. A local artist who uses the local area as inspiration, Dodds’ work has been well received not only in the local area but on a national basis. Most recently, in October of this year, his work was displayed at Messum’s Fine Art in London and back in August 2010 his work made it out to Maine in the United States. Obviously, Dodds’ work is being recognized, and rightly so, as exceptional. This recognition is not limited to the local scene, as evidenced by the international display of his work. Thankfully, with him being a native of Wivenhoe, we don’t have to travel to London, or any further afield, to see his work in person. Right now you only have to go as far as Red Lion Books on Colchester High Street.
Before you even reach the exhibition, the shop itself has a wonderful atmosphere. A regional winner of Independent Bookshop of the Year, Red Lion Books is everything you could want from a bookshop. And as you descend down the stairs, you find yourself actually below ground level. It is here, beneath the hustle and bustle of the High Street, that you will find Dodds’ work proudly displayed. There is a sense of discovering something, a little local treasure trove that is offering the best of local creativity.
The exhibition itself consists of nine of Dobbs’ pieces, eight on the wall and one wonderfully positioned on the stairs as you make your way down. While I could write something about all of them, I have attempted to pick what I feel were the most interesting in an attempt to prevent this article turning into a small book.
The first piece to jump out at me was ‘St Osyth Boatyard’. This work immediately shows off one of Dodds’ more exceptional abilities. His portrayal of movement in a still image is breathtaking, and this is particularly the case in this piece. From the waves in the foreground to flags flying from the rigging on the boats to the trees further back, everything has a natural sway to it. Even the sky, and the birds in it, seem to shift before your eyes. Dodds achieves this in his lino prints with such regularity that it could almost be seen as his trademark. The panoramic curvature of the piece is also particularly stunning, really emphasizing the coastal nature of the image.
The second piece I’d like to focus on is ‘Memories of St Monans’. Again, this linocut print showcases Dodds’ ability to create movement. The flow of water is central to this piece, and once again Dodds’ captures the natural shift and sway of tide. What is particularly stunning about this work is the graveyard in the foreground. This image of human mortality is wonderfully juxtaposed with the eternal ebb and flow of the sea. As with ‘St Osyth Boatyard’, there are so many little touches to this work that it impossible to completely sum up the feel of his artwork.
The exhibition also demonstrates Dodds’ scope, with some of the work demonstrating his use of colour. ‘Sail Lofts – Tollesbury‘ only uses one colour, but that is all it needs. Contrasted against the more common colours of Dodds’ work, black and white, this creates a striking image that immediately draws the eye. Some of the more subtle uses of the chosen blue, on the sail lofts themselves and the ladders, are especially pleasing.
In another departure from what one might consider to be Dodds’ norm for linocut prints, the exhibition features the piece ‘Billy Budd’. This powerful and evocative image of a sailor on deck brings us round to the other quality that makes Dodds’ work so endearing.
Dodds’ focus on the maritime brings our heritage into focus. It is easy to forget how important the coasts and rivers of Essex would have been. It is particularly easy to forget when you’re walking down Colchester High Street, and that is what makes this exhibition so wonderful. You walk down the stairs of Red Lion Books, and you get a taste of local history presented by an exceptional local talent.
It is the piece so brilliantly positioned on the stairs that rounds the exhibition off. I only saw this piece on the way out, and for me it was a perfect end note. ‘Brightlingsea Smack Dock, present and future’ brings attention to our local maritime heritage, but at the same time focuses on its decline. Much like the graveyard in the forefront of ‘Memories of St Monans’, the boats all sitting unrigged and unmanned remind of that which once was, but is now so easily forgotten in our fast paced, town centre lives. This is Dodds’ at his best, not just showing us a linocut masterclass but also drawing our attention to our local history, forcing us to think twice before returning to life as we know it.
This is a fantastic exhibition and, best of all, it is free to enter. All the works are available to buy, and there are several books displayed that contain Dobbs’ work. On top of this, some of these books are collaborations between Dodds and other local artists, such as the poet Martin Newell.
I massively recommend this exhibition, whether you are already a fan of Dodds’ work or have never come across him before. Head down to Red Lion Books to support both local art and a local independent bookshop.