Artists Interviews with members of the Federation of British Artists and exhibitors at Mall Galleries. Featuring essays, Questions and Answers and lists of artists recent work.

The Hesketh Hubbard Bursary Experience

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This year, the Hesketh Hubbard Art Society (HH) launched a bursary for young artists. Here, we speak to HH member Alan Power and HH President Simon Whittle about the decision to launch the initiative. We also hear from the recipients of the bursary, Bartholomew Beal, Jonathan Farningham and Lucy Savage about their experience so far.

The Hesketh Hubbard Art Society has been running weekly life drawing classes for nearly 100 years. Founded in 1930 by the Royal Society of British Artists as a drawing club sponsored by Eric Hesketh Hubbard RBA, it eventually grew into its own separate art society and was renamed in his honor in 1957. Today, it has about 150 members and prides itself on being London’s largest life drawing group.

This year, the Society welcomed three emerging artists under a new bursary scheme for those aged 18 to 30, funded by Alan Power’s eponymous architecture practice. Power, a Hesketh Hubbard member, believes, “Life drawing is, in my view, essential for any developing artist, and it has been neglected in art schools over recent years.” While Simon Whittle, President of the Society, added, “The Society feels that the bursary scheme has been a great success, the artists are an asset to the Society and we would love it to continue.”

We spoke to Bartholomew Beal, Lucy Savage and Jonathan Farningham about how attending regular life drawing classes as a result of the bursary has influenced their process and how life drawing, in general, informs their work.

Bartholomew Beal is a figurative artist and studied Fine Art at Wimbledon College of Art. He has found the time brackets of the Society’s drawing sessions to be useful in changing the way he works. “I have been making art in 15-30 minutes, instead of spending months working into paintings, and I hope I can develop a unique style by the end of this year.” He feels that these life drawing sessions have encouraged an element of spontaneity in his work.

Life drawing by Bartholomew Beal

The fixed time frame also excites Jonathan Farningham, who has exhibited with the Royal Society of Portrait Painters and is a participant of our In the Studio programme. ”You have a limited amount of time to capture the person in front of you and you must respond quickly to make the most of that moment. There is no time for extended contemplation, life drawing demands immediacy.”

Life drawing by Jonathan Farningham

For Lucy Savage, it is being part of “such a passionate and talented community of artists and sharing feedback with them every week.” Since becoming a bursary recipient, Lucy has also been working with a ballerina, Miriam Pierzak, in her studio, deciphering the anatomy of dance through drawing. Lucy will be hosting a ballet life drawing event with Miriam during the Hesketh Hubbard Society Exhibition in August

Life drawing by Lucy Savage

17 August, 1 to 3pm – Instinctive Drawing with Artist Lucy Savage and Ballerina Miriam Pierzak

Earlier this year, the three artists created a shared Instagram account (@heskethhubbardbursary) as a way to exhibit their work together online. Now, they are bringing this digital experience offline, hosting a special exhibition of their life drawings presented alongside the works they later inform when they return to their studios. See below for more details.

Drawn to Life, 31 August to 14 September

Jonathan Farningham, Lucy Savage and Bartholomew Beal are pleased to present an exhibition of figurative drawings at The Good Yard, located within the beautiful surroundings of Leadenhall Market.

Join them to observe a study of the human condition seen through three unique styles of draughtsmanship. They have each interpreted the body according to their individual visions, compromising different media and approaches to art making. Paintings and prints from their personal collections will also be on display.

Private View: 31st August 6pm.

RSVP to the Private View


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Life drawing by Bartholomew Beal

The Art of Self-Portraiture

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To coincide with National Selfie Day, we asked five artists what self-portraiture means to them.

Historically, self-portraiture was popularised during the Renaissance, brought about by the rise of individualism and the “heroic” status given to artists at that time. Since then, some of the most iconic artworks, from Van Gogh to Frida Kahlo, have been self-portraits. The genre has been used as a means of formal experimentation as well as psychological investigation. While contemporary artists such as Jenny Saville have used self-portraiture politically, to subvert societal expectations around prescribed notions of beauty.

In recent years, a new kind of self-portrait has emerged – the selfie. With the ubiquity of smartphones, this instantaneous method of capturing the self has become the defining visual genre of our time. “Today, we live in the age of the selfie,” wrote Jerry Saltz in his popular 2014 column on the subject. So much so, that there is even a whole day devoted to the act. Yes, today (21 June) is National Selfie Day. Despite the omnipresence of these digital snapshots, self-portraiture as an art form remains steadfast. It is perhaps more impactful than ever when its mindful painterly approach is compared to the stream of transitory catalogues which live on our devices.

