Get On The Trail

June 7, 2016 by Ray Morgan

Get on the trail

I walked out of my house at the weekend, and the streets of Leigh on Sea were buzzing. People were wandering around with shop bought coffees and clutching paper maps. What was this? Some sort of treasure hunt? No - it's the Leigh Art Trail!

Running until Saturday 11 June, the Leigh Art Trail is a brilliant celebration of how creative our town is. 46 artists, exhibiting in 31 venues over one week. It's a community event that celebrates local artists and designers, and it really does bring people together. Not least the people wielding maps and peeking in shops they'd not usually go to.

My partner and I decided to tackle the Trail on Sunday, starting on Leigh Road. We had a large brunch at home (y'know, for energy) before setting out with our maps, bottles of water and sun cream. We started on Leigh Road, where shops, cafes, galleries and other spaces opened their doors for us to browse the art. What I love about the Art Trail, which has been going since 1997, is the diverse range of art. There's pottery, collage, traditional paintings, sculpture... genuinely something for everyone.

We popped into shops, wandered and talked about what we did and didn't like. Our favourite venue by far was Venue 25 - unusually, for the Art Trail, it wasn't in a shop or cafe, but somebody's garden! Venue 25 in Southsea Avenue was a revelation. There were figurines in bird cages. Twinkly, wind chime sounds. Garden sheds done up like beach huts. This was something else! The art was brilliant: we both love collage, and two of the exhibits used torn-up magazines, paint and haiku-style words that really impressed us. So much so, that Jo and I stood in one the beach huts, looking at some rather special collages, and said "Let's buy one!" (Side note: we never do this. We're not flashy or minted.)

Sure enough, a red dot had our name on it. Hooray! We will soon have 'The Nightmare' by Zoe Howe gracing our walls. (it's jollier than it sounds btw)

We went down into the Old Town, where we had a quick pit stop for a pint and some cockles (it's pretty much the law to have cockles if you're in the Old Town, you do know that don't you?) We went into the Old Leigh Studios to see Richard Baxter and Sheila Appleton's work. I'm big fans of these guys and have been for a long time. I have a bowl of Richard's on my mantelpiece (he knows, I paid for it, I didn't steal it from him), and I treasure it. I remember being a kid and going to my best friend's house for tea. Her Mum had a Sheila Appleton illustration of women of all shapes and sizes larking about, naked. I thought it was the rudest thing I had ever seen and always went a bit red whenever I went past it. Funny, I'd forgotten all about that until I saw it in the gallery on Sunday. Jo and I were lucky enough to be invited into the actual studio part of the gallery, just us, past the huge dried-on globules of paint on tables, where it felt like we were being let in on a great secret.

You can say what you want about art: some people think it's exclusive, or only for a certain class of people, or unattainable if you're on a budget, but there's something that everyone can enjoy about the Leigh Art Trail. Ultimately, this is about supporting local artists and designers, seeing their work, enjoying a nice day out, and perhaps treating yourself to something. It's inclusive: these venues are saying come in, look around - you don't have to buy anything, but maybe you get an idea for a gift for someone, or you might think you want to get your old photography out from when you were at college, or start painting again like you used to.

No exclusive club, no pretension, just good artists, showing you their wares, in our creative and friendly little town. Get yourself on the Art Trail. I promise you'll enjoy it.