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May Arts Newsletter

May Arts Newsletter

Apple blossom, painted this week before it disappears for another year.

Finally, on the 17th of this month public galleries and museums can open to the public again. Before you go, check to see if you need to book a slot. There are plenty of fabulous exhibitions opening/restarting too, some ideas below to get you started.
I have been busy in my studio and back life drawing with an actual model (whoop!). I have also started a screen printing course, if the results are good enough I will share some results in the coming months.

The Royal Academy opens again on 18th May with the well matched Tracey Emin/Edvard Munch exhibition. I’m not the biggest Munch fan (I think he got lucky on one painting) but I have heard fantastic things about this show. RA until 1 Aug
Opening on 23rd May is ipad lockdown work from David Hockney‘s Normandy outpost. This is likely to be very popular so book now if you’d like to see it. RA until 26Sep

The Tate Galleries have lots to choose from, my top picks:
The Making of Rodin is the first exhibition to focus on the use of plaster in his work. It looks at Rodin’s artistic process and how plaster was used both for practical and stylistic purposes. I’m really looking forward to this one. Tate Modern until 21 Nov
Turner’s Modern Britain explores how his work reacts to the industrial revolution and the politics of the day. Whilst other artists ignored change, Turner embraced it. Tate Britain until 12 Sept.
Lynette Yiadom-Boakye is known for her enigmatic portraits of fictitious people. This show has around 80 of her paintings made between 2003 and now. Thought provoking. Tate Britain until 31 May.

Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser is an immersive and theatrical show about the aesthetic evolution of Alice in Wonderland and, frankly, I can’t imagine anyone not wanting to see this. Spanning art, film, photography, fashion, performance this is an ambitious exhibition but if anyone can pull it off, the V&A can. One for the whole family.
V&A 22 May-31 Dec

Eileen Agar: Angel of Anarchy is the retrospective of the British Surrealist painter/ sculptor/ collage maker. She partied and worked with all the big names of mid century European art. If you haven’t come across her before, you have a treat in store. Whitechapel Gallery 19 May – 29 Aug

New arty TV
Brand new on Amazon Prime is Leonardo, an imagined back story to da Vinci’s early life in Renaissance Florence. On paper this big budget drama is tailor made for me (art on telly, tick; historical drama, tick; Aiden Poldark Turner, tick) however unfortunately it doesn’t make the mark. I have only watched 2 episodes so will give it another chance but something seriously exciting needs to happen in episode 3…

Georgie the cavapoo, commission delivered last week
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April Arts Newsletter

April Arts Newsletter

We still have to wait until mid May for major galleries to open but, in the mean time commercial galleries can start to open from 12 April. There seem to be some staggered opening times so do check before you embark on a journey as many will also require bookable time slots. Some ideas below and bits of Van Gogh news. In my studio, I spent nearly two weeks on a big canvas that ended in disaster so I abandoned it and cheered myself up with some Spring flowers instead.

The White Cube galleries are opening from 13 April, with three exhibitions: In Bermondsey there is major Korean artist, Park Seo-Bo and gorgeous new painterly works from Jessica Rankin. In the Mason’s Yard Gallery, Gilbert & George are showing a new collection ‘The New Normal’, all works made over the past two years. It represents journeys made across London, on foot but, as you’d expect from G&G, nothing is straightforward. I am really looking forward to this and have booked my tickets here.

The Mall Galleries will be opening on 15th April with the Royal Society of British Artists Annual exhibition. Works included are from members as well as works selected from the Society’s open call. A variety of media in included, from print-making to painting and sculptures. You can preview work for sale here.

I am delighted to announce that I shall be exhibiting with Artfully Sorted at the Affordable Online  Art Fair.  I can offer you free tickets to the Early Access event from 7 April. Click here for your ticket.

There are not one but two immersive Van Gogh shows on their way to London.  There are no actual paintings involved but these “unforgettable multi-sensory experiences” promise to give you the sensation of walking into his paintings. I love VG’s paintings but I’m not sure what I feel about this. I wonder what Vincent himself would have thought about this kitsch, commercial overload considering he only actually sold one painting in his lifetime. Having said that, it looks fun and I shall probably take my children and adore it. 

Van Gogh Alive: Kensington Gardens from 4 June
Van Gogh, the Immersive experience: from October

In other Van Gogh news, Lego are launching a 3D build of Starry Night. Student Truman Cheng submitted it to Lego and it received the 10,000 votes necessary for review and subsequent approval. Release date yet to be announced, it will take about 1,500 pieces. We have a lot of old lego, I wonder what other old masters I can whip up…

I was extremely disappointed to hear this week that the BBC are downgrading BBC4 into an ‘archive channel’ and will no longer be commissioning content. BBC4 runs some of the only programmes on telly that don’t feel like they are made for children, it is our most watched channel. I understand cost cutting is necessary but they have also announced they are bringing back BBC3 – a channel aimed at an age group that doesn’t even watch TV!  Aaargh.

