Thursday, June 26, 2008

Early Days

At the beginning of 1980, when I first realised that Flower Painting was what I wanted to do, I set about learning how to perfect a set of techniques and methods. Initially, I went repeatedly to the local florist (where I lived in East London) and there I purchased some Dutch Irises. I then bought the same cultivar of blue iris every few days for 6 months. I painted these little jewels every day, again and again, tearing up the failures out of frustration, and trying over and over to achieve the soft watercolour washes. I was seeking the creation of light and texture on petals and fronds. I was seeking to create a method of painting that allowed the watercolour to act in such a way that it mirrored nature. I was at pains not to draw with the brush, wanting to make watercolour paintings that extend Durer's tradition of natural beauty in natural light.

It was a testing time and one of great difficulty, because I was never sure if I could do it. At that time, there were few books on how to do this kind of work. I found How to Draw Plants by Keith West, which I read from cover to cover. This helped me enormously, but there was nothing available about how to achieve the soft watercolour effects in the way that I wanted it done.

Rory McEwen died in 1982, but not before he had achieved three major shows at the Redfern Gallery in Cork Street. Thus firmly planting flower painting in the mainstream of art. I visited all of these exhibitions, studying his compositions carefully, making copious notes. In 1981 I remember vividly that as I walked around the Redfern show the frequency of so many McEwen's together in one space touched my heart. The standard of the work was superior to almost everything else I had seen from the genre. However, his methods of tiny brush strokes on vellum were not my way. I went home and I tried again.

After trial and error and working each day with the unknown, eventually a methodology began to come together. I gradually began to make larger and more complete paintings of plants. After about three years of intense painting I had gathered a body of work together and began to think about an exhibition. In those days artists went door to door around the London galleries and showed their work to dealers. There was no correct protocol of submissions, the attitude was much more laissez faire, which was partly due to the fact that there were considerably less people practicing as artists at that time. Again and again I was turned down, told that the work was lovely but there was no market for it.
One day I was due to see a dealer in Walton Street, and being so disheartened by my failures I simply could not face it when I arrived. I walked on by, past the gallery, further up the road. I stopped outside the Oliver Swann Gallery, looked in the window, and for some unknown reason I walked in. There I saw the owner was on the telephone, and again I turned to walk out. But he had seen me, and waved. I remember being so fed-up that I thought 'Oh no, I'll have to speak to him now'. But this turned out to be the luckiest moment of sweet chance in the whole of my career, because he loved the work and offered me a show for the following year. I went home on cloud nine. The exhibition was a sell out and I have never looked back.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Paeonia 'Sir Edward Elgar'
120cm x 140cm
Private collection

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Opening of the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art Kew April 2008

diary entry

The Preview Shows of the inaugural exhibition of the new gallery were hosted by Dr Shirley Sherwood and her husband James Sherwood, and, key members of the Kew Staff. The Artists Preview, which followed the Press Day, was a special event for the Botanical Artists from around the globe. We were given the opportunity to meet one another on what was a cordial and very happy occasion, which was much appreciated by all who attended. The Press Preview had brought a shower of publicity through the media. This was the subject of a great deal of interested debate amongst the artists, who had suddenly found their work being discussed within a mainstream art and news context.....this was something quite new for most of us. The broadsheets, as well as TV and radio, gave glowing recommendations about the work on show as well as numerous and favourable reviews of the Gallery itself. My work was reviewed by the mainstream art critic Richard Cork on R3's Night Waves program. I was delighted to hear Iris 'Superstition' described as having 'The wow factor and a life of its own'. Botanical Art's assimilation into the present mainstream is largely due to Dr Sherwood's championing of botanical painting projects as an absolute art form. The new gallery is a fabulous showcase for this kind of work, having been designed and specifically built to house it. On approaching the Gallery one is impressed by the beautiful simplicity of the glass exterior and the minimal orderliness of the lobby. The building itself is Tardis-like, and the gallery interior cannot be seen from the outside. Once through the inner doorway, the exhibition space opens out to a vast central room, which is bordered by several smaller galleries. The far end is successfully and seamlessly, linked to the Victorian Marianne North Gallery. The interior is designed to adjust to light and humidity. Thus accommodating the works on paper, which are highly sensitive to external conditions.The work on show was an exciting, intriguing, and intelligent, juxtaposition of the new work from the Dr Sherwood Collection and that from the Kew Archive. Theme hanging, in this context, works very well. I was fortunate enough to have the Iris 'Superstition' hung opposite the entrance doors and so it's formal qualities and large format were the unexpected that met each person who entered the space. The size of the picture at well over 5ft, worked against all preconceptions of the small traditional botanical watercolour. The show offers an opportunity to see many works that are well known and by well known artists. These are often only seen in books. As well as this, many new pieces that have not before been shown in this country are included.The main Preview Party came after the Artists Day and was a very well attended event. Dr Sherwood gave a very moving speech about her work, and thereafter we were all honoured by the presence of Sir David Attenborough, who talked eloquently and sensitively on the subject of Botanical Art and its future.This inaugural show is on until October this year, and the entry is included in the Kew ticket. Over 25% of those who visit Kew are now going to the Gallery, which received over 4,000 visitors in its first week. Its a wonderful exhibition......don't miss it!

Links to some of the reviews:

The Guardian

The Spectator