If you have a passion for art, grab your diary and make a date to visit Cheeseburn Grange, a fantastic addition to northern England’s cultural scene.
I was lucky enough to get a sneak preview of things to come when I visited Cheeseburn earlier this week.
Cheeseburn is the brainchild of Joanna and Simon Riddell whose vision is to turn their stunning country house and gardens into a showcase for sculpture, art and design.
Next summer, they’ll be throwing open their doors to art lovers on a regular basis and you’ll be able to browse and even buy some of the art works. View the photo gallery for an exclusive preview.
Exploring the art trail
As we drove up the drive into Cheeseburn, there was an air of excitement about discovering a country home for contemporary art.
Walking through the front gardens, we happened upon an intriguing sculpture in the shape of an urn by Andrew Burton, fashioned in terracotta-coloured clay.
Burton reclaims and re-uses elements from his earlier works so it came as no surprise to discover that Vessel is constructed from thousands of handmade bricks previously used in other pieces.
After this encounter, the art works came thick and fast. There are 23 sculptures in the grounds of Cheeseburn plus more in the Stables and other outbuildings.
This metallic shape by Stephen Newby is one of several pieces at Cheeseburn by the artist. I love its reflective shiny surface which changes as the light moves and shifts throughout the day.
Another Stephen Newby work is positioned precariously above a doorway into the gardens nearby.
Stephen Newby has been designing and making inflatable metal sculptures for interiors and architectural sites across Europe.
It’s easy to see why his pieces are so popular. They have a certain plasticity and playfulness. They feel like they’re almost part of the landscape. I love their beautiful, transient surfaces.
But it’s David Mach’s art works in the Stables that have been attracting the most interest and excitement at Cheeseburn.
Having a major international artist on board is a real coup for Cheeseburn Grange’s owners. As ever, his works in The Stables are bursting with ingenuity and inspired ideas.
Mach’s Log Cabin was produced by the artist after he spent time in the surrounding landscape and woods at Cheeseburn.
This maquette is formed from drift wood but provides the model for a full size building or pavilion constructed from fallen trees.
It draws its inspiration from the many remarkable trees in Cheeseburn’s grounds including this gnarly specimen with its bulbous trunk and woody tentacles.
Don’t miss the main stable block where more Mach masterworks are on display together with five of his collages which provide an insight into his way of working.
It goes without saying that Mach’s works are head and shoulders above anything else on display at Cheeseburn, although the quality of all the art works is high.
Cheeseburn is lucky to have struck up a partnership with Mach who is no stranger to North East England. His famous Train, a locomotive built entirely from bricks, is down the road in Darlington.
One of the most striking works is Mach’s Stag Head in the hay-loft. It’s one of a series of Mach’s ‘match head’ sculptures which have been shown internationally.
Originally constructed with live matches (yes, matches!), the Stag Head sculpture was ignited and transformed leaving a carbonised surface of match heads.
It’s difficult to see this piece close-up because there’s a barrier around the space. My only criticism is that it would be better if visitors could walk around the space, get closer to the sculpture and view the work from different angles.
Mach describes himself as “an ideasmonger” who responds to all sorts of materials. The breadth of his creativity is certainly on display at Cheeseburn with a wide range of his work.
Wood is a prominent theme with three more sculptures strewn across the Stable Gallery’s floors. But one of my favourite pieces is his tilting chair which defies gravity and the laws of physics.
Over in the chapel, there’s another face of Mach’s work – a collage called Jesus Walks on Water – an impressive futuristic series of images.
It reminded me of Mach’s Precious Light show, inspired by Biblical stories, which I saw at the Edinburgh Festival some years ago. It seemed somehow appropriate to find this work in the house’s historic chapel.
A sense of the new
As well as established names, Cheeseburn also showcases a new generation of artists including Heidi Dent who has created a pendulous sculpture in the barn.
This oddly-shaped ‘teardrop’ hangs from the roof like an ominous presence. It reminded me of something lurking in the barn of a horror movie farmhouse.
I expected this work to ooze with a strange gloop but, on closer inspection, it turned into a softer, more welcoming presence.
If looks like a giant-sized mushroom with a squidgy centre. Heidi Dent’s use of materials is clever and creative – clearly, an artist to watch out for in the future.
She is fascinated by repetitive, hard work and this piece is actually made from knitted yarns. I wondered how many hours of work must’ve gone into making this striking sculpture.
Back in the gardens, it was time to discover works which blend seamlessly into the landscape with a series of stunning Colin Rose sculptures.
Cheeseburn’s gardens are fabulous in their own right but they come alive with the art works placed around the grounds, many in inspired locations.
Two fabulous works by Colin Rose take the form of large-scale sculptures which hover in the trees as if they’re an integral part of the landscape.
