It was a brief encounter during a school exchange trip ten years ago that sparked what has become a lasting friendship between artists Sue Lewis-Blake and Ursula Blancke-Dau.
The two women only had the chance to chat for 20 minutes while Sue’s pupils from a girls’ high school in Warwick visited the art department at Ursula’s Rudolf Steiner School in Germany.
“I was persuaded to go on the cultural exchange because I had briefly lived there and could speak the language, but I only agreed to go if they would let me visit the art department at the school. I was especially interested as it was a Steiner School,” explains Sue.
“As a result I met Ursula and it was just one of those things, we hit it off straight away. I didn’t expect to see her again but we exchanged details as you do and four months later she contacted me and suggested we meet while she was on a visit to the UK.
“Since then we have visited each other’s studios, sketched together and we regularly bounce ideas of one another either by email or when we are together.
The strong bond they have formed has resulted in three international exhibitions – one of them a critically acclaimed show entitled Lost and Found at the prestigious Kultür Bäckerei in Lüneburg, Ursula’s home town.
In the new year the duo will stage their fourth exhibition, exploring the notion of the circle at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery.
Simply entitled Circles, the exhibition has as its inspiration the brooding atmosphere of the ancient stone circles sites which can be found close to both their homes.
Sue lives at Stanton-in-Peak so in her case they are the Nine Ladies and Doll Tor. Their German counterpart is a Megalithic cemetery at Oldendorfer Totenstatt.
The mixed media exhibition will include paintings, photographs, videos and even three dimensional compositions in their individual styles.
One part of the project the women worked on together was to bind the separate stones in the ancient circles with hazard warning tape which they have captured on film.
“Not only did the red and white striped plastic form vivid and clearly defined shapes in the landscape, it immediately created a tension and posed conceptual questions.
“As soon as an exterior circumference was defined by the process, the interior space and volume became more significant. These were no longer individual stones; there was a vital interdependence,” explains Sue.
Ursula explores the Circle theme with expressive canvases, photographic work and videos. Sue’s formally composed paintings, underpinned by drawing, present a technically different response but one that creates a dialogue when the works of the two artists are seen together.
Over the years, interactions of light, weather, nature and human activity have given the ancient monuments an on-going significance.
In some paintings, semi-transparent figures appear, capturing a sense of both the ephemeral and the permanent traces left behind at the circles.
Sue, who is a member of the Society of Graphic Fine Art, always uses drawings as the basis for her paintings and says that as a child she always had a pencil or crayon in her hand. Now as an artist her sketchbook where she records her direct observations is vital to her finished work.
“It has been so refreshing for both Ursula and myself to be working together, especially on this particular project and what is most interesting is that it is encouraging us both to work in new ways,” says Sue.
The exhibition opens on January 12 and runs until March 23. There are meet the artist events on February 9 and March 9 from 10am-1pm.