Here, we speak to five artists about the art of self-portraiture, the technical and personal motivations behind it and the selfies that have influenced them throughout art history, from Rembrandt to Hockney.

Self Portrait, Arms behind Back, Tim Benson: Oil, 36 x 30 cm – £1,600


Tell me about the thought behind this self-portrait and the process of painting it.

This portrait was a direct reaction to not getting a piece of work into a competition. Over the last few years, I've channeled a lot of that negative energy into positive outcomes. Normally, I'll go to my studio and I'll do a self-portrait. That's something I've done for the last three years.

In the past, [rejection] was quite crushing. Not crushing, but you know, it would create a lot of negative energy and it was just sort of buzzing around doing no good. So I decided to channel it into something positive, slightly aggressive. I think I work in a relatively aggressive way anyway. I suppose it's quite a muscular way of working: Loads of paint. Big brushes. So, this is the latest iteration of yet another rejection. I've done loads of self-portraits before, I'm also not very interested in painting my own face, so this time around I wanted to do something different – which is how I ended up doing it from the back.

I used a series of mirrors and a photograph of my arm – because obviously, you can't paint with an arm that's behind you. It was quite a physical, visceral thing. A big creak in the neck. A twist in the torso. Quite painful. But, necessary. 

What do you want to achieve with your portraits?

A portrait can be a beautiful thing, even if it's not of a beautiful subject matter done in a beautiful way. There's beauty in anger. There's excitement. Portraiture transcends necessity for something that is objectively safe or pretty or glorifying. That's just not what I want to do. So it's almost a direct response to that, challenging that convention as explicitly as possible.

Are there any self-portraits by living or dead artists that you admire?

Rembrandt. I was brought up in North London. Kenwood House nearby is full of Fine Art. There's one of Rembrandt's latest self-portraits there. My mum used to plonk me in front of it. It's a beautiful piece of work. Totally honest. No artifice. Very unflashy. Very modern. 

Tai-Shan Schierenberg, who is one of the judges on the Sky Portrait Artists of the Year and won the BP Portrait Award in 1989. His self-portraits from the early 90s are particularly good, so I was influenced by some of that.

'Self Portrait, Arms behind Back' is currently exhibiting in the New English Art Club Annual Exhibition until 22 June. 

Portrait of an Artist by David Cobley: Oil on Linen, 122 x 173 cm

David Cobley RP NEAC

Tell me about the thought behind this self-portrait and the process of painting it.

I came up with the idea for this painting last year while visiting my daughters who live in California. Swimming in the neighbourhood pool one day, the reflections in the water reminded me of David Hockney’s 'Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)'. I share Hockney’s enthusiasm for the visual world and it seemed natural to make a painting based on it: not a pastiche or spoof, but a painting that was about my own relationship with water, California and a former partner.

The standing figure is me and the figure in the pool is my ex-wife. A decade ago, she became deeply religious. I don’t share her enthusiasm for God and a life of servitude. And so, my figure in this painting is looking on in bewilderment at her new-found faith. Perhaps also with some nostalgia on the time spent bringing up our daughters before the chasm that opened up between us.

The figure to the left is the hard-working Mexican who, in Orange County, is the one tending pools, mending roads and building houses. The hill in the background is Saddleback Mountain, which dominates the county’s eastern skyline.

In preparation for the painting, which I completed back in the UK, I was fortunate to have the enthusiastic assistance of my eldest daughter, who acted as both camera woman and body double.

What motivates you to paint a self-portrait and what do you get out of painting self-portraits?

For one thing, I am always around, so if I am short of someone or something to paint I only have to look in the mirror. And for another, self-portraits give me a chance to try a new approach or spend time working something out – either about myself or about the particular situation I find myself in.

Are there any self-portraits by living or dead artists that you admire?

I came across a reproduction of Rembrandt’s 'Self Portrait as the Apostle Paul' as a young teenager in a local shop selling Athena prints and bought it with the money from my paper round. I had it framed and hung it on my bedroom wall as a kind of talisman. Rembrandt was talented and ambitious and became very affluent from the proceeds of his work as a painter. He also faced the loss of three of his children just weeks after they were born, as well as the death of his wife and only son in adulthood. Living beyond his means, he died a pauper. And although he painted himself as a youth and in middle age, his later self-portraits depict a man who understands what life is all about. He seemed to understand me too.

