Q and A: The Association of Leicestershire Artists

Get the inside scoop about The Association of Leicestershire Artists that feature on our current exhibition programme. You can now see the show Under the Surface in person in the Yellow Gallery until 5th June 2021.

Mary Byrne

Mary Byrne Studio May 2021

What inspired you to become an artist? Can you tell us about your background?

I’ve always drawn and painted, and I’ve also always written. I was discouraged from going to art college (on the grounds that I was ‘academic’!) and did an English degree instead. I don’t regret that and there are many links between writing and art. It wasn’t until I had small children that I realised I wanted to paint more seriously. I did a Fine Art degree part-time at Loughborough University (VERY hard work with small children and much harder than the English degree!). I have been an English teacher, a map archivist, a note-taker for profoundly deaf students, an administrator in a pharma company, and finally an art tutor. I am a published writer and I have won or been shortlisted for prizes. In 2019, I won the Leicester Writes Short Story Prize.

Can you explain the key themes or messages behind the work you are exhibiting with us?

There is a selection of work here but the theme that holds them together is storytelling, usually implied rather than explicit. The couple in ‘Secrets’ aren’t getting on and the woman is looking elsewhere as if she has other interests. The artist trying on wings echoes the myth of Icarus who flew too close to the sun. I also like slightly surreal humour in art. The artist about to fly has to stop because someone has texted her, a juxtaposition of myth and everyday life. Why is the woman in the evening dress on a flying carpet? Where is she going? Why are Edwardian people walking along Skegness Pier with people today? Why on earth is a bride in a tunnel? I like to intrigue the viewer. I also like eerie atmospheres e.g. the view of a deserted Skegness Pier as it’s growing dark.

How do you begin your artwork?

I have an idea of the subject and then collect any of my photos and sketches that I think might be relevant. Then I plan in my sketchbook and make other information sketches and take more photos. I usually start painting in acrylic and sometimes build oil paint on top of that. I also love charcoal drawings. Sometimes, I put together my photos in Photoshop to see if that gives me more ideas for paintings, and sometimes I like these digital images as they are and exhibit them!

Who are your biggest influences?

My biggest influences have been Caravaggio for his dramatic yet intimate narratives and striking light/dark contrasts, and Artemisia Gentileschi, a woman artist of the same period, who was amazingly talented and shared Caravaggio’s dramatic techniques. Of contemporary artists, I admire Paul Rego and Ana Maria Pacheco. Again they are narrative artists, but with a female slant.

Is there an artwork in the exhibition that you are most proud of and why?

It’s not flashy and not obviously ‘painterly’ but I actually like ‘Girl and Doll’s House’ best. I’ve always been intrigued by dolls’ houses and the way they mimic real houses and their contents and imply something about their owners. This little girl is organising the furniture just like the adults do. She’s also putting a doll who looks like her and is dressed like her into the setting as if she’s already agreed to domesticity. I gave her a party dress for a fairy tale element. The bright almost garish colours and flat acrylic paint are meant to echo illustrations in children’s story books.

Why did you choose to apply to exhibit at Nuneaton Museum & Art Gallery?

I loved the museum and gallery in its setting in a beautiful park. What a wonderful asset to Nuneaton! I also liked the gallery space.

Mary Byrne Artist Trying on Wing

Glen Heath

Glen Heath Studio 2021

What inspired you to become an artist? Can you tell us about your background?

I was always drawing as a child, my main tools were pencils and paper. My parents could not afford to send me to college and so it was 50 years later when illness forced me to relax that I started drawing and painting again. Three years later I gained my B.A. (Hons) 1st class and then my Masters Fine Art.

Can you explain the key themes or messages behind the work you are exhibiting with us?

Market, car boot and rummage sales are a great fascination to the public, and this fascination now extends to the contemporary invasion of Charity shops, which play a major part in everyday life. My latest work responds to them in a series of paintings which retain both narrative and figurative roles. Squidgy toys and figurines come to life among paper flowers. coathangers and plant pots.

