8:15 PM Aug 1, 2021
The construction of Castle Mall is one of the biggest construction projects Norwich has seen today.
Work on the mall, which changed the face of much of the city, began 30 years ago this summer.
And Kay Ohsten was the artist in residence of the project, responsible for capturing everything as it happened.
The result is an absolutely fascinating collection of hundreds of paintings, sketches and collages showing the landscape as it has changed – earthworks and steel beams and cranes on the horizon.
As Kay’s daughter, Lucy Ohsten, explains, her mother got involved after she was approached by the construction companies and the architect involved in building Castle Mall, now known as Castle Quarter.
“They asked her if she would create a body of artwork that traces the construction process over the years to come,” she says.
“My mother was well known as a local artist and was very excited to be part of such a revolutionary project.
“She wanted to show the reality of the building process, while also reflecting the history and beauty of Norwich, a city she loved very much.”
Lucy says her mother, who died in 2003, was fascinated by many different styles, genres and artistic mediums.
Kay studied at Norwich Art School, where she taught graphic design, and was a talented painter and printmaker.
She was also a member of the Norwich 20 Group, a prestigious collection of the county’s top artists.
Kay is probably best known for her watercolors of the local landscape and Norwich, but she has also created summaries, silkscreens, portraits and collages, with her highly sought after “body” and “flowers” series.
“My mother trained as a designer, so she had a particular interest and skills in architectural drawing,” says Lucy.
“The mud, metal, movement and constant change of Castle Mall’s construction suited her style perfectly, as she never worked in a tight or photographic manner.
“The photos of his shopping center are full of color, dynamism and freedom, taking into account every step of the project.
“You can also see her incredible skill with figurative work, where she captured workers while they were working or having lunch.
“There is a lot of heart and humanity in every picture.”
The majority of the mall’s artwork is watercolors, but there are many that use charcoal, pastels, crayons, mixed media, and even collages.
“His method was to do sketches on the spot and also take Polaroids, and then it was back to the studio to create the magic,” says Lucy.
“The vast body of work she produced over the three years she was there testifies to her commitment and total fascination and prolific.
“Much of the artwork she created has been sold, but there are still some 250 photos of the mall left.”
Lucy remembers her mother’s enthusiasm for working on the project.
“She was passionate about Norwich; it was her hometown, so it was very exciting for her that her beloved city was undergoing such a drastic change – and she had to be a part of it.
“In my youth I often went to Norwich with my mother – we lived in Pulham St Mary on a farm with my father and my brother – so it was always a part of her life and she loved spending time there.
“Park in the cattle market, go to the Easter and Christmas fair on the site, visit the castle; everything was going to change now with this big mall.
“I remember she was so excited and focused about it.”
Lucy describes her mother as a “creative powerhouse”.
She developed a new method of screen printing and had a passion for nature and the countryside and loved to go out with a sketchbook to capture the great skies, rolling fields and spectacular Norfolk seascape.
“It wasn’t just limited to art; she recycled furniture before it became trendy, wrote beautiful and fun poetry, made wonderful clothes for all of us, cooked like a dream, sang with the much loved Broadland Singers and all while being a mom fantastic, ”says Lucy.
To learn more about Kay Ohsten’s work, visit kayohsten.co.uk