Mimosa, 50x50cm oil on canvas

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March Arts Newsletter

Museums and gallery bodies are up in arms that they are unable to open their doors until mid May this year. Whilst most managed a sensible social distancing policy last year, they have been categorised as ‘indoor entertainment venues’ like cinemas.  Public buildings such as libraries and community centres, however, have the go ahead to open with non-essential shops (and therefore commercial galleries) on 12 April. The Museums Association is lobbying but in the meantime we are going to have to get our culture fix elsewhere. Some ideas below.

Vemeer’s The Girl with the Pearl Earring is one of the most famous paintings in the world and there is now a 10billion pixel photograph of it for you to explore. It was made in order ‘to evaluate the surface condition of the painting, measure cracks, and see the topography of various key areas while assessing past restorations”. Click here to view the photo and keep zooming in until it looks like an abstract landscape. Also be sure to press the 3D link to see how bumpy the surface texture actually is.

The V&A has relaunched its website too, having been in development for 2 years. It is now designed to be a more immersive experience with their 1.2m objects spanning 5,000 years now catalogued in a way that gives you more information and links to similar areas, rather than just a dead end. It is to encourage people to use the site more intuitively and take more horizontal journeys across the collection.  Whilst researching for this newsletter, for example, I spent far too much time looking at the glass section. Lovely. 

A Van Gogh painting from 1887 that hasn’t been seen in public for a century is going to auction at Sotheby’s in Paris this month. Scene de rue a Montmatre has been in private hands for 100 years and, I think, is a beautiful painting. Painted whilst Van Gogh lived with his brother Theo in Paris, it is evocative of city life in a time past whilst being unmistakably Van Gogh. If you’ve saved up some spare cash over the past year and fancy investing, it’s estimate is 5-8m euros.

Permission is being sought to retain a set of four pieces by Sir Anthony Gormley in Aldeburgh, Suffolk. The four cast iron sculptures, known as Quartet, have courted controversy and locals have compared them to giant sex toys and/or dog poos. Originally made 20 years ago, they have been installed by local gallery owner Caroline Wiseman. If anyone is going in that direction this year, please do report back to me on what you think.  Aldburgh is no stranger to controversial beach sculptures with Hambling’s Scallop having had multiple petitions signed for its removal. 

TV: Grayson’s Art Club is back for a second series on Channel 4 on Friday evenings. This time the theme is Family. Catch up on the first episode.

The National Gallery are running a series of talks and courses, some paid for but some free. Click here to see what is on offer.  I’m going to join the ‘Talk and Draw’ session exploring El Greco on 12th March. Come and join!

Me at work on painting at the top of the email

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February Arts Newsletter

February Arts Newsletter

As a weekend to New York is clearly out of the question, I thought I would bring the galleries of NYC to you virtually this month. Each museum has its own website, of course, but in many cases these tend to be designed as an aid to a real life visit.  Therefore I have included Google Arts&Culture links to each which, as they are designed purely for online perusal, often feel a bit smoother. And you don’t even have to beg for a cab to get there.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has over 200,000 exhibits spanning 5,000 years of history so you could be forgiven for being overwhelmed at first glance. Click here for their own website which has some interesting articles. The Met 360 project uses 6 interactive films that make you feel you are there. The Google Arts& Culture site has over 30 accessible short articles like this examination of Rodin’s sculptures of hands. You can also explore the collection via medium, era or moving through gallery using Google Earth.

MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) covers modern and contemporary art from 1880s onwards. The MoMA website has examples of all the galleries and temporary exhibitions. I found the early photography gallery particularly absorbing. The Google/Moma collaboration has a great exhibition on Sophie Taeuber-Arp, the Swiss abstractionist. Full of information and images, it does feel like a proper exhibition.

The Frick Collection is my favourite NY museum. Not only is it small, manageable and shows Renaissance to Impressionist art, it is housed in William Frick’s guilded age mansion overlooking central park. I strongly recommend the Google earth tour here. There is a lovely Vemeer online exhibition here too with lots of zooming in on paint details. The museum is currently undergoing major renovations and all works have temporarily moved to Madison Avenue to a modernist Marcel Breuer site. The Frick’s website has more details, fingers crossed they preserve the atmosphere.

The Guggenheim has their whole collection catalogued here and also some interesting articles like this in depth look at the restoration of a Jackson Pollock. My favourite aspect of the Guggenheim, however, has always been the amazing architecture. The Frank Lloyd-Wright designed rotunda can be explored via the Google street-view tour. Start at the top and descend the ramp, just like the building was originally designed to be viewed. 

My weekly life drawing session is still going but we are meeting via Zoom. One of the very few advantages of life drawing via video link is that the model can put the camera at unusual angles creating some real challenges with foreshortening. Here the model, Steve, put the camera on his coffee table facing directly up and then looking down his body as he lay down. Tricky!

Get in touch

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Portrait Artist of the Year 2020: My experience and tips for future artists

Having been ‘reserve artist’ last year I was absolutely thrilled to be picked as a contestant this year on Portrait Artist of the Year.

I am not at all experienced in TV, however, so the night before I was so nervous that I did not managed to not sleep at all. I knew I would have to rely on adrenaline and caffeine (but not too much, don’t want the jitters!) to get me through.

