Katherine Hamilton Exhibition

Circus paintings by local artist Katherine Hamilton

It’s show time

Welcome to the greatest show on earth – circus paintings by Katherine Hamilton in Great Yarmouth. Ian Collins reports.

Dancer turned painter Katherine Hamilton has searched the world for flowing colour and frozen movement – until finding her perfect subject in a magical arena just up the coast from her home near Southwold.Two years ago she ran away to the circus. Or maybe it ran away with her...It began when she went to watch just one performance at Yarmouth’s Hippodrome. This Art Nouveau gem from 1903 is now England’s only purpose-built circus building still true, thanks to the Jay family, to its original function.But then – like so many who are transfixed by the skilful, comic and daredevil delights in the fixed-site Big Top behind the Golden Mile – she kept returning.Through successive summer and Christmas seasons, this former performer was busy sketching. Between shows she produced panoramic oils in the peace and quiet of her garden studio. And now the result is a series of stupendous paintings – part of a multi-layered exhibition at Yarmouth’s Time and Tide museum charting and celebrating the resort town’s circus story. Kate says: “There is a whole world in the circus – it is about a global family where all are accepted and many are actually related, because everyone has a brilliant skill to bring to the spectacle. It’s a portrait of shared dedication.“The excitement of the acts – hailing from all over Europe, Africa, Asia and South America, as well as being home-grown in Yarmouth – is what I wanted to show in paint. It’s about movement, colour and atmosphere.“And it is also about the ghosts of all the aerial, acrobatic and comic artistes – the last possibly including Charlie Chaplin – that have appeared at the Hippodrome over more than a century.“There is something wonderfully eerie about the circus. The magic is still there when the building is empty.” That spirit is captured in a new DVD by Cromer film-maker Siri-Susanna Taylor. The film follows Kate at work last Christmas and in conversation in Yarmouth and Southwold. Excerpts will be screened in a looped display at Time and Tide.As a teenager, Katherine Hamilton studied painting in Florence and then in London where she switched to the London School of Contemporary Dance. She worked as a dancer and choreographer in New York and set up a dance school in Ethiopia.After that it was back to painting – based in Italy, then France and Spain. She moved to East Anglia in 1992 and has worked here ever since, apart from frequent and far-flung travels from Guatemala to Kerala to paint everything from markets and harbours to beach football matches and bull fights. Human relationships are paramount to her and yet she is also supremely committed to pursuing a singular path as an artist. The easy route is rejected. What appears to be a veering creative journey has been all the more impressive because Kate herself generally has no idea where it will lead.She just throws herself into the process and seizes each new visual opportunity. Her two careers are ultimately united. What she’s after is diverse vitality.“Katherine Hamilton does what all true artists should,” says Southwold’s PD James. “She celebrates and interprets the beauty and variety of the world in which all of us have to live and it is this truth to what she sees that draws us powerfully to her art.”She spares us the terrible journeys she undertakes with glee. When a plane to Mali was cancelled she waited a day to fly to neighbouring Senegal, then suffered a 12-hour taxi ride to reach a hotel where a column of ants flowed through the lobby bearing away creepy crawlies fallen from the walls and ceilings.She leaves the comfort of any haven for the authentic experience, which might land her in a mud hut with a hurricane looming and no rescue boat in sight. Her pictures can indeed reveal the calm before the storm – a deceptive ease summing up the circus where delight is spiced with danger.“The illusion of circus is like the illusion of making a painting,” she says. “We don’t want to see behind it or tear it apart by analysis. The aim is visual joy – and being transported by magic.”

Pictures by Katherine Hamilton are part of Show Time: Great Yarmouth’s Circus Story at Time and Tide museum from March 27 until October 31. (Also visit katehamiltonartist.co.uk)Her new DVD, Show Time – A Brush With The Circus, produced by Siri-Susanna Taylor, is available from some local stockists at �9.99 or by post from www.argusvideo.co.uk at �11.95.

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