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Reception Selection: Ania Hobson

"Evening in Monmartre" Oil on Canvas by Ania Hobson

Our latest Reception Selection features work by BP Young Portrait Artist 2018, Ania Hobson. Here, Hobson tells us about her artistic influences and how she found her distinctive style.

You are currently exhibiting at the Venice Biennale in Personal Structures, a group show at the European Cultural Centre. How did that come about?

I got an official invitation from the GAA Foundation which is a non-profit organisation. They hold exhibitions at the European Culture Centre in Venice. You have to find sponsors, which I managed to do.

I wanted to do a whole theme on the Parisian café culture. When I visited, I really enjoyed the whole authentic feel that their cafés have. It was my first time in Paris and I went with my cousins and my sister. I wanted to capture young girls enjoying themselves, casually having coffee and wine. You know the whole café feel in Paris, it's just very relaxed. Then you've got the neon lights which are very unforgiving on the faces. I felt I really wanted to capture that and show that in Venice.

Ania Hobson Evening in Monmarte Oil, 124 x 124 cm, £5,330

And your Reception Selection is a continuation of this Parisian series, right?

Yes! I wanted to bring a bit of what I have in Venice into London. I'm still really enjoying that Parisian scene, so I want to continue showing what I've been working on with this project.

Most of your work features family and friends – what is it about them that you enjoy painting? 

I feel a lot more comfortable with my family and friends and I think they also know what to expect from me. It's so important as a portrait painter to be at ease with somebody that you're painting because otherwise, it can show in your painting. It can become quite constricted. I think my family knows what to expect and they're less critical as well.

They know my style very well and they're comfortable in front of me. I have painted strangers before but I like to build up a friendship with them too. I don't want to feel like I'm under pressure with a portrait painting. I like to take my time and I want them to feel happy with whatever they've commissioned.

Is there anyone you would love to paint? 

I would love to paint Tracey Emin. I just think she's got such a great face. I never used to actually like her work, but the older I become, the more I understand it and the more I see where she's coming from. Now, researching into her more, I love what she's doing and as a female artist, I love that she comes across so confident. It's all about her personal life and I just think, she's somebody that I'd really want to paint.

I love the writing, "I Want My Time with You", she's got at St Pancras International in London. It's just so powerful and everyone can relate to it.

Ania Hobson Half a Glass Oil, 121 x 91 cm, £4,790

Your paintings are instantly recognisable. How did you find your artistic style?

I think when I was studying, I was still trying to grasp the technique of oil and it just seemed quite scary. It takes quite a lot of practise to get the hang of it and when I left university I had a bit more freedom. I just felt a bit constricted sometimes at university. People were telling me things I shouldn't be doing or sending me in a direction that I didn't want to go. In art, it's really important to do what you feel is best. That's what art is at the end of the day: what you produce and how you want to produce it. How I found my style was, I went through this really bad phase of painter's block and for months I didn't paint. I was almost crying over it because I had this creative urge, but nothing was coming out. 

Then I did a painting of myself, 'Ania' (2017), and it was the first time that I got into the BP Portrait Awards. For me, that was a massive turning point. I realised they must be seeing something that they like. It was at that time I continued with that style and I think it's become more exaggerated since. Actually, people are now sort of recognising my style, which I think is really important [for a painter].

Do you find painting self-portraits helpful?

I do use myself as a muse quite a lot, but it's weird, I'll paint myself but I'm not painting it because it's me. I almost see it as another person, it's quite strange. And also how you see yourself is quite different to how other people see you. People will say, "Oh you've painted your sister" and I'll say "No, that's me." They're picking up on similarities. Or even with my cousin they'll ask, "Is that you?" It's quite interesting.

Ania Hobson Social Nights Oil, 42 x 62 cm, £2,300

What painters are you influenced by?

I love Alice Neel for her movement of paint. She's not so worried about getting the proportions correct or focusing on all the little details, like painting each individual hair. It's so free and luscious and enjoyable to look at. Kehinde Wiley as well, I love his stuff purely for the power he can produce with his paintings. They just come across so strong and powerful. He mimics the work of Old Masters but he's doing that with a modern twist. Also, Lucian Freud for his application of paint. 

The people in your paintings are always incredibly stylish. Is this something you coordinate?

Sometimes. Again, this goes back to being comfortable with the people you paint. If I'm using somebody from my family or friend group, I can easily say to them, "Oh do you mind wearing this coat or do you mind wearing something patterned?" I do love involving fashion in my paintings. It's contemporary. It's modern. It's something the people can relate to. People will say I love that Burberry coat or those boots. It's something that David Hockney does. He'll pick out people's fashion in his portraits. Chloe Wise does the same. I went to her show in London (at Almine Rech) and it's really appealing to our generation. 

