Brighton and Hove is an engaging place and I was wandering around in an aimless way when I came across a giant donut surrounded by very happy people, two of whom has just got married, all of whom were drinking champagne, and one of whom offered me a glass. The donut is a huge circular shape cast in bronze and its centre at eye level allows a view of the world through the sculpture. It’s called “Afloat”.
Some of you will know that expectant feeling that takes over when a kiln is opened up and the work of weeks is revealed fully glazed– smooth shiny shapes that are pleading to be picked up, weighed and felt for the first time. Stoneware and, occasionally, porcelain is what’s used at the workshop, and recently after my trip to Brighton and Hove, I was thinking about piglets for some unaccountable reason. The brain is a strange and wonderful thing.
Stay with me on this one. The point of the story is that the donut is sited at the seaward end of the groyne, a word I had never heard of but which turns out to be a man-made barrier designed to trap sand which the waves have moved along the beach and to prevent the sand being moved too far along the coast. Groynes are usually made of wood, or concrete.
If you are like me you will want to know why it is so called. Well, it comes from the Old French groign, which derives from the late Latin grunnire (to grunt) and thus from grunium ( a pig’s snout). I suppose groynes do stick out like porkers’ snorters towards the sea. I was relieved to work out that this was the reason for my porcine daydreaming and pleased to realize that it afforded this blog yet another tenuous link with ceramics.
How? Well, porcelain comes from the Italian porcellana, literally “cowrie shell,” the chinaware so called from resemblance of its lustrous transparency to the shiny surface of the shells. The shell’s name in Italian is from porcella (young sow), the feminine of the Latin porcellus (young pig), diminutive of porcus (pig). The smooth and plump little cowrie does have piggy qualities though some experts point out its resemblance to a pig’s genitalia. You judge
All this preamble leads me to the reason for my visit. I was there to deliver some recent ceramics to the Cameron Contemporary Arts Gallery run by Robin Cameron and Kirsty Wither. Scattered throughout this page are examples of pieces you can see if you visit the gallery.
The gallery shows a changing programme of high quality established and up and coming British artists, ranging from traditional to modern, figurative to abstract, and each exhibition is accompanied by a selection of sculpture, ceramics and jewellery.
The gallery is in the more laid-back Hove half of this twin city, less dense and intense, but because of its Regency buildings, villas and art-deco housing, wide roads and general leafiness, it is as expensive as Brighton but still attracts young families perhaps drawn by the wistful names of the areas there: Poet’s Corner, Wish Park, Palmeira Square, Adelaide.
Brighton itself is certainly busy and cosmopolitan. I heard the sing song tones of Swedish, the emphatic sounds of Spanish, a lot of French glissando and very loud screeching Seagull. Seagulls own the promenade and perch all over the place in wait for something edible – they stare back at you unblinkingly and with a certain smugness because they are the only ones who do not have to pay to climb to the top of the British Airways i360 tower, from which you can view Brighton and the south coast. Visitors glide up gently to 450ft in the glass viewing pod, designed by the creators of the London Eye.
Brighton’s famous lanes, narrow and crowded, are home to jewellers and a few restaurants, but a stone’s throw from them is the exotic Brighton Pavilion built for George IV, with its extraordinary exterior, its Chinese decor indoors, and its huge kitchen designed to feed a monarch who became very piggy-like in middle age.
As well-known as the stout sovereign’s palace is the Brighton pier, formally called the Brighton Palace Pier with its amusement arcade, rides and attractions, candy floss and Brighton rock. A lot of you may remember visiting it as children, and I still remember the smell of candy floss (does candy floss smell, or is my brain playing tricks again?), the one-armed bandits spitting coins at the ever-hopeful and the money I spent at the Shove Ha’ penny machine trying unsuccessfully to get a pocket knife in the shape of Elvis Presley.
I do remember going blue with cold after being frogmarched to the beach when we came to visit Granny. Luckily by then there were no professional “dippers”, robust women who plunged bathers vigorously into and out of the water for a small fee when the popularity of sea-bathing grew back in the 1790s. The ‘queen’ of the Brighton dippers was the famous Martha Gunn, a large woman who dipped from around 1750 until she was forced to retire through ill health in about 1814.
It is hard to believe that before George IV made Brighton the “go to” resort it was a very impoverished town after the decline of the fishing industry resulted in much unemployment. It reached its nadir when the population had fallen to around 2,000 by the mid eighteenth century and great chunks of it were being gobbled up by the sea. Daniel Defoe, never one to mince his words, described Brighton as an old and poor fishing town in imminent danger of being completely swallowed by the sea; the proposed expense of £8,000 on groynes was, in Defoe’s opinion, more than the whole town was worth.
But it is another story now, and should you want to spend a day or two enjoying the sea, the vista, good restaurants and hotels, fairground rides, serious shopping, sailing, museums and galleries – and all of it an hour’s train ride from London – then this is your place.
Do drop in at Cameron Contemporary, and to see other galleries selling my ceramics click here and it will take you to the Gallery page on the website.
Lastly, I’d like to thank my dear old friend C.D.N. and his lovely Sue for putting me up that night, despite the fact that he was celebrating a significant birthday the next day. I hope the party went off with a bang and that all the wine brought in was consumed. I snuck out very early the next morning and tried to write a thank-you message on a paper napkin, but the tissue soaked up the ink in my pen and all I managed was a wobbly “Tha…” Here’s my present – an old song we both like (you’ll be hooked with the first note of the sliding guitar).