Dorking Group of Artists

In the first of a new series profiling Surrey's best known art groups, we meet Karen Pearson, chairman of the Dorking Group of Artists, which is celebrating its diamond anniversary this year

by Caroline Harrap

*** 1) When was the group started, and who was it formed by and why? It was set up in 1947 just after the Second World War. Don Jeffries, the town clerk, was keen to get an art society established in Dorking so he asked certain artists in the local area, some being members of the Royal Academy, if they could form a group. Donald MacMorran and Tony Marsh, a painter and sculptor, took up the responsibility of organising the society, which became part of the Dorking Crafts Society, then later the artists separated from the craft members to form the Dorking Group of Artists. William E Narraway was one of the more famous founder members of the DGA. He was a council member of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters and renowned for the portraits he painted of the royal family. 2) What is the main aim of the society today? I'm pleased to say it is a thriving local art group that aims to bring together artists of any age or ability. It encourages the exchange of artistic skills, inspiration and ideas between like minded companions in a friendly informal environment. As a group, we try to be as open minded and as forward thinking as we can, encouraging the practise of experimental work as well as developing traditional painting and drawing techniques. We show our members work to the public by organising two major exhibitions a year. 3) When and where do you meet? The DGA meets every Tuesday throughout the year. Our winter programme runs from September to Easter at Beare Green Village Hall. This is an exciting structured programme of tutorials, demonstrations and painting sessions. During the summer months, we run weekly sessions of outdoor painting at many different venues in Surrey. Many of these are places not normally accessed by the public and the subject matter can be quite challenging! 4) How many members do you have? We have around 200 members and have three levels of membership. The group accommodates any level of artistic experience or expertise. 5) And are you more Tate Modern or traditional landscapes? Both. Our members produce a diverse range of two dimensional work from contemporary abstract to traditional and figurative work. One of our members, Jim Tucker, makes pictures out of junk, a process known as assemblage. Another, Frances Jordan, has just graduated from Central St Martin's and produces large striking oil paintings. Then there is the semi-abstract and collage work hanging alongside traditional watercolours and pastels on a wide range of subjects. For example, David Runnalls paints atmospheric oil landscapes, Robert Bellamy favours muted watercolours of boats and horses and Clare Spratt produces soft pastels of figures and still life. 6) Do you have any famous artists in your midst? We have several members who are well known professional artists. Ben and Stephanie Manchipp, Chris Forsey and Magaret Heath, to name a few, are all prolific artists and tutors who are active within the DGA. Together with our semi professional members, they give invaluable help to our beginner and amateur members and support all our exhibitions. 7) What's the most exciting thing that's happened in the group's history? This year is the DGA's diamond anniversary, which is very exciting! We will be celebrating this by organising a Christmas exhibition with the Guildford Arts group later this year and also by organising a brand new art event called 'Painting in Public'. This new event will coincide with the Arts Alive Festival on October 6 and it will be a way of bringing artists directly to the public in Dorking town centre. We will also be running a children's painting event in the shopping centre called 'Creating with Colour', which will be great fun! 8) And the funniest? We have a lot of laughs, but one of the funniest scenarios was when one of our members had three life studies stolen from our exhibition. She took it as a back handed compliment and didn't report the incident. Two weeks later, she was contacted by the police, who returned her paintings unharmed. They explained that, unbeknown to her, the night her paintings went missing there was a cash theft on the same premises. They responded to a tip off and paid the villain a visit. When they searched his flat, they found the missing cash and the three paintings under his bed with her contact details on the back of them. He said he had bought them at a car boot sale, but instinct told them he wasn't telling the truth. So all ended well ....for our member anyway! 9) Do you welcome new members and, if so, what should interested people do? Yes, we always welcome new members whether interested in participating in all or part of the group's activities. Please look at our website for more information, email or phone Marilyn Runnalls, DGA membership secretary, on 01306 628090.