TANGLED WEBB GALLERY | Sharon Henry
I never thought a painting could make me cry, but here I am, thousands of miles from home with tears in my eyes. I was happily browsing and admiring the works in the little ‘Tangled Webb’ art gallery, here in St Helena Bay, South Africa when quite unexpectedly, I’ve recognised the subject matter in this piece and the emotions hit me.
The painting is simply called, ‘A Moment In Time,’ by the artist, Diane Webb. It’s a scene she captured whilst holidaying on St Helena Island of an impromptu music session with guitar player Wayne Yon (my fellow St Helenian), sitting outside his house in Jamestown, singing Oasis’ classic ‘Wonderwall.’ A little girl rests her head on his shoulder. The thing is, I was watching this ‘moment’ just last night on a home video, which makes the painting so powerful and has brought on the tears.
My spine is tingling; I can’t find words to express my feelings. All I can manage is a smile of appreciation to the artist, dry my tears and sigh.
The walls in this bright, whitewashed gallery showcases Diane’s work, and like ‘A Moment In Time’ there’s a story behind each painting. Yachts, birds and dolphins feature prominently. “It’s all about my life,” she explains. “It’s my family, Banjo (husband’s racing yacht), sailing, and everything that means something to me. Without that subject matter I probably wouldn’t do things like this.” Her sketch book, which she carries at all times, is used to doodle and jot down ideas on the go.
Diane’s style is abstract. She specialises in mixed media; combining acrylic paints, charcoal, shells, sand, African beads, dried foliage and any other materials that take her fancy, to create specific textures. Her clever use of colour, light and mixed media gives an almost 3-D effect.
Another particular piece I’m drawn to is of Banjo winning the Governor’s Cup Yacht Race 2012, red spinnaker in full bloom speeding past St Helena’s rocky coastline. The blue ocean is so mesmerising I want to jump in.
Back at her home studio there’re a number of projects on the go. ‘Porcupine fishing in the deep ocean’ is almost gallery-ready. It’s a darker, ‘spikier’ painting emblazoned with newspaper headlines. “I think if I incorporate headlines, there’s maybe something timeless about it. Be it from newspapers or photographs, it gives a sense of history.”
Surrounded by a sea of paint pots and an assortment of brushes, Diane sizes the painting’s dimensions using photographs for reference. “They get very offended if the technical side isn’t correct,” she laughs. “I’m trying to get the impression of movement.” Using acrylics she works her magic into the detail, “I make my brush strokes quite thick and fast, just layer it and see what happens.”
Drying in the shed is another work in progress, a whale’s tail lifting out of the water. This also has a story. Whilst out sailing, Diane snapped a chance encounter with whales, “It’s a bucket list photograph and I had goose bumps,” she recalls.
As with many artists, the ‘day job’ limits Diane’s precious studio time. But it’s easy to see how her studio drives the creative process. It’s a private space, shared only with her “cultured kitties.” The floor to ceiling glass doors overlook a beach. The walls are covered with inspirational graffiti; thoughts, ideas and quotes, scrawled quickly lest forgotten. And there are stacks of photographs ready for future projects. “I’ve got so much subject matter it’s ridiculous!”
In the adjoining room Diane shows me a treasure trove of accumulated beads, paper and fabrics, which may be worked into future paintings. “I’ve always loved collage and I’ve started using this shwe shwe,” she said, spreading out the traditional African cloth for effect. “It so pretty and decorative and every pattern tells a story.”
Although Diane graduated in art and fine art from Rhodes University, and studied additional printmaking in East London, painting has always been a hobby up to now; an escape from her sales rep job which has her on the road much of the time. The decision to begin selling her paintings is a very recent one; she’s been at the gallery only a few months.
The philosophy of the ‘Tangled Webb’ gallery is, let art be an essential element of life.
“I’ve painted all my life, I love mixed media, love photography, love colour. It’s a means to express.”
All of the paintings in the gallery are for sale and Diane has a special connection to each piece. “There are some like Wayne’s picture I’m particularly attached to.” The scene in the painting was late afternoon on St Helena Island, Diane and her friends were singing along, Wayne was in his element. Looking on was his partner’s 4 year old daughter. Caught in the occasion she quietly got up and rested her head on his shoulder, just to be closer as Wayne played the guitar.
Touched by the moment, Diane returned home and recreated the scene on canvas, capturing the mood and essence perfectly.
It’s been a good day. I’ve met an artist whose talent matches her passion, and it’s moved me to tears.
The Tangled Webb Gallery, De Palm Lifestyle Centre, 8 Shearwater Street, St Helena Bay, South Africa.