Pop Nouveau - Contemporary Art in Friars Street


Our latest members meeting event report by Anne Grimshaw

June’s member's meeting was entitled simply 'Pop Nouveau'. I suspect that most people in the audience,
including me, had no idea what this was but over 40 of us turned up to find out. I had seen the new
gallery/shop at 23 Friars Street but was no wiser after looking at its window. The fact that I did not
recognise the person portrayed in the large portrait will give you some idea as to the level of my
knowledge of ‘pop culture’. (It's David Bowie!)

However, James Wilkinson, the owner of this new venture explained how it had come about. From childhood
he had always been immersed in art: it was the root of everything he did. Amongst his first efforts was
a pencil drawing of Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space. He was a brilliant draughtsman and an admirer
of Caravaggio’s chiaroscuro - contrasting light and dark, He worked in the UK and USA and other places
and gained a reputation as an artist, entrepreneur, manager and auctioneer specialising in pop memorabilia
such as the first guitar used by Jimi Hendrix and various others.

James came to know influential figures in the pop world: musicians, singers, songwriters, arrangers, producers, actors, designers, artists and so on and asked them to draw self-portraits. Media was not only pencil or paint but included microphone leads/cables that had been used by John Lennon, and bent into shapes to form representational pictures. Gradually, James realised that much ‘artwork’ from the 1960s onwards had been lost or discarded particularly by publishers of album covers and posters who regarded them as ephemeral and worthless. James set out to rescue these and collect them like other more traditional works of art. And not only printed album covers but original pictures, posters, portraits, etc. in a variety of media done by a variety singers and musicians as well as artists.

All these came under his banner of ‘pop nouveau’, a sort of ‘new branch’ of established ‘pop art’ which had been around since the 1960s (Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, etc.). James bemoaned the fact that whenever there are government cuts to be made, it is always the arts that are for the chop first, yet artists and designers are needed in all walks of life that affect everybody: architecture, design of homes and interiors, furniture and fittings,
clothes and so on. These are vital to people’s wellbeing not frivolous trimmings that are ripe
for government cuts.

One question that several members of the audience wanted an answer to was, “Why Sudbury?” The answer was entirely practical: cheaper then London and a friend of James lived just across the road! It is James’ dream for Friars Street to become Sudbury’s answer to Cork Street! With the new Gainsborough Gallery due to open in the autumn and other local galleries (Mill Tye, Voluptas Art, Sudbury's Art Trail), you could argue that momentum is indeed building!

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