The Wonderful World of Vanessa Bowman’s Still Life Paintings

Published 5 April 2019

Vanessa Bowman's latest exhibition The Nature of Colour is an exciting look at Vanessa's bold and vibrant still life paintings. We caught up with Vanessa to find out what goes on behind the scenes when she paints. 

The full collection of paintings can be viewed on our website by clicking here.

Vanessa Bowman 'Crocuses & Fish Jug'

Vanessa Bowman 'Crocuses & Fish Jug'

Hi Vanessa, we are very excited to for your upcoming exhibition with us and can’t wait to find out more about what goes on behind the scenes when you paint! To start things off, could you tell us which five words you think best describe your art work?

I would say; naive, patterned, colour, space and shape.

Tell us a little bit about life in your studio, do you have a daily routine? 

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.

Do you listen to any particular music when you're painting? 

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!

You are very well known for your particular style of floral still life paintings, what is your inspiration behind them?

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.

I am also 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

As well as flowers, a lot of interesting objects appear in your paintings. Do you have any favourites?

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.

It seems like a lot of your inspiration comes from the world around you, are there any particular artists or exhibitions that inspire you? 

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.


Henri Matisse: 'The Cut-Outs' Tate Modern 2014

Henri Matisse: 'The Cut-Outs' Tate Modern 2014

Thank you so much for talking to us Vanessa, it's been so wonderful to hear about your artistic practice.

One final question - if you could meet one famous artist, living or dead who would it be and why?

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.

Mary Fedden 'Mauve Still Life' 1968

Mary Fedden 'Mauve Still Life' 1968

Vanessa bowman The Nature of Colour is on display in our Pall Mall gallery until April 18th 2019.

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