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Review: Shirley Carnt, Open Studio exhibition, Thornham



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Shirley Carnt has painted with faith during the lockdowns, or shut downs as she calls them, and her forthcoming exhibition of paintings has opened this week.

Presented in her beautiful coastal home and studio in Thornham, the paintings are mostly of the wonderful area under the Norfolk skies.

A reminder perhaps of how lucky we are to be here especially after the last 18 months.

Shirley Carnt, Open Studio at Thornham (49568626)
Shirley Carnt, Open Studio at Thornham (49568626)

With sweeping landscapes of dawn skies and blustery seas the oil paintings reflect the colourful scenery of sunrises on West Norfolk’s doorstep including Thornham and the harsh wintry walks of Brancaster.

Bursting with colour one early sun rise was so vibrantly orange Shirley thought her house must be on fire. Dawn Sky is bursting with pinks and oranges of a 5am sunrise and Shirley was quick to get her brushes to capture the scene before it rapidly changed.

She said: “Red sky in the morning, farmer’s warning - it really was as if the house was on fire.”

Shirley’s inspiration to paint began as a little girl aged five or six when she was always painting animals and flowers.

Shirley Carnt, Open Studio at Thornham (49568900)
Shirley Carnt, Open Studio at Thornham (49568900)

Influenced and mentored by Edward Seago whose paintings of Norfolk life are today hugely valuable, Seago taught Shirley to paint from life. She said:” Seago would be out on his boat on the broads and paint there and then. I learnt to paint the atmosphere and skies by sitting for half an hour and finding what the feeling is. I am so lucky to live in this county where it is all sky.”

Life on the Wild Side, written under surname Deterding documents Shirley’s “extraordinary life when extensive foreighn travel was an uncommon occurrence for a woman.” It traces her journey from Outer Mongolia to her paintings being hung at the Royal Academy where she has been invited to display her paintings and talk. She is often asked to teach art classes and to give advice, having trained at Central St Martins University of Art. She said:” Before even thinking about painting just absorb the atmosphere, the feelings, the smells, shut your eyes and let it creep into your soul.”

Shirley Carnt, Open Studio at Thornham (49568900)
Shirley Carnt, Open Studio at Thornham (49568900)
Shirley Carnt, Open Studio at Thornham (49568908)
Shirley Carnt, Open Studio at Thornham (49568908)

Over the years her artistic style has developed using thick pallet style and experimenting like crazy. The paintings of local areas such as Wroxham, Holkham, Hunstanton Cliffs and the Quay in Lynn show settings of suns and evening light.

Early sunrises, windy weather and gulls all feature with bursts of colour showing bright umbrellas on beaches and are all scenes which we can relate to evoking times past and celebrating the present outside spaces which have become ever more important.

Shirley is happiest when walking her little terrier dog Simba on a blustery day and she said: “Brancaster beach in the middle of winter, cold and raw when the sea is rough. I love it, it is in my soul.”

Shirley Carnt’s paintings and books are on sale and her exhibition is open to the public daily until late September at Coastguard House, Thornham,10.30am-5.30pm.

Shirley Carnt, Open Studio at Thornham (49569219)
Shirley Carnt, Open Studio at Thornham (49569219)
Shirley Carnt, Open Studio at Thornham (49569181)
Shirley Carnt, Open Studio at Thornham (49569181)


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