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Suffolk artist Mary Gundry’s Harry Becker-inspired painting gains place in London show

PUBLISHED: 16:57 30 November 2017 | UPDATED: 16:57 30 November 2017

Working Men in the Field by Mary Gundry. Photo:Colin Huggins

Working Men in the Field by Mary Gundry. Photo:Colin Huggins

Copyright: Colin Huggins

East Anglian artist Mary Gundry loves painting people and her painting of farmworkers working in a field has just been selected for a prestigious national exhibition. Arts editor Andrew Clarke spoke to her about the timeless nature of art.

Carnival Lanterns, Aldeburgh by Mary Gundry. Photo:Colin HugginsCarnival Lanterns, Aldeburgh by Mary Gundry. Photo:Colin Huggins

East Anglian artist Mary Gundry lives to paint. It’s a need, an obsession that has seen her through a variety of jobs, including acting as a curatorial assistant at the Sainsbury’s Centre in Norwich when it first opened.

But, working with art was not the same as creating art, so when the opportunity arrived she happily traded a ‘proper’ job for the life of an artist. Starting in 1998 she balanced running The Garden Gallery in Southwold High Street with producing her own work. She ran the gallery for seven years before dedicating herself to painting full-time.

Mary Gundry in her studio. Photo: Andrew ClarkeMary Gundry in her studio. Photo: Andrew Clarke

However, she missed contact with the public and in December 2008, she and partner Colin Huggins opened the Halesworth Gallery, which proved rather too successful, and resulted too much time being spent minding the store. Reluctantly they decided to close the gallery at the end of 2015 so that Mary could concentrate on her painting.

Her dedication has paid off with her painting Working Men in the Field, inspired by her hero Suffolk painter Harry Becker, being selected from a field of 1,800 entries to take part in the annual exhibition of the prestigious Royal Institute of Oil Painters (ROI) which is held at The Mall Galleries in Central London, just off Trafalgar Square.

Digging on the Allotment by Mary Gundry. Photo:Colin HugginsDigging on the Allotment by Mary Gundry. Photo:Colin Huggins

Mary previously had her work accepted for the 2014 exhibition but this year’s successful submission has an added emotional element as the work was inspired by Harry Becker, the Suffolk-born artist, who is one of Mary’s artistic heroes.

Becker is buried in Blythburgh churchyard, close to Mary’s home, so she feels that there is a connection between them. “I was thrilled when Working Men in the Field was selected because the subject and style of the painting are inspired by Edwardian artist Harry Becker.

Ferry to Walberswick by Mary Gundry. Photo:Colin HugginsFerry to Walberswick by Mary Gundry. Photo:Colin Huggins

“I love the way that Becker lays on paint and that was something I tried to emulate. I loved his directness and I wanted to capture that look, that feel. He worked with a limited palette and I tried to stay true to that as well.

“I submitted the painting because I was particularly pleased with it and also because I felt that it would be slightly different to what everyone else was likely to enter.”

Summer Beach by Mary Gundry. Photo:Colin HugginsSummer Beach by Mary Gundry. Photo:Colin Huggins

She said that despite its period setting the subject matter had a timeless quality to it – “I was inspired by an old black and white photograph of workers in a field and it just seemed the perfect subject for a painting.”

When not channelling the spirit of artistic ghosts, Mary spends much of her time capturing life in and around Blythburgh and Southwold. “I love figurative painting and my ambition is to develop a looser style. That’s what I am working towards.

“I started out doing very graphic, illustrative work, beach scenes – things like that, and it’s nice to think that I am developing and breaking away from such a literal style. As an artist you don’t want to feel that you are standing still.”

Apart from Harry Becker, Mary is also a huge admirer of the work of Laura Knight, who was a close friend and collaborator of another giant Suffolk talent Alfred Munnings. “I particularly love her sketches and drawings for clowns and dancers – and Degas, of course, I love his work. It’s always figurative work I am drawn to.”

Since closing the Halesworth Gallery, Mary has developed a love of working on canvases in situ. She remains drawn to the beach, to the views around Southwold and Blythburgh but has developed a love for painting “en plein air in oils particularly.”

“Now I have more time I can capture the bustling High Street of Southwold, crabbers at Walberswick and Blakeney, Norwich Market, Aldeburgh Yacht pond, cafes in Holt and put it down on canvas on the spot, rather than committing it to a sketchbook and then working it up in the studio later – although I do still do all my bigger pieces in the studio.”

Mary is also an enthusiastic member of a weekly life-drawing class which keeps her figurative drawing skills up to scratch. “Life drawing remains a huge joy and a thrilling challenge. It’s something you can just get lost in.”

The Royal Institute of Oil Painters exhibition at The Mall Galleries runs from November 29 to December 10 2017 from 10am to 5pm (closing at 1pm on the final day). Admission is £4 (£2.50 concessions) but Mall Galleries are offering readers free entry for two if you mention at the gallery desk having seen this article in our newspaper.

More information on Mary and her work can be seen on her website -

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