This image: The house and gardens at Anglesey Abbey
Ruthie Collins gives you the lowdown on arty happenings around Cambridge in August
Don’t Panic, to quote the title of a track by Kuba, one of Cambridge’s best electronica artists – August is here. Time to escape the stresses of the everyday. Or, if you are young, put on a rave in a field in Cambridgeshire, apparently, according to reports on a trend sweeping the county; “let us dance in the sun, wearing wild flowers in our hair” as American poet, Susan Polis Shutz says. Cambridge has a little-known slice of art history steeped in rave, with Cambridge Junction (which has happily just been awarded over two million pounds by the Arts Council – excellent news!) being founded straight out of the rave scene of the 1980s. But if carting around a sound system doesn’t appeal, try art-hunting in the country jewels surrounding Cambridge this month instead. Many country houses have magnificent art collections as well as flourishing gardens – such as those of the National Trust’s Anglesey Abbey, not only home to a fine collection of paintings by the likes of Turner and Van Dyck, but also a smattering of neo-classical sculptures throughout its gardens. Families flock here for its tree house, trails and massive play park, but it’s possible to find corners for a secluded picnic amidst understated beauty.
Cambridge’s leading edgy art duo, Aid and Abet (comprising David Kefford and Sarah Evans), is currently working on Transitions In Time, a major project with Peckover House in Wisbech. The shared artistic legacy of the families connected to the house is extraordinary, from Alexander Peckover himself, to ‘art world grandee’ (The Spectator) Roland Penrose, a Surrealist painter and pal to the likes of Miro, Picasso and Max Ernst. While the commission itself won’t be showcased until next year, the stunning Georgian house, with a walled garden (featuring 60 species of rose!) and tearoom, is open to the public, a cultural pitstop on the heritage circuit surrounding the city. Or, if heading out to the coast, Mount Amelia, restored country house in Norfolk village Ingoldisthorpe, holds treasures by Cambridge artists Loukas Morley and Chris Wood in the garden. Open for bed and breakfast or self catering, it’s a short drive from the beach. You can also see Loukas exhibiting his stunning abstracts at Co. at Number 15 in Cherry Hinton throughout August.
Meanwhile, Heong Gallery is host to Quentin Blake, The Best of All Possible Worlds, until October. Quentin Blake, of course, is one of the world’s most renowned illustrators, of Roald Dahl fame. This is the first major retrospective of the artist, and of his work with Folio Society – it’s a joy to visit. “I suppose illustration tends to live in the streets, rather than in the hermetically sealed atmosphere of the museum, and consequently it has come to be taken less seriously,” Blake once said. This relatively new addition to central Cambridge’s circuit of galleries has hosted a variety of world-acclaimed art (including Ai Wei Wei last summer). It’s fantastic to see illustration given such a serious platform, and Blake’s work sings to the eye. Based at Downing College, it’s open just four days a week: Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays (12 to 5pm), so plan your visit before popping in.
Blake (right) once also said he hoped his drawings would inspire other people to imagine their own pictures. So why not join Urban Sketchers in taking illustration back to the streets? This friendly, supportive meet-up for artists and illustrators is getting back to basics, on paper, in numerous spots all over the city.
“Cambridge is good for drawing and illustrating because there’s a big art community,” Shane Swann of Shane Swann Illustration tells me, who has been catching the eye of many with his enormous, meticulous drawings of animals – winning him acclaim at the Cambridge Drawing Society’s Pitt Building show early this year. You can catch his works at SoVegan café in North London in August, too. Meanwhile, if you are one of the many animal lovers getting excited about the Museum of Zoology reopening later this autumn, head to museum.zoo.cam.ac.uk and download the free-to-use Arts Council supported Animal Safari Trail, helping to identify animal sculpture around the city. Families searching for fun stuff to do over the holidays should also put the Fitzwilliam Museum’s Family Art Week in your diaries, from Tuesday 2 August to Thursday 4 August, drop in sessions from 11am to 1pm, or 2pm to 4pm. Part of Summer at the Museums, it’s a rare chance to see children and parents take over the museum, with activities for all ages – from workshops and treasure hunts to guided tours, plus a chance to come home with your own artworks, or add to a group installation. It’s little shock to learn the Fitzwilliam Museum has been attracting record numbers this year.
Failing all that, head over to Somerset this month to see Kuba performing at Whirlygig festival, 17 to 20 August. As Yoko Ono says, “summer passes and one remembers one’s exuberance”. So whatever you do, enjoy it.