Nick and Tanya’s new exhibition ‘A Walk into Paradise’ explores the exuberant and opulent, including tropical birds and landscapes.
“Each picture told a story; mysterious often to my undeveloped understanding and imperfect feelings, yet ever profoundly interesting…” wrote Charlotte Bronte in Jane Eyre. The phrase ‘every picture tells a story’ pertains to particularly significant images, revealing or suggestive of real or imaginary events; it perfectly describes the work in Nick and Tanya’s new exhibition ‘A Walk into Paradise’. It explores the exuberant and opulent, including tropical birds and landscapes – not only from within walking distance of their watermill studio at Bull Mill Arts, Crockerton but also from endangered rainforests and West Country gardens.
“We want it to be warming, inviting and eye catching when it’s cold and dark outside – everyone has been through difficult times,” remarked Tanya. Founded by Alexander Thynn, the 7th Marquess of Bath, (who sadly died in April 2020), Bull Mill Arts – on the upper reaches of the River Wylye – has been a vibrant centre for visual arts for over four decades.
A local paradise
Nick’s cottage is close to the abundant river banks full of life; he feels privileged to walk into this quiet and secluded paradise on a regular basis and see kingfishers, herons and little egrets. “I observe the changes from day to day and season to season. I find it constantly compelling and am attracted in particular by the abstract qualities in the landscape”.
The recent paintings and drawings for this current exhibition are glowing with tropical colours in “a magical, wild place with views out to the surrounding hills,” evoking fond memories not only of his mother’s gardens but also of her textiles and embroideries.
The inspiration has emanated from a commission and recent visits to the secret Burrow Farm Gardens near Axminster.
“I work in bursts of activity and move from one painting to another. I love the natural world, particularly transitory aspects of light and colour. I don’t want the painting to be static. I want to keep the idea of the landscape being alive and the viewer’s eye moving around and being drawn in. I draw in plein air and I like to get out into the landscape with a sketchbook and take photographs. I think it’s only when you’re out there drawing that you truly absorb everything around you – but the paintings may take weeks to complete.
“I paint in acrylic but use oil to bring out certain elements. For me it’s also about movement and that’s why I always return to the paintings to keep them fresh.”
The bird lady
In contrast, Tanya creates unique wildlife paintings on found, discarded or donated weathered pieces of wood. Each with their own unique story, some portions are hundreds of years old. The piece may have flaky paint and be in need of sanding – but it still retains its original colours. Fragments have come from ancient doors, items of furniture and even an old wooden body board! Tanya has painted terns on this because of their association with the sea.
The paintings often glow with the addition of gold leaf: “I do get rather addicted to gold leaf,” joked Tanya. “The wood presents a ready-made original landscape, sky-scape or perhaps it resembles reflected water. All I need to do then is paint what I feel is appropriate for the wood grain and find the right bird or animal for the habitat. I chose the exotic parrots and parakeets I am painting for the exhibition for their colours: they are extraordinarily bright. I would also like to raise awareness of endangered species, damage to their rainforest habitat and illegal transportation – I have been known as the ‘bird lady’!
“I used to own a parrot which sat on my shoulder whilst I painted; he would walk down my arm and seize the paintbrush because he got jealous. I love birds, they are so quirky and have immense characters.”
Additionally, on sale at the exhibition will be copies of ‘The Winter Visitor’ – a joint project and “such fun to do”, remarked Tanya. It is a children’s story, written and designed by Nick, which follows three swans on their winter’s journey along a chalk stream. Tanya has created the enchanting illustrations with beautiful paintings on reclaimed wood. A proportion of sales from the book will be donated to the Wessex Rivers Trust.
Nick is also looking forward to a Salisbury-based project planned for the new year called Spire: “I love the idea that you catch glimpses of the Cathedral spire from so many places.”
There is an eclectic Christmas show coming up at the start of December, with all of the artists at Bull Mill Arts. “It’s like Aladdin’s Cave,” says Nick. “I do all my Christmas shopping there!” added Tanya. Both are very excited about their ‘Walk into Paradise’ exhibition which runs at Shaftesbury Arts Centre from 10th to the 16th November; we could all do with some light and colour during these dark months.
by Edwina Baines email@example.com