David Cobley All By Himself, a retrospective exhibition charting 50 years of the artist's career, will take place from 10 to 15 September 2019.

Self-Portrait on a Train by Suzon Lagarde: Gouache, 20 x 20 cm – £350

Suzon Lagarde

Tell me about the thought behind this self-portrait and the process of painting it.

I painted this self-portrait on a train to Canterbury last spring. I had some gouache, my sketchbook and the desire to paint from life. As I'm mostly drawn to faces, I figured I could be my own model. With no proper mirror on hand, I decided to use the screen of my phone as a reflective surface and taped it to the front seat for convenience.

What motivates you to paint a self-portrait and what do you get out of painting self-portraits? 

This last year I've done a fair amount of self-portraits for various reasons. It's a wonderful way to practice as the model is always available and it takes the pressure off trying to please anyone. It can also be an opportunity to get to know yourself better through this intense scrutiny – painting my hands has been particularly important. And of course, there's another aspect of painting which lies beyond the visual representation, which can become emotionally charged, often beyond what you expected.

Are there any self-portraits by living or dead artists that you admire?

Vivian Maier's work is particularly fascinating. I love the playfulness and inventiveness of her self-portraits, finding indirect ways to capture her reflection among daily moments of life.

'Self-Portrait on a Train' was exhibited in the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours 207th Exhibition 2019. Suzon will be showing new work in the upcoming In the Studio exhibition, from 12 to 17 August. 

Self Portrait at 19 by Erin Lee: Oil, 54 x 62 cm – £500

Erin Lee

Tell me about the thought behind this painting and the process of painting it.

This self-portrait came out of a desire to see an image of myself that countered passive representations of women in art and the media. Painted over the course of a year and a half during my university holidays, it became almost therapeutic in its ability to make me contemplate myself in a way that I don’t on a day to day basis. Instead of labelling my appearance as one thing or another, I saw my features as a unique combination of depths and textures with variations of light bouncing off of them. During those hours, painting it gave me a different relationship with myself that I think is only really capable through the intimate study of it. It was a refreshing break from the pressures society puts on appearance.

What motivates you to paint a self-portrait and what do you get out of painting self-portraits?

I am fascinated by gender and gendered representations in art. Having studied the History of Art at university, I became aware of the conventional dichotomy throughout Western art of the male artist and female muse and how representations of women were often geared towards the male gaze, using notions of vanity to redeem voyeurism.

It is interesting to think of selfies in the same light, even though there is a sense of agency inherent in them. The self-portrait for me is a way of challenging this convention and raising questions about the viewer’s own embedded perceptions of women’s self-portraits. As a female artist, I hope that by creating self-portraits I can contribute to rewriting traditional modes of representation and modes of viewing.

Are there any self-portraits by living or dead artists that you admire?

I really admire Jenny Saville’s self-portraits. Her corporeal application of paint teases out the fleshy meaning of the work in a way that I think is truly sensational. I also take a lot of inspiration from the compositions of Joan Semmel’s work, such as in 'Me without Mirrors' (1974), in which we are presented with a view of her body as though we are experiencing it through her own eyes. Through their un-idealised depictions, both of these artists raise questions about representations of women in art and society that are still relevant today.

'Self Portrait at 19' will be exhibiting in the upcoming Royal Society of British Artists Annual Exhibition, 4 to 14 July. Erin will also be showing new work in the upcoming In the Studio exhibition, from 12 to 17 August. 

Self Portrait, Oundle School Studio by Nick Grove: Oil, 120 x 95 cm – NFS

Nick Grove

Tell me about the thought behind this self-portrait and the process of painting it.

This portrait was created during my residency at Oundle School in Northamptonshire. I enjoyed the novelty of having lots of space and light and knew right away that one piece I had to create whilst there, was a large studio-based self-portrait.

I purposely chose a challenging viewpoint with numerous sources of light: natural and artificial, indoors and outdoors. I had to keep waiting for the light to be just right, to continue with the painting. It was meant to be a challenging painting and certainly lived up to that expectation; I was there to learn, as well as to teach, after all.

What motivates you to paint a self-portrait and what do you get out of painting self-portraits?

