High Art at Highcliffe Castle


Four friends, a background in film, a grand house in Dorset; Anna Selby previews an art exhibition with a difference…

This exhibition is the tale of four artists whose lives and work have been interlinked for decades. Carlotta Barrow and Chris Burke, whose Waterside Studio is in Swanage, were invited by Highcliffe Castle in Christchurch, Dorset (a remarkable Gothic Revival fantasy of a house – worth a visit in itself) to stage an exhibition and they invited their longstanding friends and colleagues, Simon and Sally Dray to join them as guest artists. The result is a diverse collection of oils and watercolours, stone carvings, wire and cement work, portraits and landscapes and works with sea glass.

While all four are now artists, they met during their years working in film and television. Carlotta trained originally as a dancer and first came across Chris when she was a Javanese temple dancer in Casino Royale and he was working on the film as a draughtsman. Carlotta went on to work in kinetic art, was featured on Tomorrow’s World and Dr Who and later began working as art director on a number of films. While working on Danger UXB, she met Simon Dray – he was making the bombs! She went on to The Long Good Friday, Jewel in the Crown, Tales of the Unexpected and Agatha Christie’s Poirot. It was for this that Carlotta suggested Sally Dray for the portraits in the style of famous Thirties artists.


Simon was already making specialised props for the series and created paintings, props and special effects for such series and films as Tipping the Velvet, Fingersmith, A Passage to India, Midnight Express and Harry Potter. At the same time, he was building props for museums – a full-size cross section of a nuclear reactor for the Science Museum and a reconstruction of part of the ship ‘Aquitania’ for the Maritime Museum in Liverpool. Chris Burke worked on many TV series and films including The Man who Fell to Earth and Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Sally became involved in the film industry via her portrait work producing paintings for such productions as Evita, Titanic, Effie Gray and all of the Harry Potter films – these are now on permanent display at the Harry Potter Museum.

Sally’s own work is now focused on portraits and moody atmospheric landscapes with subdued colours and a limited palette, often dramatized by a small splash of colour. A copy of her portrait of Helena Bonham Carter and her family (commissioned by the actress) in Jacobean dress will be shown at the Highcliffe exhibition. Carlotta has returned to her childhood home in Swanage on the Isle of Purbeck and has been re-inspired by this place where the land meets the sky and the sea, reflected in her paintings and stone carvings in local Purbeck stone and marble, works with wire and cement and sea glass.


Simon and Chris have both moved on to include abstraction in their work. Chris, though, is still exhibiting figurative paintings and sculptures both in relief and in the round. In this exhibition he’s including some of the paintings he exhibited at a recent Royal College of Art Alumni group exhibition, featuring the use of acrylic paint, sand and filler powders to create pronounced surface textures.

Highcliffe Castle’s exhibitions of Waterside Studios – Christopher Burke, Carlotta Barrow & invited artists runs from 11 March to 12 April. It is open daily 11-5pm.