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Dr. Ursula Newell-Walker - A New Perspective on Art.

Posted Saturday, June 23, 2007

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Dr. Ursula Newell-Walker - A New Perspective on Art!

`In the old Pagan calendar Beltane marked a new beginning'

The Merry Month of May is associated with rebirth and regeneration, and the fertility of the earth is traditionally celebrated with merry-making and colourful dancing around the Maypole. In the old pagan calendar, Beltane (May 1st) marked a new beginning; a season of joy when the seed of life began to stir in the womb of the Earth.

It is the start of summertime, a time of natural fecundity in a new season of promise; a time when the creative muse is stirred in the breast of poets and painters, and the perfect time for Ursula Newell-Walker to exhibit the stunning series of invigorating and joyously uplifting pastel & gouache landscapes and interiors which appropriately have been on display during the month of May at the Little London Gallery in Holloway!

`A Collection entitled, `Slices of Life'

The exhibition features a collection entitled, `Slices of Life’, and represents the liberation of spirit experienced by the artist during her first year of retirement; released from the disciplines and responsibilities of academia and set free to pour out her soul and leave the colourful imprint of her vibrant inner personality upon the canvass.

Or indeed, as the artist herself puts it “The exhibition represents slices of life which have caught the attention of a more leisured and reflective eye…and all are based on places I’ve visited or lived, places of importance to me, like Fritchley and Crich Chase”.

She went on to explain that her work was inspired by “the magical relationship between a person and a specific moment in time” and was influenced by a desire to, “capture ephemeral images and make them into a permanent statement”.

“Certain types of landscape and interiors consistently draw me – and then I draw them. I am attracted by the idea that the world is a mirror. Each individual sensibility looks through its own eyes, and patterns whatever is there to be seen. Sometimes the opposite happens. The external `reality’ patterns and shapes us. These pastels and gouaches are worked along this margin and reflect its attendant delight, tenderness, despair, surprise and awe”.

The dominance and importance of colour informs and influences all her work; a colourist in the true visionary tradition, she explains “It’s all about light and colour. The colours tell you as much about what it feels like to be there as about what it looks like when you get there”.

The use of colour forms the basis of all Ursula’s work and this exhibition displays clear evidence that she has mastered the art of interpreting the language of colours – in much the same way that she has mastered the art of interpreting other languages, for Dr. Ursula Newell-Walker, PhD, B.A., M.A., Dip.Ed. has a degree in Languages from Melbourne University, Australia.

She is also a Registered Art Therapist and, until her retirement was Programme Leader for the MA Art Therapy course at the University of Derby. She also has a private practice offering individual art therapy to adults.

Ursula was born in Lancashire and moved with her parents to Australia when she was just eighteen months old. “My family has contained many landscape artists and field naturalists, and my father was a geologist, a soil surveyor, so landscape was integral to my growing up”, she said.

After attending Melbourne University from where she graduated in 1966 with a B.A. in Languages, Philosophy and Psychology, Ursula decided on a career as a librarian, and was awarded a Postgraduate Diploma in Librarianship in 1968.

This background led to a dual career: academic librarianship financed a parallel career in landscape painting and hand-printed fabrics, and in 1980 she was invited to Java/Bali to study batik methods.

She toured batik factories and galleries to study regional designs and contemporary interpretations of batik, and even worked in batik factories in Jogjakarta.

From there she went on to Dublin, where she soon had her own studio in Terenure, ran workshops at Dublin College of Art, and worked within a group of Irish batik artists, who flourished, especially around the Kilkenny Workshops.

Then one morning in Melbourne in 1984, as Ursula relates, “I woke up, got out of bed and as my feet hit the floor, I had this sudden desire and knew that I wanted to return to the UK”.

Within six weeks she found herself in England, and obeying what felt like a clear ‘call’ Ursula moved back `home’ to Lancashire, the county of her birth. She launched Ursula Newell Designs at the Manchester Craft Centre on Tib Street, behind Piccadilly, where she made and sold hand-printed scarves, cushions, covers and table and bed-linen. She has always painted and batik influences can be seen in some of her works on paper at that time.

A successful solo exhibition of pastel and batik landscapes at Manchester’s Portico Gallery in 1985 was followed by work as a Researcher at BBC Manchester and an exhibition with the Matlock 6 group of artists in 1986 – and the following year she attended Sheffield University and qualified as a Registered Art Therapist.

Finally, she came to Fritchley ten years ago via Buxton, and even during the time that she was a less active painter, her academic publications were about art making and its transformative potential.

Her doctoral research involved working for over five years with a group of local volunteers from communities around Derby to see how options for the second half of life became clearer through art and story-making.

Talking about her modus operandi, Ursula said, “It’s not unusual for me to wake up and to dash for my camera, before even thinking of breakfast! What I want to capture, before it changes, is the play of light on ordinary objects. I work primarily with colour, metaphor and gesture to explore my place in the daily round, and often ordinary things are seen with delight, as if for the first time”.

Another influence is the work of celebrated contemporary Northern English visionary artist, David Blackburn, who, upon seeing Ursula’s work at her 2003 University of Derby exhibition said:

“Every artist scrutinises the world intently, and yet the result says as much about internal vision as it does about her external reality. Ursula’s pictures allow us to enter her own inner world, yet at the same time the images resonate with us. Hers is a search for the sublime within the familiar. These paintings are a window through which we can view the many influences which have shaped her own unique response to landscape”.

Ursula’s work is also currently being exhibited at the Birmingham Pastel Society’s 13th Biennial Exhibition at the Royal Birmingham Society of Arts in St. Paul’s, Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter.

Of her current work, `Slices of Life’, she said, “As I have worked I have progressively narrowed the paper which acts as a frame for each slice. This goes hand in hand with a desire to select much more self-consciously what is to be included or excluded from the narrow frame of each image. At the moment I find that I keep returning to the vertical slice, and it has been said that the vertical work is more likely to be the form of portrait, or self portrait, than is the horizontal. Perhaps this is true in the case of my present works because of the way in which the tall, thin paper format forces me to narrow my choice of that which is essential in the given moment of creation. The tall slender format also tends to produce a layered work with great depth of field, both of which add to the sense of intensity and concentration”.

With her background and knowledge in philosophy, psychology and art therapy it is not surprising that Ursula’s work is complex and multi-layered both in it’s conception and execution, but her latest work cries out clearly with expressions of joy and with a zest for life. She says of them: “Unlike previous exhibitions, this one contains few gouaches. I have found that soft pastels most express what I want to say at the moment. Colour can be intense, subtle, and layered, and at other stages I have worked between the two media, so that a pastel work has called forth one in gouache – rather like a dialogue. Now it has felt satisfying not to dialogue – but to distil one clear joyful voice”.

Dr.Ursula Newell Walker’s `clear, joyful voice’ can be clearly heard echoing through each and every one of her `Slices of Life’; her vividly colourful landscapes have a vitality and vibrancy of their own. To quote the artist they are `alive with life’ – and to the discerning observer they reflect the colourful soul and spirit of their creator!

Chris & Krystyna of the Little London Gallery deserve an accolade for hosting such a wonderful exhibition, and providing a perfectly lit ambient space for display in their well appointed gallery.

*NB. Examples from the Little London Gallery can be viewed at

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