There’s something intrinsically personal about painting a self-portrait. Observing one's reflection in a mirror, instantly puts the viewer in a quietened state, ideal for painting. It’s something I enjoy immensely and come the winter, I’ll be switching focus to painting more self-portraits and portraits. Fundamentally I think self-portraits are the next level up from a good life drawing lesson. It’s drawing with all the bells and whistles and a cherry on top. And like all drawing, it’s essential to keep practising if you want to improve.

Are there any self-portraits by living or dead artists that you admire?

I particularly like Ken Howard’s studio self-portraits which were a direct influence when composing this particular painting.

Personally, I don’t think you can get any better than John Singer Sargent’s ‘Lady Agnew of Lochnaw’. There are many self-portraits within Sargent’s body of work which I enjoy inspecting, but this one, in particular, draws me in every time.

Likewise, I love thumbing through Rembrandt's huge catalogue of self-portraits spanning his lifetime. There are so many wonderfully emotive Rembrandt self-portraits that when regularly viewed, you begin to feel as though you knew the man. Currently, my favourite is ’Self Portrait at the Age of 63’.

Self Portrait, Oundle School Studio was exhibited in the Royal Society of Portrait Painters Annual Exhibition 2019

Did you know we offer a portrait consultancy service? 

Many of our clients commission portraits to commemorate personal milestones, whether that be a marriage, the birth of a child or a professional achievement. Others gift them to family members to mark a meaningful life event such as an anniversary or birthday.

If you are interested in commissioning a portrait, contact our consultants here or visit the Commissions section of our blog to view a myriad of exciting case studies. 


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Portrait of an Artist by David Cobley

Emma Hopkins' Nude Portraits Explore What it Means to be Human


Emma Hopkins RP discusses her path from prosthetics school to portrait painting, capturing the duality of human emotion and the journey we go on with our bodies.

Emma Hopkins has been the name on everyone’s lips since she was shortlisted for the prestigious BP Portrait Award 2019 earlier this month. The striking portrait for which she has been nominated depicts the photographer Sophie Mayanne posing naked alongside her pet dog Carla. The painting’s power lies in the candour of the subject: Mayanne's presence is palpable, her self-respect matter of fact. The vulnerability we often associate with nakedness comes as an afterthought. Mayanne is known for her project Behind the Scars, a campaign which celebrates and explores people’s scars and the stories behind them. Much like her subject, Hopkins uses portraiture as a means of examining the skin and looking beyond it.

Hopkins has been “one to watch” at Mall Galleries ever since she first exhibited with the Royal Society of Portrait Painters (RP) in 2012. Born in Brighton in 1989, the artist first earned a degree in Make-up and Prosthetics for Performance at the University of the Arts London, before realising painting was her true calling. Initially, she exhibited her work at the Chelsea Arts Club when she was working behind the bar. From there, she began showing with the RP and was elected as a member in 2017, aged 27 – one of the youngest members ever.

Sophie & Carla by Emma Hopkins – shortlisted for BP Portrait Award 2019

Like many artists, Emma was discouraged from pursuing fine art, although she continued to paint alongside her studies in prosthetics. “It was something I’d always really wanted to do but had been advised against – fine art or painting – but I knew my heart wasn’t in the [prosthetics] industry. So once I graduated, I just focused as much as I could on painting. I got a job in an art supply shop and just took it from there.”

It’s quite shocking that Hopkins is “entirely self-taught”, given the level of skill and flair her portraits possess. Though it is perhaps this lack of formal art education that has given her such a distinctive style – free from the stifling effects of an increasingly didactic art school system which places more value on an MFA than creative risk or spontaneity. Then again, her education in prosthetics has undoubtedly informed her paintings which possess a fine-tuned level of anatomical meticulousness.

Emma Hopkins in her studio

Hopkins recalls her fascination with the body as something that was always present. “Two subjects that have been a theme throughout my life are art and science – human biology and people.” Portraiture perfectly combines these two passions. While Hopkins self-admittedly has “ quite a scientific mind”, her paintings are as much a study of the human anatomy as they are the human psyche. Her portraits are often nude studies, but Hopkins stresses that this is never the defining factor of the work. “I don’t really see them as being naked, I see them as a person in their bodies. The thing we use to navigate through life instead of the clothes we put on top of it.”

The complexity of human emotions is something Hopkins is keenly aware of. Her paintings rarely portray one single mood. Often her subjects are imbued with a duality of emotions, appearing simultaneously happy and sad, brave and vulnerable, wistful and content. “My work will show vulnerability but it’s also very important to have strength there too. You know with emotions, you scale between these opposites. To get that middle ground I think is very important. It’s not just about sadness. It’s also about there being a peacefulness there and mixing the two.”