They’re amazing but slightly disconcerting. Perhaps I read too many sci-fi novels where trees become malevolent forces when I was a teenager?
Further along the path a huge acorn-like ‘Pine Ball’ sits on the branches of a tree as if autumn has gone into overdrive and given birth to a giant-sized nut.
Leaving behind these strange shapes, I started to question a lot of objects in the landscape including an apple tree with its bright red, luscious fruits.
I had to look closer to work out if this was indeed a real fruit tree or an art installation! It’s a tribute to Rose’s art that he manages to blur the boundaries between art and reality – and forces you to interrogate the natural world.
Down in the potting shed at the back of the orchard, something strange was also lurking.
Several visitors were looking at a pile of paving stones, stacked in an artistic heap. Were they a sculpture or paving blocks? Watching their puzzled faces was very amusing.
Inside the shed, artist Gilbert Ward’s curvaceous wood forms – Baker’s Dozen – were impressive with their lovely, sensuous shapes which made me want to touch them (tempting but I didn’t!).
I saw several visitors musing about whether the plant pots were also part of the bigger art work but in my mind they were just a great setting for Ward’s sculptures.
As I walked down through the beautiful grounds, I became increasingly aware of Cheeseburn’s clever use of garden vistas and boundaries to show off the art works.
All the pieces make effective use of their surroundings. not least this metal installation by Stephen Newby which mirrors and reflects the environment around it.
From a distance, I spied a striking terracotta sculpture by Andrew Burton on top of the main garden wall.
There’s a real sense of motion about the sculpture which depicts cattle pulling a huge architectural structure like a giant wagon train. It’s strangely reminiscent of David Mach’s Train in Darlington.
One of the most enjoyable sections of the art tour is the formal garden which is home to around a dozen pieces ranging from small figures to larger abstract shapes.
Joseph Hillier features prominently but here his work takes on a human face with this lovely work featuring two figures face to face.
Over on the lawn there’s another Hillier figure – Origin – which depicts Adam holding a tempting apple. There are shades of Antony Gormley but Hillier is very much his own man.
Just when you think that Hillier is all about figurative art, he confounds us with a series of abstract sculptures including a large ‘egg’ covered in what looks like a plastic sheet.
Turns out it’s actually made of bronze and resin. A cunning trick from this inventive artist.
On a similar theme, Hillier’s ‘mesh’ sculpture in stainless steel – Lure – also plays with space, materials and scale.
Looking like it has risen organically from the land, I couldn’t decide whether this work is sci-fi inspired or rooted in nature. It seems to be a curious companion piece to the nearby mysterious egg.
Over in the rose garden, there are some very different works by artist Daniel Clahane who specialises in relief sculptures made from stone.
They have a classical quality and, although I admire them for their craftsmanship, they’re my least favourite works in the gardens.
On the plus side, they have a softness and fluidity which seemed to appeal to a lot of art lovers who were extolling their virtues.
Back out in the grounds, there are yet more treats in store. Artist Andrew Burton has created a clay tyre in a small outbuilding, which seems to echo the days of tractors and farming at Cheeseburn.
Clay is Burton’s trademark material and it works well here to represent a very different material and texture – rubber.
As you move back towards the house, there are interesting works by the tennis courts from artists working in a variety of materials ranging from natural stone and wood to man-made materials such as steel.
Being a big fan of nature, I enjoyed a group of small tree sculptures which reflect the spirit of the woodlands surrounding the country house.
Arriving back at the country house, I revisited the David Mach sculptures which are the stars of the show. I’m looking forward to Mach’s future artistic collaborations with Cheeseburn.
But Cheeseburn isn’t a one trick pony. There are many artistic highlights from Colin Rose, a personal favourite, to rising stars like Heidi Dent and Joseph Hillier.
The collection is beautifully presented with a great selection of pieces displayed in intriguing locations.
Let’s hope that more international artists are attracted to showcase their work here. Cheeseburn would be a great home for the likes of Antony Gormley and Andy Goldworthy.
Cheeseburn is a country home for contemporary art – what a fantastic vision!.
Tammy’s top tips – Cheeseburn Grange
Cheeseburn Grange is located east of Stamfordham on the B6342 in Northumberland in North East England.
It’s a 30 minute drive from Newcastle upon Tyne.
The art works are only viewable by the public on selected dates during the year so check opening times.
Cheeseburn hopes to host regular open weekends in the summer of 2015.
When going on the art walk, wear sturdy boots as the grounds can get muddy underfoot.
Visit Tammy Tour Guide’s Cheeseburn art trail in this virtual photo gallery trail.
Click through the images to go on a complete guided tour of the grounds.