Author: Penny Jones

Sarah Jane Ross in her studio

Every year, West Dorset’s artists, designers and makers open their doors for a week, inviting the public into their space to experience their work and get a glimpse into their creative process.

Naturally, many of the works on display are inspired by the Jurassic Coast.  Not only is does the Coast lie on their doorstep, the unique and ever-changing geological features of the World Heritage Site are a continual inspiration for many.

To celebrate Bridport and West Dorset Open Studios, taking place this week, we caught up with local visual arts practitioner Sarah Jane Ross.  Sarah is a Bridport-based visual arts practitioner who work in a variety of mediums (sculpture, printmaking, jewellery and painting). She also delivers art sessions to over 20 care homes across West Dorset as part of the Creative Minds initiative.

Describe your relationship to the Jurassic Coast

It’s a love story. My partner and I fell in love with it many years ago and uprooted our lives over 100 miles away to be here. I have started sea swimming, which is an invigorating pastime that offers a new view of the coast. As a dog owner, I’ve spent many a happy hour – both in sunshine and blustery winds – walking along the beaches at West Bay, Lyme Regis, Cogden, Eype and West Bexington, among many others!

Can you talk about your latest work on display at Bridport & West Dorset Open Studios and how it is inspired by the Jurassic Coast?

My WB (West Bay) series of work, created in a variety of media (paint, mixed media, printmaking) explores the theme of ‘pretty versus powerful’ – new perspectives on our beloved coastline. All the work references the sea – water connects us to our surroundings, to nature, and to each other.  I’m also influenced by music – some of the work features piano keys, for example, whilst the titles are songs I love.

My jewellery is made from driftwood collected on the Jurassic Coast (West Bay and Charmouth), using a Japanese technique of wood preservation. Each piece has travelled and turned, with its own unique narrative. It carries its own story, harnessing calmness or energy, like the sea itself.

WB Series: Tender by Sarah Jane Ross

In addition to your own artistic practice, you deliver visual arts sessions in care homes in West Dorset and East Devon. To what extent does the Jurassic Coast feature in these sessions, if at all?

In the art sessions over the summer we have been creating paintings of ammonites (on black paper), as a direct result of the local heritage. We’ve also made displays using Bridport net and created watercolours inspired by Turner’s ‘Bridport Harbour’. I’ve also created my own series of linocuts based on Turner’s work which are on display in my studio and Bridport Arts Centre. I get some of my best ideas for sessions travelling to the care homes (from Lyme Regis to Weymouth) as I ‘hug’ the coastline (coastal roads) a lot and it continues to inspire me.

Your ethos is ‘create not consume’. Do you think everybody has a creative streak? Is there one thing that everyone could do that would help embody that ethos?

I absolutely believe that everyone has creativity within them, it just manifests itself in different ways. In my role as a community artist people often say “I’m not creative” – there can be a confidence or self-esteem issue, but after giving visual arts a go, there’s a tremendous sense of achievement. Also, it can give you time to switch-off, to be in the ‘flow’ moment to moment, which is pretty useful.

In terms of directly applying the mantra ‘create not consume’, if we can just pause and think before any purchase: “Do I really need this?” That would help. “Do I already own it, is it still functioning, if it’s broken can I fix it, can I buy second-hand, can I repurpose it, can I borrow it?”

Why do you think the Jurassic Coast attracts so many artists?

Its wonderful light, tantalizingly rugged coastline, the sense of space, the seasonal changes of colours of the vast landscape. The sea air and slower pace of life here (no cities, no motorways), is a conduit for creativity.

Photograph by Megan Dunford

Your work is displayed at Bridport Open Studios is displayed alongside another local artist Megan Dunford. Can you talk about the parallels between your work?

Megan and I both enjoy playing with imagery and materials. We are inspired by our surroundings – mine the Jurassic Coast, Megan’s her recent travels to Mexico and Peru. The threads of underlying narratives is explored in both of our work.

One of the best things about Open Studios is that it allows us the opportunity to speak to people about our work, offering fresh insights.

The studio and exhibition (Venue 43) is open everyday, until Sunday 15th September, 10am – 4pm, at Grasmere, 4 Asker Gardens, Bridport DT6 3QA.

For further information visit Bridport and West Dorset Open Studios.

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