We had to arrive at Battersea Arts Centre by 7.30am that morning and met the other artists. For those who haven’t seen the programme, there are 9 artists per heat and 3 celebrity sitters. The sitters get to choose one of the portraits to take home and the judges chose three shortlisted painters and one winner to go through to the semi-final.

Fortunately most of the other artists seemed quite nervous as well and we soon fell into a camerarderie of the terrifying day before us. We kicked off with the ‘arrival shots’. I certainly couldn’t walk in a straight line and had a grimace on my face but thankfully that didn’t make the cut!

We were then all interviewed separately about what we were hoping for in the day. My main goal was not to screw it up. Simple.

Then we were taken into the studio inside the beautiful Battersea Arts Centre and shown our ‘cheese’ (studio section). I was with two lovely artists, Daisy and Rob  and we stuck together most of the day. We were then filmed setting up our equipment, squeezing out paint etc. Quite unnerving  with a camera only centimetres away but the crew are all so friendly and kind that they do a great job of putting the artists at ease. Top tip for anyone else going into the show, I was very hot in my jeans, I would maybe wear something looser. I also found that the studio lights shone through my canvas so I doubled up and used my emergency canvas behind it which worked well. You can see this here in a photo I took before we started.

The big reveal of who your sitter is was quite a build up. The first sitter to be revealed was Paul Mescal (from Normal People). Most of the crew were swooning and as he’s so hot right now, I was frankly relieved he wasn’t who I was painting. The next to be announced was Eddie Marsan , a fabulous and very recognisable actor, so I would have been happy with him. Our cheese was last to be revealed and we had Sian Clifford, a wonderful actress from Fleabag and Quiz. Sian was very gracious and put us at ease by saying how she can only draw stickmen so would be happy with whatever we turned out.

I think we were all desperate to get painting by this point so it was a relief when the start was announced. I knew that we would not be very close to the sitters so I took photos for reference points, also for when cameras and crew were between Sian and me. The painting time is officially 4 hours but it definitely ended up being more like 3 once you have been interviewed by various people. My longest interview was with Stephen Mangan, the presenter who was charming. In fact the whole day turned from terror into great fun as soon as we were able to start painting. I took a bit of a risk by ignoring the background which I don’t think the judges appreciated. In fact, I’m pretty sure they weren’t very keen on my self-portrait which wouldn’t surprise me as I can’t bear it. (The sooner I paint myself out of it, the better!) So another tip for artists hoping to get through to the programme is to enter a portrait of yourself that you actually like!

Self-portrait aside, I really enjoyed painting Sian. She has beautiful skin and very shiny hair. In order to make a theme with my self-portrait, I had decided to ask whoever was sitting what their favourite flower/plant/tree was and put it into the background. Sian said her favourite flower was an Avalanche rose (dusky pink) so at lunch time I did some research on Avalanche roses and spent the remainder of the time working on the background.

I definitely could have done with more time and, in retrospect, should probably have spent more time on Sian’s face. However, I was happy with my overall painting. I hadn’t screwed up, phew!

Once the 4 hours is up, you have to put down your brushes and then there is the reveal of  the paintings to the celebrity sitters.

I am delighted to say that Sian chose my painting to take home (or give to her mum), she liked the colours and the roses in the background. Even if the judges didn’t!

I was not shortlisted but no matter, I felt very happy with the overall outcome.

It was such a fantastic day, a dream come true for any artist and I would recommend people apply. Just try and get some sleep the night before!

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Peaches commission

I had a lovely commission to work on this week. Some peaches for a new born girl. The baby’s parents bought some strawberries from me two years ago when their son was born and so wanted to give their daughter a painting too. The peaches were lovely to paint (and later to eat).

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Paris for half term

We visited Paris for a few days at half term which was fantastic. It was the first time my daughters (11 and 9 yrs) had been. We walked for miles and explored most of the central areas. I was negotiated down to two museums (Pompidou and Musee d’Orsay) but they were fabulous. I took my watercolours, here is a sketch of the street we were staying in and a sketch made in the Musee d’Orsay.

Rue de Buci, Paris. Watercolour sketch

Sketch of Narcissus sculpture, Musee d’Orsay

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New studio!

We have moved house in the past few weeks which is why I have not been blogging as often as I might. Here is a picture of my new studio – a lovely room that gets afternoon sun. Toastie, the dog is fully acclimatised and snoozing in her bed. The house needs a lot of work – in my studio the posters are strategically placed over the peeling walls! The studio is very low on the pecking order of rooms to be redecorated which suits me fine.


You can just see on the easel, the first painting I’ve made in the new house, an oil sketch of some freesias in a green glass.

freesias in green glass
Freesias in green glass, 20x15cm unframed £95

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Yvette’s Gourds

My lovely neighbour, Yvette, lent me her gourds to paint last week.  The patterns and colours of gourds are so vibrant and feel so Autumnal, they were a delight to paint.  I prepared the canvas with a yellow ground and decided to leave some of it showing. I also purposefully composed the still life so that part of the gourds were ‘off canvas’ so that it didn’t look too neat and tidy.

IMG_0192 - Copy
Collection of gourds 40x30cm unframed, £250