Many of us work in isolation as artists. Perhaps, in that sense, things may be physically no different now than they were before Covid 19 when we were working on our own in our studios. However, the impact on our state of mind and on those we love will affect the way we work now that we are truly in isolation and facing such a devastating worldwide situation. All of us will be reacting to it in different ways.
We are lucky to have this occupation, but it is one that will suffer. Artists cannot sell their work, galleries are shut, income will dry up and there is a great deal of fear and worry to stifle our inspiration as we put our families first. But we are needed – for giving ourselves, and hopefully others, pleasure and distraction. Getting our stuff out on social media, either as individuals or as part of our communities, will hopefully keep spirits up and keep us together and comforted.
I, for one, initially thought of doing little things to get me back into the swing while my mind was taking the whole thing on board, worrying about the family, the community, the country. Even though still life remains at the forefront of my practice, I’ve started doing small landscapes. I’ve been reminded how much I love the flat horizon of the East Anglian landscapes.
So landscape will be my starting point and will keep me busy for now. But this strange new world has made me review my priorities (something I hope the world will do once things have settled). Things are ever changing……. I wish you all well.
‘Lost connection’ is one of 6 paintings that I will be showing at the RI annual show at the Mall Galleries this year (see dates below and a link to all the paintings in the show). It shows a row of old disused mobile phones against a damask-patterned background. “Oh, I used to have one like that!” I hear visitors say…….. but I hope their looking goes further than that…..
Mobile phones have become everything to us – they are our mini computers, holding all our essential data and we are lost without them. We may think that we are communicating and keeping up with things but are we actually distant and detached? Are we forgetting to stop and look at the more beautiful things around us……… ?
‘What is this life so full of care, we have no time to stand and stare’ – lines from a poem written in the early 1900s, well before the mobile phone was invented!
Below is another painting of mine that is in the exhibition and here are the dates – The RI at the Mall Galleries 2 – 17 April 10am to 5pm – closes 1pm on final day and closed all day on Easter Sunday, 12 April.
To view the exhibition on line (where you can also purchase work) please click here.
People often ask about my process – how do I go about a painting – and because I do still life paintings that are ‘realistic’, the assumption seems to be that I am painting in detail but I don’t feel as if I am.
I got asked at the RI Private View last year if I used an 000 brush (tiny) which I found shocking as I hardly ever use anything under a size 6 and often use quite large brushes. But that comment was thankfully counteracted by a fellow artist coming up and saying, “Do you know Lillias, I always thought that your work was highly detailed, but I’ve just been up to your nest painting and it’s not is it !”
So why do those two comments stand out to me? Well, I paint with ‘the whole’ in mind. I never feel as if I home in on details. In other words, the details you think you see have evolved from initial broad washes and slowly building up the object by continually standing back to take the whole thing in and making decisions so that things hang together all along the way. But all that freedom in building up the painting can only be acted on following careful thought and planning (where are the lights, where should the eye be drawn to, juxtapositions etc.) and those decisions evolve along the way.
Once I have got initial things set out in my mind and on paper, I feel I have the freedom and confidence to get going. Even at the end when I seem to have got that ‘detailed’ look through building up tone etc., I may emphasise a section with a wash of colour or do a wash over the whole lot to tone it down and subdue the details – all so it works together.
So I never work ‘from the off’ in detail – I never move along a painting completing one section before moving on to another – it just slowly develops and the art is to stop when it can be seen as a whole in the way I want which is never obsessively finicky and photographic.
So next time you see a painting of mine please look at it as a whole and then take a closer look if you want.
In this year’s RI show three of my long still life paintings of nests, mallets and shells will be hanging together. I’ve written about the nests in a previous blog, Nesting. The other two seem to be polar opposites – while the mallets, below, are dense and heavy, the shells, above, are delicate and light. The mallets are bashed and heavily marked, while the shells are pristine and intricately patterned. The mallets dominate their picture and are restricted within a box-shaped shelf. The shells are on an open shelf. Painting two rather opposite subjects wasn’t an intentional thing – it just turned out that way – but it’s interesting looking at it retrospectively. It shows how objects seem to determine the way you place and approach them even if they are all in a line! Perhaps they will play against each other in the show. It’ll be interesting to see.