Study of Worry by Emma Hopkins

A number of Hopkins' works exhibited in the recent Royal Society of Portrait Painters Annual Exhibition 2019 illustrate this distinct ability to translate the inner life on paper. ‘Study of Worry’ is a haunting self-portrait from which the anguish almost lurches off the page. It’s a rousing portrayal of the overwhelming, engulfing, inflammatory feeling that anxiety can fester. The piece came out of a period of unshakeable tension in Hopkins' own life. “I was waiting for test results. I could barely concentrate on anything. You know when you have to wait for something that could consume your entire life.” When Hopkins returned to finish the piece, she decided to leave it unfinished. “I just thought that it felt very wrong to do anything to it because that period of time has passed.”

'Robert and Martha' is a raw depiction of a father and child. The man in the portrait is Hopkins’ friend. “I’d known Rob for years already so I didn’t have to investigate him as a person, I already knew him,” she shares. He is shown naked, holding his newborn baby. His expression is one of comfort but one which also appears to be tinged with concern or perhaps relief. Rob’s stomach is scarred as a result of a kidney transplant. He and his wife took part in a scheme in which she donated a kidney to another couple who then donated Rob a kidney in return. “It was a beautiful thing that happened to keep him alive,” Hopkins recalls. Following a successful operation, his partner fell pregnant with their first child. Painting her friend as a father held particular resonance for the artist. “It was actually at a time when I was painting my own father, so it kind of became this exploration of the relationship between a father and his daughter.”

Robert and Martha by Emma Hopkins

Today, our relationships with our bodies are changing. In this digital world, we spend more and more time online. And when we are connected to this alternative reality, we are less alive to the sensations, feelings and bodies that surround us in the real world. With the rise of AI and VR, this is only set to increase. What does Hopkins think about these shifts? "For me, I am my most peaceful when I’m connected to what’s around me, connected to my body, connected to people around me and I think being disconnected to another world, yeah, I think it’s quite detrimental."

At the same time, she believes the internet has brought about greater awareness of the diversity of bodies out there. "There's this amazing movement happening where people are understanding that bodies are all completely different. People are accepting their bodies for what they are and not wanting them to be something else now." It is this idea of bodily acceptance that is at the core of Hopkins' art. Her nude portraits have a way of communicating that our bodies are not against us, revealing the beauty in the pain, scars, aging and transformations our bodies carry with them. Hopkins' doesn't just paint skin, she tells stories – or as the artist likes to call it, “the journey we go on with our bodies.” 


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Robert and Martha by Emma Hopkins

Inventing and Imagining the Natural World through Watercolours

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Kate Morgan RI discusses blending the fantastical with the real to create enchanting naturescapes and her recent collaboration with H&M Kids.


Hi Kate! Tell us about your practice? What materials do you use? Do you paint from photographs, life, a mix of both?

Kate Morgan: I work in watercolour. I find that this is a medium that offers maximum flexibility for expression. It gives scope for precise detail (which I need in my work) but also gives me the freedom to be playful with colour and texture. It’s also an unforgiving medium - which I really enjoy! Watercolour painting keeps me on my toes and makes every painting exciting. There is no room for error, so my planning begins before I even begin to apply the paint. It has to be exact to create the effect that I want.

I use a mixture of both real-life observation and photographic reference. I like to research the wildlife that I paint and their surrounding habitats in depth to understand the creatures and their surroundings before I begin. Having references around me whilst I’m painting helps me immerse myself into the world that I’m trying to create.

Even though I have the references in front of me,  I enjoy imagining (and sometimes inventing) creatures and their surroundings too. The overall painting then becomes an almost dreamlike place to escape to, depicting a familiar, yet, unfamiliar world.

'Wild India' by Kate Morgan RI, 65 x 60cm – SOLD

Have you always been interested in nature?

Kate Morgan: Always! One of my earliest memories was looking for newts and frogs in ponds. My dad loved his garden and had plants with huge leaves (like castor oil plants and palms) which, at the time, seemed giant to me. I imagined, even then, being in a jungle and from an early age wanted to be an explorer discovering new creatures and inventing new species - all from my morning’s expedition in the garden!

This love stayed with me into my teens and later into my 20s. Now, in my early 30s, when I’m painting in my studio, I love to use a mixture of the passion and interest I have for natural history with an imaginative world that I want to see and create. I'm aiming for a mix of the fantastical, enchanting, magical with the real.