How do you begin your artwork?

There is no set method for this work except for the information accumulated from many sketchbooks over the years. The corner stone of my art has always been drawing.

Who are your biggest influences?

Honore Daumier, a great French artist of everyday Parisian life has always been an inspiration.

Is there an artwork in the exhibition that you are most proud of and why?

One of my favourite pieces is the “Red Sheep of the Family” – quite appropriate today as we can once more gather together as a family (with masks).

Why did you choose to apply to exhibit at Nuneaton Museum & Art Gallery?

I am delighted to exhibit my artwork with the Association of Leicestershire Artists at the Nuneaton Museum and Art Gallery. It is set within a busy central location ,next to a lovely picturesque park.

Glen Heath Dreams of Home

Christine Johnson-Hume

Christine Johnson-Hume Studio 2

What inspired you to become an artist? Can you tell us about your background?

I have been inspired by the City of Derry, Northern Ireland. I was born there and our family had to go back there from Belfast for safety during the Troubles. The City is forever changing and I have tried to explore this. The crows and seagulls live around my mother’s house and I go out and observe and incorporate them into paintings or experimental drawings.

Can you explain the key themes or messages behind the work you are exhibiting with us?

Key themes include movement, emotions of the City of Derry, past, and hope for the future. I observe the old and modern buildings, The City Walls, bridges, movement etc and draw and deconstruct drawings and studies and then reconstruct artwork in a semi abstract way. I have been developing layering of paint for the oil studies and build up a lot of layers with the inks.

How do you begin your artwork?

I walk around the City with my sketchbook and camera collecting source material as I go. These become a starting point and then the work evolves. For example, the oil paintings of former shopping store Austin’s in the Gallery are studies for the main deconstructed and constructed larger piece that I am working on at present.

The artworks have increased in size and presentation, with larger final pieces. Visiting art galleries has always been an open influence and particularly Kettles Yard in Cambridge.

Is there an artwork in the exhibition that you are most proud of and why?

I am fond of the ink painting of the crow flying over the Peace Bridge in Derry City. I am also developing the larger oil painting related to the oil paintings of the former Austin’s store, now closed, but full of hope for a new life which will include a small passing space craft which occurred during my research period, and an explosion around the former Austin’s corner. Hope and vulnerability: hope for renewal and rebirth.

Why did you choose to apply to exhibit at Nuneaton Museum & Art Gallery?  

The art group applied for the exhibition and were kindly offered gallery space for the exhibition. It’s a striking building and very good space for an exhibition. Lucy has been helpful with communicating what was required.

Christine Johnson-Hume Movement outside Austins

Judith Eason

Judith Eason Running Workshop

What inspired you to become an artist? Can you tell us about your background?

My inspiration was a series of water colours showing the Thames in Oxfordshire painted for my aunt who was bed bound; they were kept in a folder to keep from fading in the light and on the occasions they were looked at; they seemed magical. After leaving school I attended Rochester School of Art, here my art encompassed all the different areas. They included courses on sculpture, 3D display props, drawing, painting and design. My first jobs were making 3D designs for display, I then worked for many years as a freelance graphic artist. Later as a mature student I attended Loughborough College of Art and Design – now part of Loughborough University – and here I studied Printmaking; this covered etching, surface printing, screen printing and lithography all requiring specific processes.

Can you explain the key themes or messages behind the work you are exhibiting with us?

My childhood was lived in the countryside, surrounded by nature, with woodland, coppiced trees, grassland, wild plants and farmland. It was during the years of what the then government called ‘Setaside,’ – leaving fields to grow weeds instead of crops – due to a wheat glut called ‘grain mountains’ that were stored in silos across Europe. This policy meant farmers being paid to leave the arable fields fallow. I thought it was dreadful when people in poorer countries were starving, and this eventually, at a later stage, filtered into my art. The oil paintings are of the rain forest. They are a reminder of how beautiful and vulnerable these areas are in Australia and around the world.

