THIS weekend sees the start of this year’s Salisbury Art Trail.

Run by Plain Arts Salisbury, it’s an event that takes place every few years and is an opportunity to discover the remarkable range of artistic talent the city plays host to. It’s quite the range: lasting for a fortnight, the Art Trail showcases the work of over 100 artists in 55 locations, from cafes to galleries, studios to homes. The previous trail in 2015 saw 8,000 people attending: this year’s event is expected to be even bigger.

One of those exhibiting is the artist Simon Howden, and I caught up with him at his home, which will double up as one of the venues during the Art Trail. Simon grew up in the area and, as with a number of artists on the trail, attended the fondly-remembered Salisbury College of Art. Among the teachers there who inspired him was Richard Cusden, who went on to host a number of art programmes for the BBC in the 1970s and 1980s.

Simon ended up in television himself, working in London as a graphic designer for various ITV stations before returning to Salisbury. Over the years, his art has grown and developed in a number of different forms – working with watercolour, charcoals and lino prints. But it is his use of oils that really stands out, and where he has really found his own style.

Simon’s paintings lean towards two seemingly contrasting subjects: landscapes and chickens. That might sound strange, but as Simon explained his techniques it made sense. He likes to paint using thin oils: these move as you paint and allow for manipulation. The landscapes that Simon focuses on are the New Forest in particular: he describes it as being ‘great for influences and references’ and is fascinated by the changing shapes and colours that the weather and seasons offer. The relatively flat horizons offer a sharp contrast of sky and land, the former giving the pictures plenty of depth and space.

The New Forest landscapes allow Simon to create a sense of sweep. In a strange way, there’s something similar in his depictions of chickens, manipulating the oils to capture the flow of feathers. There’s an echo, too, in the palette choice of both: Simon likes strong and rich reds and oranges, which resonate in the paintings of both.

The Arts Trail is a wonderful idea, and one fortuitously-timed to help increase footfall following the Skripal poisoning.

On the subject of which, now the Maltings has reopened, why not turn to our amazing artistic community for a more permanent response? The infamous bench might have gone, but how about an art installation to replace it?