On a pleasant Saturday evening, there are few nicer places to be than hob-nobbing with the great and the good in the splendid settings of the Old Manor House in Westergate, just outside Chichester, West Sussex. As vintage cars posed seductively on the driveway, and fine works of art were displayed temptingly in a marquee, it made for the most distracting of evening entertainments, even before we glimpsed a man operating what appeared to be a hoverboard of sorts around the lake. He had an expression of droll confidence upon his face; it was not one that we could match.
We were there, of course, for more reasons than just admiring the view. The Chichester-based art charity NOA (National Open Art) has a very simple aim; it attempts to make the display and promotion of art open to all, meaning that all budding Hockneys and Emins have an equal chance of having their work exhibited and sold. It has been in existence for nearly two decades, and in that time it has attracted some high-profile supporters, including everyone from its president the Duke of Norfolk to vice-president Gavin Turk and patron Ronnie Wood.
Although Messrs Turk and Wood were not to be found at the NOA’s glitzy summer garden party outside Chichester this year, their work constituted some of the highlights of a fund-raising auction, notably an original portrait by Wood of his fellow Rolling Stone, Charlie Watts. Other key pieces included Peter Blake’s Golden Jubilee Portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, limited edition signed prints from Gavin Turk, original panels from Thierry Noir, and works by Sam Taylor-Wood, Pure Evil and Mario Testino. The auction’s proceeds went to helping NOA continue its mission and their chosen charity The House of Fairytales, which helps children and young people engage with art.
We mingled with art supporters, local worthies, and the judges behind this year’s National Open Art Competition, the winners of which will be exhibited at the Royal College of Art in October. After spending a few jolly hours nibbling miniature fish and chips and drinking cocktails made with Chase gin and vodka (all in the best of causes), we departed replete and merry already looking forward to the next tranche of great artists emerging from this fine initiative, and imagine that the 20th anniversary next year will be an impressive one.
The NOA’s deadline for entries has been extended to 26th July 2015. For more information on the National Open Art Competition, including details of exhibition venues, galleries and artists in residence, visit the website.