• Jo Armstrong

Emma Bell Talks Art & The Leigh Art Trail

Updated: Mar 12, 2021

Owner of Leigh-on-Sea gallery, '70, The Broadway', artist Emma Bell is well known locally for her stunning abstract seascapes inspired by the Thames Estuary that the town nestles alongside. Emma is also a Committee Member of the Leigh Art Trail - the highlight of the town’s cultural calendar. For the first time in its 24 year history, the event had to be cancelled this year due to the pandemic, but in its place will be the innovative 'Online Christmas Market'!

Opening the gallery in 1998, Emma initially taught classes on paint effects, marbling and mosaic which she’d previously used in painting and decorating interiors. A period of illness necessitated a change of direction and she started to create and sell her own paintings.

Although in much demand for pet portrait commissions, she states “my passion is in abstract and mixed media, not knowing what’s coming at the end and letting the painting do its own thing – that’s the exciting thing”. She previously created abstract cityscapes, but after moving to Leigh-on-Sea, was drawn to the Estuary - “I was inspired by the massive sky and the light which changes constantly, along with the textures and smells. I often walk my dog down there and draw great inspiration from it”.

New techniques and materials have been used by Emma over recent years, including gilded glass drawings of favourite local landmarks such as Southend Pier and Leigh’s Gypsy Bridge. “You have to ensure you make a living but also keep true to yourself and enjoy what you’re doing”, she states. “So I’m always evolving. I look back at things I did before. For example, I used wood graining in my painting / decorating days which I use in my paintings now. I use an amalgamation of effects”.

Leigh’s Estuary location is a reason Emma feels artists are drawn to the area - “they’re drawn to the sky, the mud, the light and then find out there is a community of other artists there”. My interviews with other local artists have highlighted how supportive Emma is within this community. For four weeks of the year, she hands over space to another artist for free. “This is also good for me”, she advises. “I find it really exciting seeing some of the ideas they come up with and how they promote it”.

A keen supporter of the wider community too, Emma has donated work and space to various local charities and launched the ‘Small Things’ project during lockdown. An open call went out to local residents to create a piece of art on paper and post it through the gallery’s letterbox. The gallery was transformed into a community pop-up art show, providing much-needed cheer and local pride as passers-by viewed the multitude of images exuding hope and positivity. “It was glorious”, states Emma. “It became a real community show. People were stopping to look, coming to the door and leaving lots of comments. It showed that even in the face of adversity, something joyous and good can come out of it”. When it is safe to do so, the gallery will host ‘Cardboard’ – a two week exhibition organised by fellow Leigh Culture profiled artist, Alfie Winters (a23) - with proceeds going to local homeless charity, HARP.

Now preparing for Leigh Art Trail's 'Online Christmas Market', Emma confirms it will feature nearly 40 original works by Trail artists. The annual Trail, begun by Leigh artist Richard Baxter in 1997, showcases the work of local contemporary artists and designers and has evolved into a highly popular event. Providing the opportunity to explore Leigh, meet the artists and watch demonstrations, it feels almost every possible venue is transformed into a pop-up gallery.

Last year showcased the work of more than 60 painters, ceramicists, sculptors and photographers, launched a dedicated Childrens’ Art Trail, displayed the biggest public art installation the town has ever seen and provided workshops, interactive events and free art. This year was to see it extended from one to two weeks for the first time with 70 artists in over 60 venues, but will now be sadly postponed.

Yet the spirit of the Trail lives on and the online event will go live on its Facebook page on November 23 – December 6. Paintings, sculpture, embroidery, photography and more will be on sale with proceeds going to Southend Emergency Fund to assist those in the community hardest hit by coronavirus.

The Trail’s success is due to the “good variety of artists to suit lots of different tastes”, according to Emma. “Leigh has always been a nice little artistic community and always been strong. We’re spoilt for choice with people applying and we always try to keep moving forward and change things up every year”. The Childrens’ Art Trail is set to continue and plans are afoot to utilise the Library Gardens for even more fun, interactive activities. So make sure you follow the Trail in 2021!

View and take part in the Online Christmas Market on Leigh Art Trail’s website here.

It will go live on the Art Trail Facebook Events Page here

Check out Leigh Art Trail on Instagram here.

Check out Emma's work at her website - and find out more by following her Instagram and Facebook pages.


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