The RI show at the Mall Galleries, London, is open from 3 – 18 April (10am – 5pm) and all the paintings can be seen by clicking on this linkand scrolling down. I am delighted that my painting, Archive, is on the front cover of the catalogue – it is being auctioned to raise money for the restoration of the RI Archive, recently housed at the V & A museum. It also features on the back cover of the new RI book, Then and Now, being launched at the show and including a foreword by HRH The Price of Wales, a history of the RI since its inception in 1831 and features on all its current members. It’s a long- awaited publication with over 170 beautifully illustrated pages.
I did a small painting earlier this year called ‘Nest egg’, see below, which sold at the RI’s annual exhibition. I had been planning a larger painting of a row of nests at the same time but it had taken some time to collect them after the nesting season was over (thanks to friends, walks etc). Having sat looking at them for ages, I eventually got going a couple of weeks ago. I’m not completely sure which birds they belong to (see note below) – I was just inspired by their varying forms and quirks and the feelings they can evoke.
Nest egg 31 x 41cm
For those who may be interested, from the left, I am reliably told that no.3 is a long tailed tit’s and no. 6 is a blackbird’s. No.5 came out of a tit box. Nos.1 and 4 are a mystery – all that’s left is the twiggy scaffolding that was probably lined with softer things. No.2 is also a mystery – it is just a tiny remnant of something mainly made from feathers intertwined with a few little twigs – any ideas?
..between still life, landscape and architecture ….
“Despise not trifles, though they small appear. Sands rise to mountains, moments make the year and trifles life. Your time to trifles give or you may die before you learn to live.” Daniel Sutton, an 18th century scientist.
‘Hanging by a thread’ – new limited edition of 20 prints for sale – for more information click here.
As mentioned in my previous blogs, my still life painting often depicts rows of everyday objects laid out as if for inspection and I am sure that this analytical approach has been influenced by painting my local fenland landscape. I also think that having spent time closely following the construction of a cathedral tower, I began to appreciate the smaller things that played an important role in the greater scheme of things but often went unseen and unappreciated. My mother always supported the underdog – perhaps I do too!
I’ve said this before – I find these everyday objects quietly evocative – they seem both intimate and worldly. They seem to be trying to convey something more than their everyday purpose.
These lightbulbs came from many different places and most of them are now redundant having lain in my brother-in-law’s cupboards for years! From a technical point of view, the varying shapes and opacity fascinated me and the more I looked, the more subtle variations I could see. The surrounding backgrounds, shadows, reflections etc. are essential in describing the essence of the objects themselves.
I have a small solo show, ‘Horizons’, at the Old Fire Engine House in Ely, Cambridgeshire, from 3rd to 26th November 2017. After many years of still life painting, this exhibition has been an opportunity for me to revisit the landscape. My still life painting manifested itself in rows of everyday objects laid out in front of you as if for inspection. There is no doubt in my mind that this analytical approach was partly influenced by the flat, open and regimented landscape of East Anglia where the far horizon is always there and everything is laid out in front of you. Towards it and on it things stand out like props on a stage and catch the eye.
Nearer the time I shall be regularly posting some of this new work on Facebook (Lillias August RI)
I am currently working on a series of paintings of unmade beds. The inspiration came from walking round a house that I was renting with my family. It was very quiet. They had all gone out for a walk and there were just these ‘remains of where they had been’ and I found it very moving. The subject matter is naturally evocative – I want the paintings to be dark and still, slightly brooding but peaceful. Technically the method of painting has been rather brooding too with paint being layered on and lifted off in stages to create a muted, soft yet strong, effect.
Last year I went to visit the Suffolk Constabulary Headquarters as I wanted to paint a picture of the knives that had been handed in during a knife amnesty. While I was there, there was news of some firearms that were going to be decommissioned and I asked if I could look at them too. My paintings, ‘Amnesty’ and ‘Decommissioned’ are the result of my time there. There was quite a wait before I could see the result of the firearms decommissioning process – a powerful metal machine had sliced through the guns and rendered them useless. I know knives and the guns are disturbing and don’t make comfortable subject matter. I can’t really explain why I wanted to paint them. They are powerful and evocative and will say different things to different people. I suppose that I was drawn to what lies behind them – the stories that they could tell. The shafts of light through the vertical blinds seem to enhance the mood (see previous post on backgrounds). Both paintings will be with Beaux Art, Bath at the Affordable Art Fair in Battersea, London 8 – 12 March and then at the gallery itself.