Are there any artists you're influenced by?

Kate Morgan: I couldn’t answer this question without mentioning Henri Rousseau. Though to be honest, I view him more as a kindred spirit than as an “influencer” of my work. What inspired him connects with me - bright and characterful worlds inspired by the natural. I love his naive style that personifies his animals. I also love the fact that he never visited a jungle but it was his imagination that sparked his creative ideas of these unseen worlds. It always intrigued me.

Another artist who has always inspired me, is Maria Sybilla Merian. A German artist and one of the first naturalists to observe, study and paint animals, birds and insects from life. For a female artist/scientist of the 15-16th century this was almost unheard of. She travelled to Suriname to study and discover these incredible species. Her paintings are exceptionally exquisite in their detail and full of colour and celebration of the natural world.

'Where Wild Hearts Conquer' by Kate Morgan RI, Watercolour

How did the H&M collaboration come about?

Kate Morgan: In summer 2018, they got in touch about doing a potential children’s clothing collaboration for their 'Kids' range. I was intrigued by the offer as I’d always intended to translate my paintings onto fabric one day but was then concentrating solely on my painting. This, however, seemed like the perfect collaboration. I particularly loved that it was a kids range, as my audience up to then had been a little older!

Also, at a young age, this is when you develop your passions and imagination. The idea of creating something fun, a little magical but with an emphasis on all the animals that I love and inspiring this interest sounded like a wonderful opportunity to me.

How has it been received so far?

Kate Morgan: The response has been really wonderful. I couldn’t have asked for more. What I have enjoyed the most (highlighting the benefits of living in an age of social media), are the photos and messages I have received from both kids and parents alike, saying how much they love the range and modelling the clothes on various adventures.

Kate Morgan X H&M Kids: A Collection Inspired by Wildlife and Animals

How has becoming a member of the RI impacted your career?

Kate Morgan: There is the best and most inspirational group of artists associated with the Royal Institute of Paintings in Watercolour. Rosa Sepple is a wonderful president, who is great to talk to and her own work is imaginative and dreamlike - so I always come away feeling inspired.

There is such an eclectic mix of work from its members. Whether it be the beautiful abstract paintings of Jean Noble, the dreamy and beautiful work of Aimee Birnbaum or the incredibly intricate draftsmanship in Lillias August’s work – they offer so much inspiration.

The RI membership encompasses artists with so many different skills - all seeing the world differently and helping others through their work to see things with a new perspective. This, to me, is one of the wonders of what art can do.

It has had an incredible impact on my career - not just through its inspirational artists but also in influencing the way people perceive watercolour as a medium with its richness and diversity.

What’s next for you?

I have an upcoming solo show in London, just behind the Mall, from June 21st - 05th July at Panter and Hall.

'Sundarata' by Kate Morgan RI, Watercolour,  6ft 7" x 2ft 7" – SOLD

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Wild India by Kate Morgan

Interview with Ed Burkes: Winner of the Jonathan Vickers Fine Art Award 2019

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On April 10, we announced Ed Burkes as the winner of the eighth Jonathan Vickers Fine Art Award. This biennial award, established by Foundation Derbyshire in 1998, will see Burkes take up a nine-month residency in Derbyshire from October 2019, where he will produce work inspired by the county’s landscape, heritage and people, under the broad theme “Sense of Place”. 

Since graduating from Falmouth University in 2016 with a BA in Fine Art, Burkes’ work has been selected for a number of group exhibitions, including Saatchi Invest in Art and FBA Futures 2017, shortlisted for Bloomberg New Contemporaries and exhibited at London Art Fair with Arusha Gallery. In 2016, he won the Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Travel to Italy Award.

Burkes is currently living on the secluded Isles of Scilly, located 30 miles off the southwest coast of Cornwall. We spoke to the artist, between capricious WiFi-connections, about island life, how it's influencing his artistic practice and his plans for his upcoming residency in Derbyshire. 

Ed Burkes, His Master's Voice

Tell me about what you've been up to on the Isles of Scilly? 

Ed Burkes: There are five islands on the Isles of Scilly and the island I'm on is called Tresco. About 150 people live here permanently. There's only one pub, and there's no roads or street lights. There are these sub-tropical gardens here called the Abbey Gardens, which is where I'm living. I'm also working three days a week within the gardens. I'm not paying rent and I've got studio space, so it's an opportunity I had to take really because it's a wonderfully peculiar place. 

