mary fedden: beauty in finessed simplicity

I actually came to know Mary Fedden’s work in a round about sort of way. Truth is, her name was so frequently mentioned as an inspiration or influence by so many of my favorite British creators that I simply had to learn more.

Turns out she’s one of Britain’s finest and best-loved contemporary artists, one who painted daily right up until her passing in 2012 at age 96. She’s most well known for her distinctive still lifes, characterized by a bold use of color, odd and inventive perspectives, and flat picture planes. 

Artist, printmaker and illustrator Mary Fedden in her Durham Wharf Studio

She made the ordinary extraordinary with her signature näive yet sophisticated style, elevating the beauty of favorite subjects such as fruits, feathers and plants. Her extensive body of work spanned over seven decades.

Born in Bristol, England in 1915, Mary hated and dropped out of Badminton girls’ school to attend the Slade School of Fine Arts in London at age 16. While there, she studied under Russian scene painter Vladimir Polunin, who had worked with the Ballets Russes and with Pablo Picasso.

After completing her studies, she briefly designed sets for Sadler’s Wells before returning to Bristol to work as a teacher and portrait painter. Polunin’s influence was evident in her opulent palette, reminiscent of the sumptuous colors of the ballet’s sets and costumes. 

With the outbreak of WWII in 1939, Fedden served in the Women’s Land Army and Women’s Voluntary Service, where she was commissioned to create murals for the war effort. She later worked as a driver for the NAAFI in Europe.

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Mani Parkes: feel the joy

What could be better than sitting down for a nice brekkie with your best furry friend? 

For me, Mani Parke’s art was love at first bark. Her pictures make me happy — and no wonder, they check all the right boxes: lots of British charm, quaint buildings nestled in villages with narrow, winding streets; restful coastal views, congenial tea drinking, people relaxing and being neighborly, couples (young and old) in love sweet love, adorable dogs (napping, cuddling, snuffling), not to mention all the beautiful BLUES! *sigh*

Her palette is subdued, chalky, refreshing and calming. She incorporates shades of grey, sometimes green, surprising the viewer with an occasional pop of red or pink. The predominance of blue + dogs reminded me of Gary Bunt, but with a decidedly softer, more feminine and detailed touch.

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nine cool things on a tuesday

1.  Nothing cozier than settling down in your favorite armchair, book in hand, cat purring, tea and cake at the ready (don’t you love the blue and white china?). 🙂

Self taught UK artist Lucy Almey Bird grew up in rural Somerset, and likes to paint domestic scenes from everyday life. I love the “kinder, gentler” tone of her pictures, many of which show people reading and relaxing, enjoying the fresh air, or cooking up something delicious in the kitchen.

Pretty details catch your eye, such as the patterns on clothing or wallpaper, and intricately drawn leaves, branches, or wildflower blossoms. 

The child of creative parents, Lucy was encouraged to draw and paint from an early age. Regular trips to museums and art galleries ignited her passion for art. She works primarily with acrylic on board, and you can order prints by emailing her via her website.

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2. New Picture Book Alert! Just released March 30, 2021: Be a Tree! by Maria Gianferrari and Felicita Sala (Abrams, 2021)!

A lyrical, gorgeously illustrated look at the majesty of trees—and what humans can learn from them.

Stand tall. 
Stretch your branches to the sun. 
Be a tree!

We are all like trees: our spines, trunks; our skin, bark; our hearts giving us strength and support, like heartwood. We are fueled by air and sun.

And, like humans, trees are social. They “talk” to spread information; they share food and resources. They shelter and take care of one another. They are stronger together.
In this gorgeous and poetic celebration of one of nature’s greatest creations, acclaimed author Maria Gianferrari and illustrator Felicita Sala both compare us to the beauty and majesty of trees—and gently share the ways in which trees can inspire us to be better people.

As someone who lives in the woods, and who’s also a big fan of both Maria’s and Felicita’s work, I am extra excited about seeing this one. Doesn’t it look beautiful?

Be a Tree! has already received **starred reviews** from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus, who said, “This book has the advantage of lyrical, accessible poetry and vibrant watercolors from an ever changing palette.”

Sigh. I may have to go outside and read this book to our trees. 🙂

Congratulations, Maria and Felicita!

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the enchanting world of Cathy Cullis

Cathy Cullis’s art invites you to enter a world of serenity, quiet beauty, and sometimes, melancholy. Stone cottages and charming homes, cozy interiors, peaceful gardens, solitary figures, and uncluttered still life compositions are rendered in subdued colors or monochrome, speaking of another time, far removed from the busyness of modern life.

I’m intrigued by the people in her pictures. What are their personal stories? Because so many women are depicted, I wonder whether they are content with their lives or yearn for more. Are they extensions of the artist, or characters wholly spun from her imagination?

Cathy is a mixed media artist, writer and poet based in South London, UK. She’s been “a maker” since childhood — a versatile creative who thrives on tactile activity and producing handmade pieces with a discernible personal thumbprint.

Although she studied art and literature as an undergraduate at Brunel University, she considers herself largely self-taught when it comes to visual art, since her studies were mostly theoretical rather than hands-on.

Since earning an MA in Creative Writing (specializing in poetry) from Bath Spa University, most of her energies thus far have been devoted to art rather than writing. Still, her background in literature is evident in the narrative component of her pieces, and how she establishes a kind of regional, historic context for them.

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claire west: a shot of happiness

If this isn’t joy personified I don’t know what is.

One glance at Claire West’s exuberant splash of colors and you’re smiling, your heart’s beating a little faster, you. are. UP!

Say goodbye to even a tiny case of the winter doldrums as your eyes drink, drink, drink it all in. Wow. Gorgeous. Whoa. More, please.

Claire hails from Hull in East Yorkshire, England. She initially trained as an interior designer at Newcastle Art College before studying part time for seven years to earn her Fine Arts degree from Humberside University.

Claire with her border collie Flossie

She then began doing freelance work for television production companies, who featured her work in TV programs. She’s exhibited her paintings and linocuts all over the UK and also teaches painting and printmaking workshops.

Claire paints because it makes her happy, and she hopes her pieces make others feel the same way. She strongly believes in the power of color therapy to uplift the spirit.

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