Livingstone St. Ives art gallery is delighted to welcome two new emerging artists to the gallery: Francesca Owen and Louisa Longstaff-Scales. We spoke to Francesca to get the lowdown on her latest paintings, inspired by Cornwall’s unique gardens:
“The latest collection was made during my time at Tremenheere sculpture gardens. I spent a year painting in the gardens which slowed me down and softened me as a painter and how I work. Initially, it seemed like a huge task, so I concentrated on the pond – seeing the seasons change from spring to summer to winter and back into summer has allowed me to make stories that go deeper, more than a visual representation of a place.
“The garden was the starting point because Cornish gardens are important and also often overlooked – because of our microclimate they are vital to our environment and how we grow and see ourselves. It’s a symbiotic relationship – I’ve seen myself change through my paintings, and flowers through their seasonal changes mirror how we change. Several years ago, I was inspired by the sea, I was gig rowing a few times a week and I painted lots of seascapes. But now it’s the plants – that green lushness inspires me. This is where I am right now, and it is where I work and my children grow. It is where I feel happy. It’s about finding that space, Cornwall brings that.”
“I’m interested in Impressionism and that balance between realism and abstraction. I’m interested in telling stories through paint – I really want people to feel like the painting is a place of solace and restfulness, like water washing over you and making you feel refreshed
“There were a couple of paintings which made the collection come together. The first is Softly: it’s abstraction and impressionism, looking at how two colours, when they go together, sing to you and you feel that they are right. It was started outside on loose canvas (which I often do on larger works) then later, when I put it onto a stretcher, I realized that the figure under the tree was me, becoming softer in myself
“A Deep and Dreamful Sleep: when Alicia saw this painting, it was on loose canvas on the floor and she asked that I have it put onto a frame. I worked it so hard – lots of ochres and darker colours, then reworking over it with blues and greens. But it wasn’t until it was put onto the stretcher that I was able to see something that Alicia had seen. It’s a personal painting because the title refers to making space for myself with two young children. The space comes within the painting
“I know this sounds like a cliche but I really love old school impressionism; Monet, Gaugin and Klimt’s landscapes and use of brushstrokes and colour; even though it was so long ago they got it so right. They had a way of making the light and rhythm dance through their work. I love brush marks – we tend to want to cover it up but I love seeing the struggle around the canvas.
“I tend to go straight into painting without preliminary sketches – when I’m in the studio I feel like I’m where I belong. I have a line of paintings I’m working on at any time, plus loose canvases and blank canvases. I used to sketch but now I know what I want to do with the paint – I find I draw with the paint anyway. I begin the canvas in the studio or outside – often unstretched if they would be too big to fit in my van.
“I trained at the Slade school of fine art in London with Phyllida Barlow, who was very important to me. I felt fairly young – I was 18 and I hadn’t done a foundation course, so I didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing. I painted so much that the world began to look like a painting, it altered my reality and blurred everything. I then did a Masters at Falmouth Uni, whilst living on a boat. Although the degrees gave me six years to focus, it wasn’t until I left and struggled and learned what not to do by making mistakes that I started to feel I knew what I was doing. I’m not sure if you learn that much at university, you don’t have the experience of life. When you do have the experience, you don’t have the time.
“I still have support from Andrew Stahl who was the head of painting at the time, we speak a few times a year which is an important relationship to me. I used to teach at the St Ives school of painting, but now I just run one or two courses a year from my studio from outdoors and to adults. Occasionally I do a school group. The difference between the adults and the kids is that adults tend to come with a way of working, which kids don’t have, so they are much freer. I go out painting with my kids a lot – especially during the holidays. I find at six and eight they have more freedom without those layers that are put onto us as adults about what makes a good painting. I learn a lot from them.”
Francesca’s work will be on show in our Clifton gallery from 28th July 2022.