How has being on the Isles of Scilly impacted your artwork?

Ed Burkes: There are a few prongs to that actually. I'm big into my history and a lot of my paintings over the last year or so have come from various fifteenth and sixteenth century tapestries and things like that. So coming to the Isles of Scilly has been interesting. In about 500 AD, it was a single island but since then the waters have changed, so now you have this cluster of islands. It feels like you're still living on ancient Celtic hilltops. The landscape is very sort of rugged. 

Being outside is fruitful for art making. As a contemporary artist, I don't sit outside with an easel and paint a landscape, but there are definitely artistic secrets to be unlocked here. Traditionally all of these Old Masters and Impressionists and guys like that, just by being outside they’d take in the environment. Having that kind of response to work is really intriguing to me. There are all kinds of little weird flowers here. There's one called a yellow horned-poppy, another called a dog-rose and there's also a flower called love-in-a-mist. So there's all this language and the poetics of language is very anchored to how my images come about. There are so many visual stimuli but also just reading into things and looking into the history of the place. There's so much to latch onto.  

Ed Burkes on the Isles of Scilly (2019)

Have you thought about the Derbyshire residency and what you're going to do there? The "Sense of Place" theme ties in nicely with the Isles of Scilly. 

Ed Burkes: It ties in beautifully. Some of the works on paper, the "Dance Like a Lioness" ones, a lot of the motifs are from a tapestry in the V&A made by Mary Queen of Scots when she was under house arrest from Queen Elizabeth. She did these tapestries of elephants and fish and birds. In Derbyshire, there are lots of National Trust properties and museums. So I'm keen to explore all of that and find a peculiar little corner of history there. 

Can you talk a little bit about your creative process?

Ed Burkes: The work comes about in quite a hodgepodge. It's like a patchwork blanket and through the process of painting, images and text all lock into each other. It's something I can't quite articulate, but I think that's the magic of it. It's like music, when you listen to a song and it hits you in the feels and you can't quite explain it to someone. That's what really fascinates me: the problems of articulating things. 

I also enjoy contradictions. For example, one of my paintings is called "Hug Until We Catch On Fire". That is just one sentence but it could mean the seductive heat of a relationship or the impending implosion of one.

The titles of your paintings are very evocative and often humorous too. How do you name your works? 

Ed Burkes: I just write sentences and then maybe put two sentences next to one another. The title of the work changes as the work changes, and then it gets to a point where it doesn't change anymore, and that's when the work is finished. 

The text is just as important as how the work looks. I'm quite keen, when people look at a work of mine, for them to read the title. It's a little snippet, a little whisper. I don't want to tell the viewer anything, I just want to give a little hint. 

Ed Burke, Hug Until We Catch On Fire

There's a real sense of spontaneity to your paintings. How planned are they? 

Ed Burkes: I wouldn't really plan a painting. The work comes from drawings and sketchbooks, but there's very much a vacancy when I start making an image. The whole process is art making for me. It's almost like a stage waiting to be filled. I enjoy when an image comes about as if from nothing at all, from the subconscious. I listen to music a lot and I just zone out. One thing I like to do is have quite an eclectic playlist of music on. So one minute I'll be listening to Ozzy Osbourne and next thing it'll be Prince. This creates a contrast in the mood of how I apply brushstrokes. It's all very intuitive. I'm not thinking about what I'm doing. It all just feeds in. 

How long do you spend on a piece, or does it vary?

Ed Burkes: A lot of the time the work is in my studio and they won't get touched for two or three weeks, then they might change completely or they might change slightly. There's a recent cluster of works on paper, titled "Dance Like a Lioness". That's the most recent body of work and they're all 15x20cm works on paper, so they're really quite intimate. 

With the residency I’ll be starting in Derbyshire, I'm hoping to keep that intimacy but transpose it onto a larger scale. It varies with works. The larger paintings I do which are 2mx2m, they take quite a while, but I never just work on one thing. There are usually around six canvases I'd be working on alongside smaller things. 

Ed Burkes, Your Kind of Necklace

There is an immediacy and freedom to your work that is reminiscent of Rose Wylie's paintings. Are there any artists that you're influenced by? 

