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Dorset Artist Vanessa Bowman

PUBLISHED: 15:42 22 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:35 20 February 2013

Dorset Artist Vanessa Bowman

Dorset Artist Vanessa Bowman

Coffee pots, Dorset hedgerows and jugs of pretty flowers: Stephen Swann meets Vanessa Bowman a Dorset artist who makes the ordinary beautiful

Coffee pots, Dorset hedgerows and jugs of pretty flowers: Stephen Swann meets Vanessa Bowman a Dorset artist who makes the ordinary beautiful

Are painters born or made? Is it nature or nurture that produces a creative artist? I ask this question because I have just returned from a visit to painter Vanessa Bowman. Vanessas dad is a painter and so is her sister; in fact, her family tree can claim a good smattering of creative folk, including not just artists but architects too. So, is it possible that Vanessas genes predisposed her to what she does so well or was it the fact that she was raised in a household where painting was part of everyday life?

Ive always painted. I grew up with the smell of turps and oil paints in the air I breathed. It never really occurred to me that I would not have some kind of career connected with art, says Vanessa. Dad was Art Master at Hardyes School, Dorchester, for 35 years. In fact, he taught me Art when I did my A levels. He exhibited his work throughout that time and still does.

Vanessa went on to do a Foundation Year at Shelley Park, Bournemouth, where she specialised in textile design and then enrolled at the Winchester School of Art. Whilst at Winchester Vanessa did a spell working in a studio on Lake Como, Italy, that produced printed textile designs for high-end fashion and in her Final Year Show featured paintings on fabric. After graduating with a degree in Printed Textile Design in 1993 she set up a studio with some fellow graduates. The enterprise was a considerable success, so much so that their designs were sold throughout the UK, Europe, the United States and Japan.

Life as a textile designer was not to last, however. Marriage to Nick, whom she had known since her late teens, led to a move back to her native West Dorset. The arrival of my children, Oliver, Isobel and Patrick, meant that painting had to take a back seat for a while, says Vanessa. As they got a bit older, I found time to paint again. At first I worked in Dads studio, but when he kicked me out in the nicest possible way, you understand it meant sorting out a studio in our own back garden.
Her studio, built from a flat-pack kit, is rather like a deluxe oversized beach hut and has plenty of natural light. Though Vanessa tries to keep to regular hours, sometimes she has to burn the midnight oil. Its my fault really: I say yes to everybody and with five galleries holding my paintings and exhibitions throughout the year, it is my way of ensuring I have the work to sell.

Vanessa specialises in still life with the occasional foray into landscapes. I work on board or card using oils but in a way its closer to watercolour because I thin it down quite a lot, she explains. I begin by mapping out the arrangement I want, then I do an overall wash in a neutral colour. When it comes to the actual painting I can move the paint around easily because of the smoothness of the support. In some passages I will look to get more texture, others less so. A few standard props seem to find their way into her still-life pieces. Theres a coffee pot that seems to crop up quite a lot! And the flowers I like to pick fresh. They are accurate without being botanical illustrations. My landscapes are inspired by actual places but are in no way meant to be photographically accurate.

What strikes you about Vanessas still-life work is the tendency it has to bring a smile to your face a table covered in a cloth, with tea cups and a jug of flowers, for instance. There is a rightness about her spacing and choice of colours, theres nothing random, though the seeming naivety of her style might lead you to suspect that there is. That placing of exhilarating, singing colour is no piece of whimsy, its where it is because of the aesthetic rigour which Vanessa brings, not just to her still life, but to her landscapes as well. As a result, her views of Dorset are meditations on shape, colour and tone, where the clump of trees, the curve of hills, the line of hedgerows and the marks of man such as crop-marks, plough-lines, trackways, church towers along with what you might call her signature foreground, the lovely masses of flowers all combine to exhibit Vanessas fine aesthetic sense.

As to that smile I mentioned, it is the smile of recognition. Those coffee pots, the chairs, the bowls of fruit, the lovingly painted jugs of flowers, are what we know so well. What Vanessa does is to remind us how such seemingly ordinary, everyday things are beautiful and should not be taken for granted.

In 1951 the celebrated artist Victor Pasmore wrote: A painting is like a bunch of flowers; it shines on the spectator like a sun and warms his heart by the power of its form. He could have had in mind a painting by Vanessa Bowman whilst writing those words.


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