Anthony Roberts

The river flows, both cyclical and linear, always the same, always different. James Dodds returns to Firstsite. It’s a homecoming, it’s a new beginning, it’s a beautiful exhibition. 

Since his first solo show for us, housed in The Minories in 2001 both James and Firstsite have changed. The journey for Firstsite has ebbed and flowed, flowed and ebbed, sometimes meandered and sometimes gushed but has always been carried forward on the tide of ambition and creativity that gave rise to its birth at the outset.

Colchester’s curvaceous golden gallery is the child of a community that dared to dream we could invite an international architect to build a home for art in the heart of our town. A dream that we might be able to invite artists to join our own James Dodds, to invite artists from across the world to celebrate and present art, to start new conversations, to bring new ideas to break bread with new friends and make new exciting partnerships.

As someone who has lived in Colchester for 25 years at times I feel like the new boy. But I’ve also fallen in love with our town, with its quirks and its foibles, its streets and cafes, its Roman wall and The Hole In The Wall boozer too. From a little office, behind leaded light glass in the old church of St Mary’s At The Walls, now the home of Colchester Arts Centre (Never Knowingly Understood) I’ve witnessed the arts change and evolve, fashions change, opportunities missed and opportunities grasped. The one thing that has always been the same is that it has never been the same, it has never stood still. Our currency, the currency of the creative communities is ideas. Without ideas there would never be the buildings, the spaces, the art. It is indeed fitting that one of the tributes for James’ show is Kath Wood as it was her that gave us the confidence to dare to dream. 

When you visit our gallery for James’ show you will see works that reference his evolution from boat maker to artist and his growth and humanity as an artist. From intricate linocuts and his unique panoramic scenes to larger than life encyclopaedic paintings like an abc of boats. But as with the river, there is always a future tide and it is the sense of excitement for the future which sits within this exhibition and within this building that delights my soul. I feel we are still at the very beginning of a story. A story that will involve a cast of literally thousands of people over many generations to come. Who will one day be blowing the dust of this very book in an attic in Barrack Street in 2315. Who will be looking back on over two hundred years of art, of exhibitions, of fierce debate, of challenge, tears, generosity, great successes, woeful flops, great characters, intrigue, fun and life.

I think of this gallery as our generations gift to our future generations. That we will be able to allow them to see some of the greatest artists and works in the history of the world here in Colchester. Works by Constable, Warhol, Debenham and Dodds and works by great world breaking artists that aren’t even born yet. Here’s an invitation for my reader in the attic in 2315 to fill in the blanks. 

This building and this project will be alive for two hundred merry years to come. The waters ahead may not be calm, the seas may yet be choppy and the tides of change will flow this way and that. As this exhibition casts off and sets her on the journey we sing God bless her and all who sail in her.

Anthony Roberts

Interim Managing Director 2015