Ania Hobson Paris at Night Oil, 42 x 62 cm, £3,800

It's interesting to compare your work with Chloe Wise. Your subjects' clothes are generally quite structural as are your backgrounds, while Wise paints hers in more floaty materials against soft backdrops.

It's definitely a structural thing. And that comes into the whole perspective as well that it's quite easy to create these shapes. For me, I like looking at a portrait for the shapes it can create and the figure and the interior. With my BP portrait, 'A Portrait of Two Female Painters' (2018), it was all about the shapes and the foot coming forward. An interesting perspective almost makes you feel more involved in the painting. I don't like to get it correct, but it sort of makes your head go to the side. It's like looking at a building and it's so tall you slightly wobble on your feet. It's almost like looking back into a painting where the perspective is somehow wrong. 

The painting of the girls sitting around in Paris is kind of like that. You almost feel like you're in the conversation a little bit because of the perspective of the painting.

Exactly, for the viewer to run their eye across the painting and feel like they're involved whether they're standing up or they're down below. My portraits have always got to have some sort of weird perspective.


Ania Hobson Thibaut Oil, 81 x 65 cm, £3,900

How has winning the BP Young Artist Award affected your career?

It's definitely helped. I got a lot of interest suddenly. My emails were just going off like crazy. It was really strange. I do think that's how the exhibition in Venice came about – through all the exposure. For now, I'm just trying to keep that ball rolling, lining up shows and keeping people interested. Yeah, it's helped massively.

How did you become involved with Mall Galleries?

I entered the Royal Society of Portrait Painters (RP) Annual Exhibition 2016 and that was one of the first competitions that I have ever been involved in and then they invited me to sell work via Buy Art | Buy Now and it sort of continued through that really.

I think they've been great in giving me advice. I've always visited the Royal Society of Portrait Painters Annual Exhibition and I think that it's so great and that they give artists these opportunities as well as showcasing their work. And with young artists especially – giving people that push to encourage what they're doing.

View Ania Hobson's Reception Selection on Buy Art | Buy Now. 

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"Evening in Monmartre" Oil on Canvas by Ania Hobson

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Evening in Montmartre by Ania Hobson

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

Rob & Martha by Emma Hopkins - cover

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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Rob & Martha by Emma Hopkins - cover

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Robert and Martha by Emma Hopkins

Inventing and Imagining the Natural World through Watercolours

Wild India by Kate Morgan

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

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Wild India by Kate Morgan

A Personal History of Prison Horticulture

Outside Time cover

A conversation about the healing power of prison horticulture and the symbolism of stories with Hannah Wright, author of Outside Time and artist Brian Dunce PS.

It’s hard to believe that Britain’s prison system was once completely self-sufficient. Just twenty-five years ago, HMP Farm & Gardens employed 2,000 prisoners annually, generating a profit of over £3 million and producing enough food to feed 47,000 inmates three times a day. Not only did these farms provide a source of work and food for inmates, they also created a sense of duty, responsibility and care that was crucial to the prisoner’s peace of mind. Prison farms have since become a thing of the past. As the UK became an increasingly urban nation and privatisation took hold, agricultural work waned. This shift was reflected in prisons, with a large number of farms being sold.

Hannah Wright, an environmental psychologist and author, has recorded this untold history in a new book called Outside Time. Charting the rise, decline and revival of prison farming, Wright begins with the establishment of the first prison farm in Dartmoor in 1852 and continues right up to the present. An ardent champion of agriculture as therapy, Wright explains, “It was designed around working the land because it was seen as being good for your health, good for your constitution.

Outside Time by Hannah Wright

Outside Time was brought to our attention by one of our artists Brian Dunce. A longtime friend of Wright, Dunce volunteered himself to design the cover. The result is a testament to the pair’s deep friendship and the artist's talent for interpreting stories in a visual way.

The cover is heavily imbued with multiple layers of symbolism and metaphor which emerged from several conversations between Wright and Dunce. Its muddy garnet colouring is a nod to Bev’s passion for a particular rare breed of cattle called Lincoln Red. “As the name suggests it has a very beautiful colouring and Brian took the colour and texture of the fur of the animal and incorporated it into the painterly strokes,” Wright explains.

