Pictured above: Kingston Magna by Liz Somerville
Tucked away in a beautiful corner of Child Okeford, with the breathtaking backdrop of Hambledon Hill right behind it you'll find the Art Stable, a small but punch-packing gallery with a wonderfully eclectic mix of contemporary artists. I've come to love this place where gallery owner Kelly Ross's unfailing eye means no matter which exhibition you turn up to (at least 8 a year), you will leave feeling inspired and most probably with a serious yearning for one of the works on show. And this in the midst of rural Dorset, proof, if more proof were needed, that the West Country has an inherent culture at its heartbeat.
Kelly set up The Art Stable 8 years ago after a barn became available virtually on her doorstep at the Gold Hill Farm complex.
It's a joy of a place to visit for aside from the art, there's the wonderful Gold Hill organic farm shop (vegetables to turn you vegetarian though the meat is pretty special too) now with its own cafe serving soups, quiches and salads; the talented glass-blower Emsie Sharp and James McCall who makes the award-winning James's Cheese. I'm not sure you could find a more buzzy, interesting place to work and all centred around that ancient, uplifting Dorset view.
Kelly had worked at several renowned London galleries such as Austin/ Desmond Fine Art and William Weston Gallery as well as co-founding the Coram Gallery in Bloomsbury before deciding to branch out on her own. Here in the West Country she felt a freedom to explore her very individual and definitive taste, bringing cutting edge art to Dorset in the process. "Here I feel I can show a wider range of artists including things that are not necessarily going to be commercial. If people come to the gallery and discover something new that they love, then that's great. If you came to all the shows then you could get a pretty good education!"
The Art Stable shows a mix of figurative and abstract artists 'who don't overlap too much' and always leaves room for new concepts, such as last year's exhibition 'Painting the Sea' where new artists and those who regularly show were invited to submit their visions of the coast. And when best-selling author Natasha Solomon asked if she could launch her new novel The Gallery of Vanished Husbands at the Art Stable this summer (4 August) Kelly decided to put an exhibition of portraiture around it. Local artist Henrietta Young will show 3 different portraits of her daughter Clementine seen at 10, 27 and, the most recent, as a mother. Figurative painter Michael Taylor, also from Dorset, paints very realistic, almost photographic portraits in a highly contrived setting, a bicycle helmet in the foreground perhaps or a woman clutching a glass vessel, so intensely realised the rays of light seem to bounce from the glass.
Kelly also deals in Modern British art (20th century) and some European prints and paintings and puts on an exhibition of those at the start of each year. Currently on show is Jeremy Gardiner, the painter and printmaker whose high-impact almost sculptural works combine line drawings, bits of old maps, pieces of wood cut away to reveal the geological formation of a landscape over time.
Above: Seatown and Golden Cap by Jeremy Gardiner Throughout the year you can see an example of work from each artist beautifully hung over two floors of the Art Stable.
Tobit Roche (pictured above) was one of the first artists Kelly chose to show at the Art Stable as she had worked with him previously, drawn by his acute, intensely personal observations of the natural world, often painted from memory in his studio. Roche has shown 3 times at The Art Stable and Kelly has known him for 15 years. Kelly says: "One of the nicest things about my job is that when you work with artists over many years they become your friends.'
Last year Kelly showed the work of Robert and Dorothy Bradbury in the UK for the first time; the couple had lived in Majorca for most of their life and were well known in the sixties. Dorothy's work in particular, primitive, bright coloured mono prints that remind me of Gaugin, are wonderful.
Pictured above: Dorothy Bradbury
At a time when art-buying has finally become fashionable and a little more mainstream, the real genius of the Art Stable is that you can pick up affordable, collectable contemporary art, relying on Kelly's knowledge and passion. The West Country is awash with galleries knocking out seascapes - here you are guaranteed the real thing.
I love the wild, raw landscapes of West Dorset that Lesley Slight paints entirely from her imagination. One of these vast, warm and mesmerising oil paintings would be a perfect focus for any room. George Young, son of Henrietta who shows her portraits in August, is also in Kelly's stable, known for his hazy, seemingly half-finished paintings of a bygone era, often inspired by pictures taken from mid-20th century magazines.
A mother of three and keen to foster a new generation of art lovers, one of the things Kelly likes most is the fact that children and teenagers often spend time in the gallery. There is a distinctly laid-back vibe here; on the day I visited clusters of visitors arrived intermittently and were left alone to browse, ask questions if they wanted, wander in and out, in search of cappuccinos and fat slabs of gingerbread or to purvey the beautifully misshapen jewel-coloured glass of Emsie Sharp. Walkers arrive, puffed out from the splendours of Hambledon Hill, ready to wilt in the cafe, then linger over Kelly's fascinating stable of artists. Art and organic vegetables, cheese and handblown glass - not the most obvious pairings you might think. But at Gold Hill it just works.