Exhibiting a passion for painting

Bluebell Walk by Mary Harris
Bluebell Walk by Mary Harris

Eileen Leahy meets the talented creatives behind a new exhibition at the Royal Tunbridge Wells Arts Society…


Those with a love of the arts are sure to be familiar with the Royal Tunbridge Wells Arts Society, which was founded in 1933, and has been providing inspiration and support for both the professional and amateur creatives of the town ever since.

Located at 61 The Pantiles, the Society’s small but highly-influential premises was founded by the Marchioness of Abergavenny 90 years ago.

It not only offers established and fledgling artists the opportunity to showcase their work on a regular basis, but it also provides a variety of workshops and a chance to network with fellow creatives.

Currently, local artists and friends Mary Harris and Rosemarie Pilcher are exhibiting a selection of their paintings. Their joint show started last week and runs until July 2. Entry is free and visitors can pop in any time between 11am and 4pm.

“I have always been lucky enough to live in rural places and the countryside has inspired me to be creative,” explains Mary when asked about the inspiration behind her work.

“I am fascinated by the character and resilience of ancient trees, but also by the very varied coastline around England.”

When talking further about her paintings, Mary says she is simply trying to express what she sees in a variety of different ways, using different mediums.

“I use mostly charcoal, watercolours, and oil in my work but I am probably most successful with woodcut printing. I use soft Japanese woodblocks and tools using techniques learnt when I studied with the artist and tutor Merlyn Chesterman at West Dean College.”

As well as being a member of the Royal Tunbridge Wells Arts Society (RTWAS) Mary also belongs to the Crowborough Arts collective.

“Crowborough Arts celebrates all the different areas of arts, while RTWAS allows me to join with other artists to share the disciplines that I love. I participate in the society’s portrait group, its life drawing classes and also the interactive ‘Plein Air’ sessions which happen in various local locations over the summer.

“The RTWAS is a huge asset for the area and a valuable part of the creative life in the town,” Mary says before adding she has also been “fortunate” in the last few years to work on a series of books, too – thanks to her connections with Crowborough Arts.

“During lockdown I was very fortunate to work with local author Gaye Jee, illustrating her delightful tales about Stan and Dweezil, her cats, as well as the dogs, Truffle and Winnie.”

During the pandemic, Mary was also shortlisted for the King Lear Prize, a prestigious national competition, for her ‘Lockdown Depression Self Portrait’ in 2020.

Showing jointly with Mary at RTWAS right now is her friend and fellow painter Rosemarie Pilcher, who reveals she has always loved drawing and painting, but didn’t really decide upon her chosen oeuvre until a little later in life.

“As a young 20-something, I did a couple of short art courses, however, I never really enjoyed still life paintings and wanted to paint landscapes instead. Once I found my passion I decided not to wait until I was retired to indulge it but to make time now for this wonderful pastime.”

Rosemarie, who is Honorary Secretary of the RTWAS, adds that she is also inspired by nature in all its forms, but mainly concentrates on landscapes and seascapes.

“My Italian heritage is reflected in the vibrancy and colour palette of my work.
I try to capture the light and warmth of my favourite Italian lake, Lake Garda, as well as other Italian landscapes. More recently, I have been experimenting with new mediums and trying out new styles. I hope that my choice of colours, be they soft or bright, fills the viewer with joy and optimism and – just maybe – the wish that they could be at the location I have captured through my work.”

Both Mary and Rosemarie agree that having the opportunity to do exhibitions such as theirs at the RTWAS is a wonderful opportunity as it enables artists to show a large selection of their work to an audience that might not otherwise know about them.

That’s why the RTWAS is still going strong 90 years on and if you have a genuine love of the arts but haven’t already visited – then what are you waiting for?


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