Where are you from?
I was born in Kent, UK in 1982. We moved to the north of Scotland when I was five, and I spent the rest of my childhood there. I went to uni in Bristol, worked in London for a couple of years and spent years abroad, including Portugal for eight years. I’ve lived in the north-west of England since 2015.
Did your parents encourage you or influence you to become an artist?
Ah, well my dad was a research scientist, and very inventive. His fascination with how things work in the natural world, activity in electron microscopy etc might have influenced my curiosity about the fabric of reality and tendency to notice details. He was happy when I started showing a talent for drawing. I think science and art have the same goals; just different vehicles for getting there.
My mum was a professional English teacher and loved everything about English literature and words. She impacted my sisters and me a great deal with her enthusiasm for the classic writers, and our literacy skills are very high thanks to that. My mum wasn’t into painting herself; rather, she knits amazing coloured creations, and she has always supported me on my art adventure.
What inspired you when you were growing up?
Nature. When I was eight, my parents bought a big old Victorian mansion in the Cabrach, an isolated rural area near Dufftown. I had the freedom to explore untouched natural beauty; to listen to the sounds of the woodland, rivers, mountains and take it all in! We had no TV reception, so I spent my free time reading, writing my diary, sketching and thinking, nestled in a tree and looking out over the fields with the wind in my hair...I was a contemplative child. The previous owner of the house had been an artist and later on we had a family friend who was an art teacher, who ran art courses at our home in the summer. I drew and painted everything I loved: my cats, trees, flowers, mountains, birds and animals. Throughout my childhood I had a few artistic professionals around me whispering tips and comments in my ear, which I paid attention to.
Was there much emphasis on art at school?
When I was nine, I got a scholarship to a nearby independent school which had a philosophy of educating the “whole” person, so art, music, sport, drama etc were all as equally important as the usual academic subjects. I thrived. I spent my free time doing drawings, copying pictures, making advent calendars at Christmas and cards for my family and friends. I got an all-round scholarship to the next independent school, Gordonstoun, where I didn’t thrive so much because I had a hard time going through puberty! But I still got an A* in GCSE art and I got a Scottish higher at a different school after that. A year at a local college saw me learning traditional oil painting techniques, sculpture, photography and other wonderful things.
You did a degree in Fine Art at the University of the West of England, from 2000-2003. Did you enjoy university?
No, I didn’t. I didn’t like being told that beauty and sacredness are irrelevant and inappropriate things to appreciate in contemporary art. I took my art very seriously but I kept on being tossed about from tutor to tutor. I was a very academic person and it was confusing to be given low grades. Then I realised when I came back from doing an Erasmus in Bologna, Italy, that what wasn’t acceptable in my work was traditional values and my total non-conformity to reject my Judeo-Christian heritage. Only by citing the Equal Opportunities Act was I able to scrape into the third year. However, my overall grade was boosted by my visual culture thesis, in which I compared Post-Modern Assumptions with the Christian Worldview.
Looking back, I do realise that these themes are quite difficult for an 18-21 year old to manage successfully and maturely, and I am much more able to talk about these things now. I grew a tremendous amount as a person through those years and I still enjoy good friendships with local Bristolians today!
How has your art developed since finishing your degree?
I began my journey doing quite realistic art. As a child I was always praised for being able to capture details in the wholeness of something. But just the skill of being able to represent something realistically was not enough. I decided to experiment with different ways of portraying landscapes, trees and skies - scenes so important to me - in a more dramatic way, trying to transmit the passion and what I felt resonating in me from them. I developed what I called “heightened realism” – emphasising or exaggerating certain elements, such as heavy clouds over a hot August hayfield, or the shape of a tree in an orchard bursting with life. I believe nature is talking to us all the time, like Psalm 19 tells us, but its voice is silent and we need to reverberate with it.
You had a foray into stone-carving in 2007. What are your thoughts on sculpture?
Ah, that was a wonderful experience. I transferred my drawing skills to carving small sculptures out of smooth stones and selling them on a Portuguese beach and in art fairs. It was massively stimulating to work in a new medium and extremely addictive. Someone I met once told me that my carvings were all “symbols of a unified consciousness!”
When did you first start painting nebulas?
Also in 2007, I painted “Hineni” – a painting inspired by the Orion Nebula which encapsulated raw energy, stars being born and just pure creative power.
This was an important milestone for me, since it was the first painting I did where I feel I really “went for it” – a friend of mine was opening her own art gallery and she really wanted something “out of this world”. This encouraged me to give it my all and I was mentally exhausted after it was finished. It was so much more challenging than a sky - to paint multiple colours, cloudy shapes, ripples on top of each other and interacting with each other without it becoming muddy was a major task.
A few years later, in 2014, I painted another close-up of the Orion Nebula back to back with a completely spontaneous piece, and I realised a visual language was emerging which is based on clouds, skies and patterns a bit like rivers.
So have you discovered your “signature style” or recurring pattern that makes your art distinctly “you”?
I think years spent observing organic patterns in nature; perfecting the soft edges of clouds (and ruining lots of brushes!); noticing the harmony and grace of tree branches and negative space...this has resulted in something I call “glory waves” or “ethereal wispiness”. It’s difficult to describe without sounding totally round the twist!
I think, with art, it’s like this. There needs to be an ambiguity; a suggestion rather than a total revelation; if it’s too obvious the secret will be lost; there needs to be a tension and balance. Many of my artworks are results of reconciled contradictions, and that’s one of the reasons they take a while to come into being.
A luthier (violin-maker) called Martin Schleske puts it well when he speaks of “harmonious opposites”. He comes up with the first two but I have added my own.