The lines which traverse the cover are deliberately ambiguous. While they might, most obviously, be perceived to be prison bars, the author points out that they also resemble furrows in the earth. “The references to land are implicit in it.”

Wright describes Dunce as having an “encyclopedic knowledge” of typography. “What I chose was hand lettering and it was based on something that Picasso had written, which was a cover for one of his books and I restyled it,” explains the artist. “This was partly because it was brush lettering, rather than tap style. I wanted again something that might be associated with the way something would be roughly written on a wall.” It’s also a reference to an old photograph Wright found at the National Justice Museum archive which depicts prisoners walking back to Dartmoor prison. “They’re wearing these dark donkey jackets and on the back it says, ‘DP’ meaning Dartmoor Prison and there are three horizontal lines which symbolically meant that they were allowed outside of the gates. If they had patches sewn onto their clothes then they weren’t allowed outside. I really liked that symbolism and that style; the white lettering painted on,” Wright recalls.


A prisoner and member of staff examine a piglet. Image Credit: National Justice Museum, Nottingham.

Wright tackles the subject from a personal perspective – her father, Bev, worked for the prison service, and so she grew up on prison farms. It was the death of her father which triggered Wright’s desire to write the book. She distinctly remembers a visit from Bev’s former boss a week before he passed away. “The two of them talked about this extraordinary history that had existed but no one had catalogued,” Wright recalls. It was at the funeral, meeting many of her father’s old colleagues, that she realised this was a “one-off opportunity to approach these people which I would not have had under other circumstances.” She spent the next two years interviewing them and collecting material.

The result is a book which is part memoir, part social history and part tribute to her father. She writes of a childhood spent on prison farms interwoven with detailed research into the history of prison farming and growing. Wright explores the therapeutic nature of gardening and the way that caring for animals is therapeutic for even the most hardened of criminals.

Unaccompanied prisoners carrying milk pails as they return to Dartmoor prison 'DP', March 1957. Image Credit: National Justice Museum, Nottingham. 

In the book’s foreword, Lord David Ramsbotham, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons (1995-2001) writes of his hopes “that Outside Time will be read by those currently responsible for a prison system that is disfigured by the amount of time prisoners have to spend locked up inside their cell, which is no place for picking up skills that are essential if they are to live useful and law-abiding lives on release.”

It seems that Ramsbotham’s wish may have been somewhat prophetic. Today, Wright tells me, the book is used widely in prison as a reference text by those interested in reintroducing farming into the system. A development she hopes will continue. Wright concludes, “It’s putting growth at the centre of life again.”

Outside Time is available to buy at the special price £12.99 at

You can contact Brian Dunce PS about paintings and commissions here

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Outside Time cover

George Jackson wins the Hermione Hammond Drawing Award 2019

Established in 2012, the Hermione Hammond Drawing Award was created in memory of the artist Hermione Hammond (1910-2005) to encourage young talent to develop their drawing skills.

George Jackson, 21 years old and studying at Wimbledon College of Arts, has won the first prize of £2,000 in this year’s Hermione Hammond Drawing Award for his ink drawing of a ‘man having his arm ravaged by a black dog’.  

Dominika Wroblewska, 26, studying at Manchester School of Art has won the runner-up prize of Cass Art vouchers worth £250 for her drawing Mine Shaft Lid Hauling, which documents the Technical Speleological Group hauling an 800kg steel lid to be secured on a mine shaft on top of a hill in winds of up to 40 miles per hour.

 ‘Black Dog Bite’ by George Jackson, Ink on paper, 59 x 42 cm, 2018

Guest Judge Charles Williams led the panel of four judges representing Hermione Hammond’s family and Mall Galleries. Charles is a member of the New English Art Club, the Royal Watercolour Society and the Small Paintings Group. He teaches drawing and has begun his own PhD studies at Canterbury Christ Church University.

The panel awarded the first prize to George for Black Dog Bite, about which Charles says, “It’s great to see the spirit of British satirical pen and ink work, the tradition of Gillray, Rowlandson, Searle and Scarfe, is still going strong in young, contemporary visual art. The whole set of work that George submitted was excellent and bodes well for the future and it was hard to make a choice!”

‘Mine Shaft Lid Hauling’ by Dominika Wroblewska, Technical pen, 13 x 19 cm, 2019

Charles says about runner-up Dominika’s drawing in technical pen, “Dominika submitted a fascinating set of ethnographic drawings, recording caving activity in adverse weather conditions by specialist engineers, drawings that can function as data as well as aesthetic objects. Drawing is used for all sorts of things; what we tend to think of as the traditional skill of life-drawing, for example, was only really formulated as part of the eighteenth-century Academic project of making history-paintings, and this work reflects that.”

