Burstwick sculptor Gail E Hurst is worthy winner of Open Art at Beverley Art Gallery

Mon 24th October 2022
Open Art Winner

Open Art recently returned to Beverley Art Gallery, and has been pulling in the crowds to the venue in the Treasure House in Champney Road.

One of the highlights of the exhibition is the winning entry by local sculptor Gail E. Hurst: ‘The Times after Degas’.

Based at her home studio in a beautiful old stable in Burstwick, but originally from Hull, Gail worked in education for 22 years before taking the leap to become a full-time artist in 2017, something she had always wanted to do.

She describes herself as a visual artist, working primarily in sculpture and paint. She first began sculpting five years ago, and her first pieces were on the theme of trawling, a profession with which she had very close connections, as many of her family members from Hull worked on fishing boats.

The artist collects paper as a material for her sculptures, and strives for authenticity in all her work, even going as far as to have a family member once gut a paper fish for her! Her earliest pieces are on show in the Fishing Heritage Centre on The Boulevard in Hull.

Gail was awarded first prize in the Ferens Open last year with her paper sculpture of Michelangelo the Painter.

Her winning piece in the Open Art exhibition was inspired by seeing ‘Little Dancer’, by French Impressionist Edgar Degas, in Paris around 25 years ago, an experience she found very moving, and which inspired her love of sculpture. She says: “Seeing the little street urchin portrayed in the piece resonated with my upbringing in two up, two down properties in Hull. I wanted to recreate the feeling of the look on her face in sculpture – one of dignified hope.”

Gail carried out a great deal of research for her piece on the story behind the dancer, and discovered that the original was made in wax. She initially considered recreating it in beeswax, but instead chose to sculpt the girl’s body from copies of The Times newspaper, a publication which existed in Degas’ time. Her skirt, ribbon and shoes are made from transfer paper, distributed for free in women’s magazines in 1922, making the material used for the work 100 years old.

Her sculpture was built up in layers and took around six weeks to make, working every day. Just like Degas, Gail made the body first and then added the ‘clothes’ and shoes on to it, even learning how to correctly tie ballet shoes. She says : “ I wanted to capture her vulnerability and the fraying of her skirt. I used UV varnish protection to keep it all strong.”

“I like to create work which people can understand, and which resonates with them. I would encourage anybody to have a go at creating and entering a piece for future Open Art in Beverley, which is a gallery I have always loved. Being an artist can be rather isolating, so it is wonderful to get involved in something like Open Art, meet other like-minded souls, and get their feedback.

“Entering Open Art helps you to gain confidence in yourself to have a go, and really feel like an artist.  If your piece doesn’t get chosen, don’t be knocked back, but try again with confidence. And remember there are different selectors every year, looking for different things!

“I was genuinely surprised and delighted to hear I had won Open Art this year, especially as I only decided to enter this particular piece at the last minute!”

Gail will soon be travelling to Australia to paint and research out there, looking for aboriginal material, and learning about the culture of places like Sydney.

Beverley Art Gallery curator Hannah Willetts said : “Just as Gail was captivated by Degas’ sculpture in Paris, our selectors were struck by this contemporary recreation. If you haven’t seen it already, I highly recommend viewing it first-hand! It has pride of place in our Red Gallery for the duration of the Open Art Exhibition, which runs through to 7 January, 2023.”

Beverley Art Gallery is open six days a week in the Treasure House on Champney Road, and admission is free. There is no need to book to attend the Open Art exhibition.

For the revised opening hours, and full details of facilities in the Treasure House, visit www.eastridingmuseums.co.uk

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