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Opening on 28 February (until 19 April), Watts Contemporary Gallery presents an exhibition of work by Norman Ackroyd CBE, RA, widely acclaimed as Britain’s foremost contemporary etcher and a leading landscape artist and printmaker.


Etching the Archipelago brings together more than 40 aquatint etchings – including a number of new prints – inspired by the artist’s expeditions to the edge of the British Archipelago over almost 50 years. From St Kilda UNESCO World Heritage Site to Clear Island, the most southerly point of Ireland, the exhibition will affirm Ackroyd’s status as “a master in the medium”.


In characteristic muted tones, Norman Ackroyd captures the transience of light and weather upon remote, island landscapes, creating dramatic images which evolve from sketches made during meticulously planned journeys, often involving hours spent at sea.


Norman Ackroyd CBE, RA studied at Leeds College of Art from 1956 to 1961, and subsequently at the Royal College of Art, London from 1961 to 1964. He has had many solo exhibitions, both in Britain and internationally, and notable public commissions include Lloyds Bank, Birmingham Airport and a bronze mural for the Main Hall of the British Embassy, Moscow.


Ackroyd was elected a Royal Academician in 1991 and was made Senior Fellow, Royal College of Art in 2000.  In 2007, Ackroyd was awarded a CBE for Services to Engraving and Printing.


Work selected for this exhibition includes St Kilda Morning, created following an extended stay on the island in force nine and ten gales. Ackroyd recalls watching the sunrise over Boreray and the Great Sea Stacks of Stac Lee and Stac an Armin, and how, over time, his drawings and watercolours of the bird life that dominates the landscape became more and more abstract. Harris from Lewis (2019) – on display for the first time – evolved from the artist watching and drawing a force eight Atlantic storm hitting the rocks and cliffs off the west coast of Lewis as he waited for the sea to change to allow a visit to Kilda. And in Mingulay from Pabbay (2019) Ackroyd captures the Barra Isles, a necklace of islands at the southern extremities of the outer Hebrides, now uninhabited but with ruins that recall their previous populations.


Norman Ackroyd says:


“As the crow flies, the distance between the extreme North of Shetland and the Fastnet Rock at the most south-westerly point of Ireland is some 900 miles. The actual coastline with its islands, headlands and inlets seems almost infinite. Before the transatlantic journeys of Columbus and others, this Atlantic coastline was believed to be the edge of the world.  Abundant evidence of human occupation spanning over 5000 years can be found everywhere along this inhospitable Atlantic fringe.”


“For nearly 5 decades I have visited and revisited this coast, which is not only the edge of the British Archipelago but also the North-west limits of Europe and Asia. This exhibition is a small selection of the images resulting from many expeditions.”


Professor Ian Ritchie CBE, RA – who will be ‘In Conversation’ with Norman Ackroyd at Watts Gallery on 26 March – says:


“Norman has spent a lifetime observing the interface between land and sea along the coastline of the British Isles and the depth of his understanding of that complex, beautiful, wild, ever-changing part of the world is second to none.’’


“What Turner was to water, Ackroyd is to acid: the ‘Turner of etching’.  He is a true master, so at ease in his medium.”


Etching the Archipelago is part of a programme of exhibitions at Watts Contemporary Gallery which provides visitors with an opportunity to see and buy art that resonates with the heritage and history of Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village.  George Frederic Watts (1817 – 1904) painted landscapes throughout his career, from travels in Italy to the surrounding woodland of the Surrey Hills.


Proceeds from the sale of work at Watts Contemporary exhibitions benefit Watts Gallery Trust’s Art for All learning programme, which transforms lives through art.


Alistair Burtenshaw, Director of Watts Gallery Trust, says:


“Art for All is the beating heart of Watts Gallery Trust’s mission and vision. Our founders believed that art could improve people’s lives and today we uphold their commitment to create access to art and to craft for people who would not ordinarily have this opportunity.”


“It is an honour to welcome Norman Ackroyd to Watts Contemporary Gallery, and we are grateful that, through the sale of his work, we are able to continue our Art for All programme, which delivers artist-led workshops to socially excluded and vulnerable groups, enabling the development of new and transferable skills in order to build self-confidence and contribute to rehabilitation.”


Norman Ackroyd: Etching the Archipelago opens at Watts Contemporary Gallery on 28 February 2020 (until 19 April 2020).  Prices from £540.


For further information:          @WattsGallery         facebook/thewattsgallery


Image: Skellig Sunset, Norman Ackroyd