Charles went on to say, “Judging this competition was particularly difficult. There were some excellent examples of what drawing can be and another set of judges could have chosen two completely different and equally compelling winners. In the end one has to go with one’s own interests and fixations, though.”


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

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

Ed Burkes has been awarded the Jonathan Vickers Fine Art Award

Ed Burkes Winner of the Jonathan Vickers Prize 2019

Foundation Derbyshire and Mall Galleries are pleased to announce Ed Burkes as the winner of the eighth Jonathan Vickers Fine Art Award. The biennial award brings a rising artist to Derbyshire to produce work inspired by the county’s landscape, heritage and people.

As one of the largest art awards in the country, the Jonathan Vickers Fine Art Award provides the successful artist with a nine-month residency, a bursary of £18,000, a studio, contribution to the cost of materials, ongoing support and mentoring from the University of Derby’s College of Arts, and two solo shows in Derby and London.

Artist Ed Burkes will take up his residency in Derby in October 2019, when he will be based in Banks Mill Studios, working towards a solo exhibition at Derby Museum and Art Gallery in 2020, which travels to Mall Galleries in 2021.

Since graduating from Falmouth University in 2016 with a BA in Fine Art, Ed’s 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.

Ed Burkes on the Isles of Scilly (2018)

Ed has said that his work “is sparked from a commonplace situation: A friend drinking coffee, a buddy pulling up his socks, someone browsing the fruit and veg section of Tesco Express. Through the process of painting, these preliminary considerations begin to wobble out of sync to a point where their distinctiveness as a primary source slip away.” The bright colours and bold compositions give the everyday scenes a mythic and heroic air.

During his residency, Ed will contribute five days of teaching at the University of Derby’s College of Arts and lead a series of educational workshops in the community, supported by funding from Rolls-Royce plc. The collaboration with the University of Derby’s College of Arts will enable art students to gain valuable insight from the experience and practices of a working artist.

Ed said, “I am so grateful for the opportunity to be able to spend nine months delving into the historical intrigues that Derbyshire has to offer. Engaging with the wider community of the contemporary art world with a teaching fellowship at Derby University is something I am incredibly excited by and can’t wait to get started. I am going to produce a large, ambitious, and historically grounded body of work from the premise ‘sense of place’ and will be looking to concretise and foster long term connections and relations.”

Ed Burkes Old Boy (Red and Blue)

Rachael Grime, Chief Executive of Foundation Derbyshire said: “We are delighted that Ed is joining us at this really exciting stage in the Award’s development. We can’t wait to see how he responds to our county and brings his exceptional talent to bear on the residency”.

In 2019, in a new collaboration between the Award and Mall Galleries, past exhibitors of FBA Futures, the UK’s largest annual survey of emerging figurative art, were invited to be considered for this exciting residency.

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.

Andrea Santi wins the Alfred Teddy Smith & Zsuzsi Roboz Award

21-year-old Italian artist Andrea Santi submitted work for the first time to a Mall Galleries Call for Entries and was selected for The Pastel Society Annual Exhibition. This week at the exhibition’s private view, Andrea won the £5,000 Alfred Teddy Smith & Zsuzsi Roboz Award for a pencil drawing of her mother. Andrea tells us more about the experience.

‘I’m only just realising what’s happened’ says Andrea. ‘It’s been a wonderful surprise. I feel extremely proud of myself, but I still don’t believe that the judges picked my little work from all the beautiful art that was submitted to the exhibition. I feel so grateful.’

The Alfred Teddy Smith & Zsuzsi Roboz Award is presented to an artist aged 35 or under, for demonstrating traditional skills in an original way. Created in graphite, Mum is almost photographic in its detail and realism, and the judges were impressed by Andrea’s sensitive portrayal of ageing skin.

Mum by Andrea Santi: Graphite, 35 x 33 cm - £1,100

Mum is one of the works by just 61 artists selected from 800 submitted for the exhibition, which is recognised as foremost in its field. The Pastel Society is a magnet for brilliant exponents of dry media, showing the work of leading contemporary artists as well as encouraging work by new artists yet to be established.

Mum is highly personal. It’s a portrait of the beautiful person who is my mother. She’s a wonderful and strong woman, and I hope the portrait shows something of our relationship and my love for her, as well as a physical likeness.’

‘When I was studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Venice, drawings were primarily used as studies for painting. I like to work with graphite because drawing has its own autonomy and importance. It’s great to have a community like The Pastel Society which is dedicated to showcasing dry media.’