During lockdown I needed to find a new creative way of thinking so I experimented with felting pots using natural fibres; this imagery is related to tree bark textures while the framed ‘felting’ uses sheep’s wool and plant vegetation. The cushions were made using inherited patchwork pieces that my elderly mother cut out and did not use; I have arranged them in what I call my ‘DNA’ patchwork.

How do you begin your artwork? Do you have a set method or does your technique vary? Has your practice changed over time?

I mainly use sketches and photographs of the subjects. Drawing has been a vital aspect of my work. I recall the atmosphere and any other interesting things at the time of sketching.

Who are your biggest influences?

J M W Turner. The Impressionists, Paul Cezanne landscapes. Peter Doig. Gustav Klimt. Stanley W Hayter printmaker.

Why did you choose to apply to exhibit at Nuneaton Museum & Art Gallery?

It is in a lovely setting, and the building is very interesting.

Judith Eason Felted Flowers

Ros Kite

Ros Kite Studio 2021

What inspired you to become an artist? Can you tell us about your background?

When I was at school art was my favourite subject but then so was sewing and I loved knitting also. Not being so interested in the academic subjects, except English literature, I decided that my best chance of getting employment in Leicester when I left school was to take a City and Guilds course in Knitwear and Textile design at Leicester Art College. After this I promptly got a job designing lingerie in a local factory.

About age 40 I became interested in water colour painting and joined an evening class in Hinckley. The tutor worked on the foundation course at Nuneaton College of Art and Technology and she recommended that I do the course.

I started as a part time student but soon became full time as I enjoyed it so much. Following on from that I did a degree at Loughborough Art College and eventually an MA at Birmingham.

Who are your biggest influences?

I was always fascinated by the work of Picasso and the Impressionists but I was introduced to women artists at college. This was in the 1980s and feminist painters were making their mark. Maggie Hambling, Tracey Emin, Helen Frankenthaler, Cindy Sherman, Jenny Saville, Bridget Riley, Judy Chicago to name but a few inspirational women artists.

How do you begin your artwork? Do you have a set method or does your technique vary? Has your practice changed over time?

My work has evolved over time but inspiration comes from similar sources. I love pattern, texture and natural forms and make work which usually includes these. I work in sketchbooks when out using a variety of media, pens, watercolour and oil pastels. These sketches often lead to work made in the studio which become abstract pieces.

I’m using collage more and have recently been introduced to different types of tissue paper which I am experimenting with. I am interested in fabric and fashion and have a stock of glossy magazines that I tear up and make pieces with. I save different papers, wrapping paper and newsprint also.

Is there an artwork in the exhibition that you are most proud of and why?

The works that I particularly like in the exhibition are Move and Flow. I enjoyed making them and, as with many of my works, a narrative formed in my imagination as they progressed. I started with a sheet of paper and splashed muted coloured water colour and ink on the surface. I usually start this way as a sheet of pristine paper is quite daunting. I gathered suitably coloured papers to work with and began sticking. It soon became apparent to me that I was creating an urban environment and I went along with this idea. Flow followed and I made a conscious decision to create something more rural and classical in mood.

Can you explain the key themes or messages behind the work you are exhibiting with us?

I can’t claim that there are any messages behind my work. If there are they are unconsciously included and personal to me. I don’t do commissions, it’s all for my own fulfilment. I often see things after I’ve finished that resonate with my situation at the time or something from the past.

It is then up to the viewer to perhaps engage with a piece and make their own connections.I hope this gives an insight into how I work and as long as I feel the need to keep making art I will.

Ros Kite Casa Abandonado

Sue Graham

Sue Graham Painting en plein air

What inspired you to become an artist? Can you tell us about your background?

