Rosa Sepple PRI has been an esteemed member of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours since 2004, and this year elected President (becoming the first ever woman president of the RI).

Largely self-taught, Rosa’s paintings are always colourful, fun and laced with dreamy elements of magical realism. We asked Rosa a few questions about her creative inspiration, life as the first woman president of the RI, and her two Christmas cards that will be available in our bookshop, ‘Lady Madonna’ and ‘Christmas Party’.

By Anna Preston

How was your first year as President of the Royal Society of Painters in Watercolours?

The role of President was most unexpected due to the unfortunate loss of a true friend and colleague, Andy Wood PPRI. I was elected as Vice President in April 2016 and due to Andy’s illness found myself deputising for him 6 months later. On Andy’s passing in the Autumn, I assumed the role of President and was elected officially in April 2017, the first woman President since the RI was formed in 1831. At times things are hectic but very rewarding. It is an honour being President of this wonderful society and I have set myself several goals for my 5-year term. Before becoming President, I decided to try to repeat my successful 2015 solo show at Mall Galleries. I have created 65 new paintings - lots of hard work on top of being President! But I am excited for people to enjoy my new paintings.

Your two Christmas cards are quite different, but both have your signature style and feature your signature motifs of cats, young ladies and raucous parties. What is your favourite subject to explore through your art, and why?

I paint every day. All my work is from my imagination, drawing from my love of animals, and memories of my youth - of being a Catholic child growing up in Italy and subsequently moving back to the UK in the swinging sixties. Walking into my studio is always an adventure, as I rarely know what will transpire...the subject depends on my mood on the day. Not too many are religious pictures, although I do have a portrait of Christ over my bed and I have done an interpretation of the ‘Last Supper’. I was delighted when Mall Galleries chose ‘Lady Madonna’ to be a Christmas card!

Lady Madonna

Your use of the symbolic red and blue of the Virgin Mary’s clothes, and the texturing of her halo in ‘Lady Madonna’, reinterpret traditional depictions of her, referencing Byzantine icons and medieval devotional art in a playful and modern way. Perhaps the title even alludes to the Beatles song...Being of Italian heritage, how have Roman Catholic portrayals of the Madonna influenced you and your portrayal of her?

Lots of colour and texture are my signature. There are a few dark and disturbing works but colours are important to me. My grandparents were Venetian so I grew up going to many churches around the Veneto region, and the Byzantine paintings I saw there have stuck with me, as this picture suggests. The colours of Madonna’s clothing are usually red and blue, as I remember. Oh! And the title, ‘Lady Madonna’ is, of course, a reference to those wonderful summer days of the sixties!

Mary’s halo contrasts so beautifully with the smoothness and serenity of her face. What techniques and media did you use to achieve this contrast?

The Virgin Mary is the epitome of womanhood: warm, honest, sweet and loving. Her halo is the ultimate holy symbol of saintliness, strength and reliability, but her face must remain soft. The results were achieved by layer after layer of paint and gouache. I love using gold leaf and gold paints - the Madonna is the ideal opportunity.

Finally, how will you be spending the festive season?

Every Christmas is spent at home with the four ‘F’s’, family, friends, food and plenty of fizz, with scenes much like my ‘Christmas Party’ card! It should be a happy and peaceful time.

Christmas Party

Rosa's Solo Exhibition opens at Mall Galleries from 26 September to 1 October

Mall Galeries Christmas Cards are available in the Gallery Bookshop now.