Andrea Santi working in her studio.

Andrea’s mother was shocked when her portrait attracted such a large cash prize. ‘She told me it was one of her happiest days ever! She was proud both of me and of being the subject of the winning work. All my family is super excited, and I’m so glad about it because they’ve always supported me and let me follow my passions, and now I want to show them that it was worth it.’

On the back of this success, Andrea plans to submit work to the New English Art Club’s Call for Entries, which closes on 22 February, and to the Royal Society of British Artists, whose Call for Entries is open until 15 March. ‘I would definitely encourage other artists to submit’ she says.

You can see Mum and the 280 other dry media works on display in The Pastel Society Exhibition until 16 February. The whole exhibition catalogue is also available to browse and buy online.

Find out more about The Pastel Society Annual Exhibition 2019

Image credit

Mum by Andrea Santi

Mohammed Sami Wins Hottinger Award for Excellence at FBA Futures 2019

Mohammed Sami wins the Hottinger Prize

The painter Mohammed Sami has won the Hottinger Award for Excellence at this year's FBA Futures for his painting Unedited Still-Life.

The Hottinger Award for Excellence is presented annually to an outstanding artist exhibiting in Mall Galleries' graduate exhibition, FBA Futures. A work or works by the winning artist are then entered into the Hottinger Collection.

Unedited Still-Life by Mohammed Sami

Mohammed's practice deals explicitly with trauma and memory. The artist lived through seven wars in his native Iraq before emigrating to Sweden and eventually to London where he studied at Goldsmiths. Mohammed's paintings are imbued with the lived experience of PTSD from those wars, which reverberates like shockwaves through the materiality of his work; angles are disorientating; there are recurrent motifs of sleeping aids; visual evidence of loud crashes; phones ringing off the hook with bad news.

Tomi Olopade was awarded the runner up prize by Hottinger: a commission to produce a new work for their collection. Born in London to a Nigerian family, Olopade started out as an illustrator, gaining recognition from musicians such as Joey Badass and Maverick Sabre before he ultimately decided to pursue fine art. The works he presented in FBA Futures explore the culture of hair within the black community.

Mohammed Sami receiving the Hottinger Prize for Excellence from CEO Alastair Hunter for his painting Unedited Still-Life.

Tomi Olopade with his painting, Amy's Bedroom.

Find out more about FBA Futures 2019

Image credit

Unedited Still-Life by Mohammed Sami

Estelle Lovatt FRSA: 'Art Expert' in Residence

Estelle Lovatt FBA Futures

What did our 'Art Expert in Residence' Estelle Lovatt think of her first Mall Galleries residency day?

I was thrilled to be ‘Art Expert in Residence’ at the FBA Futures 2019 Exhibition. I also wasn’t sure what to expect, as total strangers were invited to join me at my table in the Mall Galleries café, to discuss any question about art, from the exhibition itself, through to ideas around art making, and art market insights.

As a freelance art critic, who has trained as a fine artist, I have the experience of being on both sides of the canvas, but not both sides of the table. Sitting at my designated table, I wondered whether I would feel like I was speed-dating for an art chat. Or be more like Marina Abramovic at her performance ‘The Artist Is Present’.

My table became a place for gallery-goers to rest their feet and eyes, whilst talking ‘art’ with me.  I heard lovely comments from people who said how much they liked the exhibition: 'it’s getting better and better…firing on all cylinders…interesting…impressive'!  Several exchanges were very short - a few seconds, but still interesting, some chatted for minutes, others longer.

One of the exhibiting artists, Keron Beattie, who had impressed me with his lead and glass figures, came to chat with his friends.  We talked with a primary school teacher about what scale is the right scale to make art, as Beattie’s settles at 6 cms. Another visitor dropped by my table for a chinwag, whilst waiting to go to the talk that was taking place alongside the exhibition.  He thought the art 'looked so vibrant'.

Me and my newly-made art-talking-table-friends created a ‘community’ in which to engage, schmooze and widen our understanding, appreciation and tolerance of our art world.

There were no boring conversations, and it was great to talk about art from the Renaissance to the YBAs – both giving guidance specifically on the individual’s career or work, or more generally the wider subject minus toffee-nosed art-world gobbledygook, often heard, talking about contemporary art and the role of the artist today.

Next time you see me at my table, please do come and join me.

Estelle Lovatt FRSA


More 2019 ‘Art Expert in Residence’ dates to be confirmed soon. 

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