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Page last updated at 17:25 GMT, Tuesday, 26 January 2010
Sunderland shoppers treated to art at Joplings

A graphite drawing of the coast by artist Barrie West
Barrie's graphite drawings explore the region's unique coastline

A 200-year-old department store in Sunderland is the unlikely venue for a new exhibition.

Local Views - a series of poems and drawings about the coastline between the rivers Wear and Tyne - is on display at Joplings in John Street.

It's the result of a collaboration between Sunderland-based artist Barrie West and and poet James Oates, from Seaham.

Barrie's graphite drawings chart a stormy boat journey from the mouth of the Wear to the mouth of the Tyne.

Each picture focuses on a different section of the shoreline as seen from the sea.

Accompanying these - and inspired by them - are James's poems.

War of attrition

James and Barrie first met two years ago through the East Durham Artists' Network.

They show the sea at its devilish worst
James Oates, poet

Barrie initially started work on the Local Views project alone, but felt his pictures had a poetic feel and approached James to interpret them.

James said it was an easy process:

"They are beautiful paintings. They just spoke to me straight away.

"They show the sea at its devilish worst; it's a battle, a war of attrition between the ocean and the cliff face - that screams off the paintings."

Community art

The exhibition is being held in the restaurant area of Joplings - Sunderland's oldest department store, which opened in 1802.

The unusual venue was James's idea:

Mouth of the Tyne. Photo: Ken Cowins
Barrie's inspiration was a boat journey to the mouth of the Tyne

"East Durham Artists Network are committed to bringing art and the community back together," he said, "so this is another step in that direction.

"I approached the manager Nigel Jolly and asked him if he had any space for a couple of drawings and he said 'Why not all of them?'"

This is the first exhibition of its kind at Joplings but there are similar projects in other Vergo Retail stores in Liverpool and Torquay.

Sense of place

James said he expected people to appreciate the exhibition despite the unusual location:

"The beauty of it is that it's in the restaurant and people are sitting down.

"So far, the reaction's been positive. People have been taking the time to read the poems."

James Oates at a poetry performance
James Oates was a semifinalist in the Radio 4 Poetry Slam 2009

And what is it that he hopes people will take from the exhibition?

"Reverence and the power of the coast here," he explained.

"A sense of place - that's what we're looking for first and foremost."

This is the first of several collaborations between the pair - but next time Barrie will be interpreting James's work.

They already have three projects on the go and are even looking into making film. James said: "There's a definite mini-movement going on between ourselves."

Local Views can be seen in the restaurant area of Joplings department store in Sunderland until September 2010.

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