I initially trained as a nurse but my father always wanted me to go to art school. As a child I was always drawing and painting. After having my children I started to go to art classes which led me onto applying to art college. I did a Foundation course at Rugby School of Art and Design leading on to a Fine Art (Hons) degree and this led the way into lecturing in Art and Design subjects at Leicester College of Further Education for 16 years and Adult Education in the city of Leicester for 21 years.

Can you explain the key themes or messages behind the work you are exhibiting with us?

All the artwork was carried out en plain air using oil paint at the coast throughout the year. It is the feeling and atmosphere I aim to capture and the essence of what the day will bring, how light falls and the changes of colour during the day.

How do you begin your artwork? Do you have a set method or does your technique vary? Has your practice changed over time?

I love nothing better than venturing out to a place on the coast and settling down with my paints and equipment for the day – often this will involve a long walk to get a feeling for the area. I often revisit the same place as it constantly changes and becomes a special place.

Who are your biggest influences?

Turner, Joan Eardley, Kurt Jackson and all those who over the years have joined, supported and encouraged me to paint out in the open air especially my husband and painting friends who have often accompanied me.

Is there an artwork in the exhibition that you are most proud of and why?

Rough seas mainly have an emotional pull on me especially due to the memory of a challenging day not just fighting against the elements of wind, often cold and sometimes in the rain but the whole journey of travelling to a special place.

Sue Graham Forecast Rain from Pendeen Lighthouse

Vivien Blackburn

Vivien Blackburn Studio 2021

What inspired you to become an artist? Can you tell us about your background?

My earliest memories are of drawing and loving sitting in my grandmother’s garden, fascinated by the moving dappled light under the trees.  I was18 months old – easily dateable as we then moved to Gibraltar for a while.  I always drew and painted as a child. 

Can you explain the key themes or messages behind the work you are exhibiting with us?

My father was in the RAF and I lived by the sea in Gibraltar, Cornwall, Scotland and Malta as a child. I  loved the changing light and tide and the anticipation of cresting a hill on the coast road as we glimpsed each cove below.  This remains a key element of my work, the way colours and light change with time of day, season, tide, weather.  I was there through winter storms, not just the summer days. The turquoise and viridian of Cornish seas in the summer, or  indigo, soft green greys and mauves, wild  crashing surf or calm and tranquil, constantly changing.

I also love hills, mountains, twisting country lanes and trees, again with the changing seasons and light.  

Working plein air, I fill sketchbooks and do some finished pieces, later working from these on a larger scale. Work shown here is about warm autumn light, the misty coolness of the Ogwen Valley in Wales, the clear bright light of a Cornish lane and the translucent edge of the sea lapping the beach.

You can see more work on my website showing how I work in series, revisiting places in different light. www.vivienblackburn.co.uk 

I am also on facebook.

How do you begin your artwork? Do you have a set method or does your technique vary? Has your practice changed over time?

My sketchbooks are vital.  I have no set way of beginning and use a wide variety of paints and drawing materials in a variety of sizes from 15cm to a metre square generally.  Most work is mixed media.  I work from plein air studies in the studio, often combining several, never simply reproducing.

I may start out with charcoal or ink, working freely but other times will go straight into paint, it’s simply determined by the subject and the kind of marks I want.

During lockdown I have been experimenting a lot with new materials, developing my print making with a small press and creating collage pieces as well as painting.

I also enjoy using the ipad to paint and experiment further.  The digital painting in the exhibition was done using this. The prints are lightfast.

Who are your biggest influences?

I admire a range of artists, Joan Eardley, Kurt Jackson, David Parfitt, David Prentice, David Tress and John Blockley for their sense of place, underlying drawing skills, observation and exciting mark making amongst many others.  Also Ravilious, Piper, The Impressionists – so many!

Why did you choose to apply to exhibit at Nuneaton Museum & Art Gallery?

A lovely venue

Vivien Blackburn High Tide

Under the Surface exhibition continues until 5 June 2021.

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