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Preview: Enchanted Parks at Saltwell Park, Gateshead

NOW that the nights have drawn in, the fairytale can begin.

Enchanted Parks, a highlight of NewcastleGateshead Initiative's Winter Festival
Enchanted Parks, a highlight of NewcastleGateshead Initiative's Winter Festival

NOW that the nights have drawn in, the fairytale can begin.

Enchanted Parks makes a welcome return to Saltwell Park in Gateshead today, where dark nights will provide an ideal blank canvas for the colourful stories playing out as families wander around its illuminated trail.

The sound and light festival which transforms the park by evening with artworks, installations, performances and music, is an annual treat and every year brings new surprises, with the Victorian park a perfect backdrop to mystery, magic and melodrama.

This year’s theme makes much of its Victorian history with participating artists drawing inspiration from its gothic splendour.

One of those commissioned to take part is Deborah Snell, an illustrator and printmaker from Newcastle.

Deborah, whose detailed, atmospheric etchings and line drawings often find a root in, or capture a moment from, traditional stories, has created Glimpses of Victoriana, a mix of installation and illustration.

Examples of her work are shown here but her specially-created Enchanted Parks piece will be unveiled only when those park gates open today.

The artist, who has an MA in illustration from Newcastle and has studied fashion, textiles, screen printing and etching, does, however, offer us a few hints.

“They’re illustrations – blown up quite big and lit up of characters doing things, looking at you, being caught in the middle of something.

“There are no specific stories, but little separate narratives.

“My work is sometimes a bit dark but this is a family show so it’s not too creepy!”

Deborah visited the park at night to get a feel for it and left the rest to her imagination.

“I’ve been going to Enchanted Parks for the last four years and I’ve always loved it. I’ve never applied before so I was really excited to get a commission to do something.”

Her past work includes illustrations for Centre for Life’s Shared Skies planetarium show and The Late Shows, while she recently exhibited prints at St Mary’s Heritage Centre for The Winter Fair exhibition and takes part this month in a “pop-up shop” at Northern Stage as part of Baltic’s 10th birthday celebrations.

Here, artists had free rein to explore what inspired them and, for Deborah, the darkness, shadows and trees offered infinite possibilities.

“It’s a Victorian park with a mysterious, dark element,” she says, “and I thought about Victorian life, the people that would have been to the park and all the things they’d get up to.”

All will be revealed with today’s launch and visitors can find Deborah’s work outside Saltwell Towers.

The building itself, once home to stained glass artist William Wailes, will be the showcase for a new projection by Ross Ashton and Karen Monid, the husband-and-wife team behind the 2010 moving sound and light show at the park’s pavilion. Ashton was also responsible for Crown of Life, the stunning centrepiece of Durham’s Lumiere festival which projected rolling images onto the exterior of the Cathedral.

Having just returned from Las Vegas, where they transformed the front of the Venetian Hotel, their Glass House will be a stained glass-effect celebration of Wailes’ work, melding Ashton’s projection and Monid’s soundscape.

Elsewhere there’ll be plenty to discover and explore with artworks, including fiery figures, festive songs and huggable trees, around winding paths and in unexpected places as well as stand-out installations at prime locations such as the bandstand which this year hosts a performance featuring Dunston Brass Band as never seen before while “history and reality collide”.

If that sounds intriguing then there’s lots more on offer as the event – now in its seventh year and drawing audiences of 15,000 (despite one night being cancelled last year due to high winds) – has enlisted a whole range of artists, from internationally renowned Claire Morgan to up-and-coming local university talents.

Look out for work by a mix of fine art, performance and photography students from Northumbria University: Stop All The Clocks by Ricky James, Amy Ferguson, Lyndsay Pettigrew and Devon Thompson; a Brothers Grimm-inspired piece in the rose garden by Laura Rae and Jossy Anderson, and Camera Obscura by Simon Briggs and Liam Hall. Jennifer Prevatt of Newcastle University, meanwhile, will be displaying Immortal Shadows: The Tale of Tales.

:: Enchanted Parks is open 4.30pm-8pm nightly until Sunday. Visit www.NewcastleGateshead.com/winterfestival or call 0191 433 6965 for ticket details.


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