A Conversation with Vanessa Bowman

Published 26 July 2017

Vanessa Bowman has an upcoming show ‘Moments in Time’ - New Still Lifes by Vanessa Bowman in our Pall Mall gallery so we thought we would find out a bit more about her and ask her some questions. To see the full exhibition follow this link to our website http://www.panterandhall.com/exhibition/vanessa-bowman 

Pink Campion and Green Cup

Pink Campion and Green Cup

Tell us a little bit about life in your studio, do you have a daily routine? And what do you listen to while you work? 

I start my day by walking my dog and gathering my thoughts along the way. This gives me time to think about my painting-composition, colour combinations, flowers which I might see in the hedgerows, an inspiring glimpse of landscape, a wander round the garden to see what inspires...after which I go up to my studio, which is a wooden pavilion building, through the vegetable patch, at the end of my garden.

I switch on Radio 4, which I listen to all day. I find it doesn't interrupt my thought process, but acts rather as a stream of consciousness which entertains and soothes.....

Occasionally I listen to music, usually classical - Chopin piano concertos and Rachmaninoff are my favourites.
When I am mapping out my paintings at the start I sometimes work in complete silence as this helps with concentration!

Why do you think that you are drawn to your subject matter? What makes you want to paint a landscape when you see it? And do you have a favourite object that consistently inspires you?

I am drawn to flowers as my main subject matter as I am captivated by the variety of colour and detail they offer. I am fascinated by the elements of colour and shape each flower offers, from the simplicity of a snowdrop to the complexity of, say, a dahlia, with its jewel-like colour and complex petal formation.

I do not paint them in a botanical way, rather, I aim to translate their qualities in a simplified, stylised manner, which relates to the naively painted objects alongside them in the composition.

My landscapes are inspired directly by the gentle hills, and features of the Dorset landscape.

This again is drawn from immersing myself in that landscape on daily walks, and recording seasonal changes, such as the flowers of the summer hedgerows giving way to Autumn berries, hips in Winter and so on...the changing colour palette which this offers is constantly inspiring.

I do have favourite objects that consistently pop up in my paintings.

I have a favourite plate, which is a wonderful leaf shape and is decorated with delicate fronds which are gorgeous to paint.

Also, a beautifully shaped yellow jug has recently become star of a few of my paintings, as it's gorgeous colour acts as a wonderful foil to the muted greys in my paintings.

The Black coffee pot which often occurs in my work is a wonderful dark accent shape against the greys and colours of my still life flowers.

Lots of your paintings have beautiful flowers and plants in them, are you a keen gardener?

As a keen gardener, I am constantly on the lookout for plants with unusual flowers or colours which would look good in my paintings.

I grow flowers which aren't usually found in shops - dark, almost black flowers in Tulips and Centaureas, a beautifully marked hellebore in an unusual shade of green and dark Nasturtiums, jewel like Dahlias, fiery Crocosmia, Cosmos with their frond-like leaves and many more.

There is a strong link between my garden and my paintings, and it is a constant source of inspiration to me as I walk through it to my studio every day

Your still lifes often feature lovely ceramics, are you a collector of these objects? Or do some of them come from your imagination?

I am a huge hoarder of ceramics and interesting objects to paint, and my studio holds a collection of flea market finds, butterfly collections, plates, cups, colourful jugs, dried seeds and plants, -in fact anything that might inspire my painting.

Alongside these finds I also place imaginary objects in my paintings, which might fit the shape or colour needed to fit within the composition. These usually evolve organically as the painting takes shape, but the same motif can be used consistently in my paintings if I feel it has a place there.

What was the most influential exhibition that you have visited? And if you could meet one famous artist, living or dead who would it be and why?

The most influential exhibition that I have visited was the Matisse cut-out exhibition at Tate Modern. It was overwhelmed by the scale and beauty of the work, and found the shaping of form and colour through drawing with scissors, such an inspiring way of working.

Although I do not use this technique, I found the use of line, colour and abstract form hugely inspiring.

I also visited Kettles Yard in Cambridge, and loved seeing the work of Winifred Nicholson there, along with others from the St Ives group.

I find the colour in her work so exquisite. Muted, but with beautifully judged accents of colour-Something that I aspire to in my work.

If I could meet any artist it would have to be the late Mary Fedden. I would love to discuss her work with her as I find her a hugely inspiring figure in my own work, and feel our aesthetic shares many common themes.

Hellebores ,Yellow Jug and Birdseggs

Hellebores ,Yellow Jug and Birdseggs


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