Ed Burkes: Yeah, Rose Wylie is amazing. I had some works in the London Art Fair in January and there were three or four people who had feedback and said it's like Rose Wylie, which is something I'm working on – developing my own voice, to a point where I own what I make visually. Not ownership in terms of copyright but “owning” in terms of doing something very well. I'm quite aware of that and that's something, talking to artists who are older than me, that just takes time to achieve. It's mad that she's 85 and she's making these huge paintings. They're just so visceral, aren't they? 

In your artist statement, you point to "the pitfalls of language" as a source of inspiration for your painting practice. You define your work as being "anchored around that inability to articulate, or at least the attempt to articulate." It seems you really understand what your practice is about. How did you come around to that realisation?

Ed Burkes: I think I came around to that realisation because I find it really difficult telling people what the work is about. I find that really frustrating when people ask, "What does this bit mean?" and then, "What's that?" So I tried to pin it down and ask myself what is the premise of my work and yeah it's trying to articulate things. Even just the attempt to articulate that is enough for me. 

Ed Burkes' Studio on Tresco, Isles of Scilly (2019)

The nine-month residency runs from 1 October 2019 to 30 June 2020.  The final exhibition will be held at Derby Museum and Art Gallery in late 2020 and at Mall Galleries in January 2021. Watch this space for updates as Ed’s residency unfolds.

Find out more about the Jonathan Vickers Fine Art Award

Celebrating Older People in Portraiture


Melodie Cook PS and Penelope Milner explain how a desire to portray compelling emotion led them to select older sitters.

'I want my portraits to possess an emotional potency, and older sitters tend to project a lot of emotion because of the wealth of life experiences they have' says Melodie. 'I love the challenge of portraying those emotions with pastels. I also find it fascinating to map out the wrinkles, understanding how they are all connected and why they are there.'

Maria Vajente by Melodie Cook PS: Pastel, 107 x 107 cm - £2,950

'My two portraits in The Pastel Society Annual Exhibition 2019 were inspired by Maria Vajente, a long-time friend who'd wanted me to do her portrait for quite a while. Maria had seen my portrait of Nancy Trotter Landry and Bobby and absolutely wanted me to portray her with a chicken on her head.'

Nancy Trotter Landry and Bobby by Melodie Cook PS

'When we finally got together there was no chicken to be found, so Maria produced an amazing bandana and wrapped it around her head. Maria was three years into treatment for cancer and was awaiting the results from her latest tests. All of this really showed on her skin and in her expression, and I wanted to capture that, despite the pain of it. I put a lot of my own emotion into that drawing. Maria died just a few months later and so never made it to the exhibition.'

'Rosemary is 70 and a ceramic artist. She’s a lovely positive woman and has had a fantastically varied life, from owning a riding school to breeding and showing dogs, whilst running a French restaurant with her Italian husband. I wanted to portray Rosemary's strength of character and her love of the outdoors, hence the determined expression and the hair blowing away from her face.'

Rosemary Delfino by Melodie Cook PS: Pastel, 107 x 107 cm - £2,950

'Both ladies loved that I had done their portrait but hated to see all the wrinkles! They were both convinced that I had added extra ones, whereas the opposite was true. I am yet to find an older sitter who likes to contemplate the reality of their ageing - myself included. My self portraits are usually brutally honest. They reflect the ageing process rather than attempting any self-flattery or delusion.'

'Older people are physiologically complex and interesting to paint' says Penelope Milner. 'When the sitter is able to be themselves and allow the artist access, it's both a privilege and a fascinating discovery. I am less concerned about documenting the degenerative effects of age on the skin and the blemishes, than in understanding the individual.'

'Unfortunately, older women can be harder to paint than men; they often feel less at ease with their self image. But what happens to the muscles and the lines in the face tells much about the way a life has been lived, and there can be a real beauty in that. While painting the portrait of my mother, Harriet, I saw glimpses of her child self and young woman self as well as the person she now is.  The onset of my mother's dementia has made her less self-conscious about her physical appearance too.' 

Harriet by Penelope Milner; Pastel, 69 x 54 cm - £1,600

'Social media and adverts can feel dominated by perfect images of youth, often airbrushed, edited in photoshop, or filtered. These images seem to be concerned with a very narrow version of exterior beauty. In contrast, the process of painting someone is essentially slow and contemplative.'

'The presence of the individual makes itself known to the artist quietly, through a direct exchange. Perhaps art has a role to play in portraying something deeper about the human condition, something we as viewers can recognise about ourselves as we look into the face of a painted portrait.'

Image credit

Maria Vajente by Melodie Cook PS