‘For the point of art is not how to do it, it is how to live’
That we should live as freely as possible and set an example because we have the gift of creativity in our lives is a truly precious thing.
Francesca grew up in a bustling creative household in South East London. Her mother was a window-dresser, display artist and her father assisted in the making of the stages, which traveled to fashion design shows around Europe throughout the 80s and 90s. Creativity was ingrained in the life and soul of the household and ran through her being ever since she can remember.
‘Everyday life choices can allow us to move towards freedom’
Francesca lost her mother at a young age and creativity became an intensely important point of connection and healing. With every new day, we have the choice to create life the way that we want to, start small, dream big.
An award-winning artist, she studied fine art painting at the prestigious Slade School, under the tutorship of Phyllida Barlow RA CBE, and winning two scholarships, including the Euan Uglow Memorial Scholarship. Francesca has worked with galleries in Devon and Cornwall, exhibiting paintings and installation, giving talks and courses on landscape painting, pigments, and dyes.
Francesca made decisions to live and work in communities where art could be part of life. Living with painters, sculptures, and musicians whilst on her BA, saw the creation of a traveling theatre, for example. This led to moving to Cornwall and living in another type of community, on a small wooden sailing boat in Falmouth during her MA degree.
At this point, she discovered a world of natural colour and became interested in issues around the environment and climate change. In painting, she uses a combination of natural pigments and traditional oil paints. In dyes, she uses local and seasonal plants and is concerned with sustainability and pollution in fashion.
Traveling to South East Asia to learn the art of dyeing with a tribe on the Mekong Delta, and picking up mud to paint with was freeing. It led to a wider exploration around the world in Australia, Spain, India, Laos, France and Morocco for the uses of pigments in these countries and their cultures, revealing stories through geology, history, and people.
‘Art is not something that we make, it is what we do, it is who we are’
Francesca is outside as much as possible, enjoying painting an ever-changing skyline. Her current project began in April this year and is featured in this show. ‘The Colourfields’ is a 2-acre field looking over the UNESCO World Heritage site of Botallack, St Just. Francesca paints and runs courses as the joint owner of the project with her artist-partner. It is a place for, ‘true creative freedom and expression’ where paintings are not made to please but are about the very pure joyous act of making.
The bow-top gypsy wagon, the vintage caravan, the compost loo, and The Horsebox Gallery sit on the land as symbols of freedom and low impact living. They have become symbols for a way of life and deserve to be painted into stories of the landscape; they signify freedom of a way of being and of the spirit of travel. For how can we be creators of truly unique images, thoughts, and ideas if we do not live differently?
Painting directly out in the environment forces us to stop, to notice our surroundings in a deeper way, and then to respond accordingly. Francesca does not intend to create literal depictions; her work is rooted in ‘feeling’, in ‘instinct’ ‘observation’, and in ‘intuition’. Therefore she hopes that an abstracted and powerful image is created that evokes the feeling of that place, of that day, and of that moment. In The Colourfields, paintings can be left outside to weather and be worked on again and again.
To find a ‘great sense of connectedness’ with the natural world.
Painting a story, is about looking more deeply at the landscape, in folklore stories were ways of communicating, of entertaining, and keeping the culture alive, they were unifying. If a story can be found in a painting it goes on to live a life beyond the obvious initial form that we see upon first appearances. Places are rooted in stories, of past times whether real or imagined. As children, we listened to stories, which fueled our imagination, for example.
Years ago before we could read or write stories were passed down through generation, they could tell us something about the seasons, a group of people, animals, etc… They are powerful tools, which we need to fuel our imaginations and to teach us about things in this world and beyond it. Stories can also take us away from reality into a realm of magic where everything is possible.
The pigments Francesca uses each have a unique story to tell about their place, their age, and what they are made up of, and human and animal interactions. That pigment deposits can be up to 350 million years old is truly astonishing. By using pigments from the place that the painting is about, one has to gather, touch, feel its moistness and coarse or smooth textures, and smell the earth. By painting with it, the place lives directly in the painting.
When exploring the wider areas, finding scenes that are off the beaten track is exciting, and Francesca enjoys the spirit of adventure this brings and sets off with a rucksack full of paint and lose canvas strapped to her back. A whole day can pass this way. Like action painting, although works begin by mapping out the scene, soon hands, feet and large loaded brushes are dynamically employed. Layers are built up like this until something shows through, revealing itself in a plethora of colour, brush marks, and texture that hint at a horizon out to sea, for example.
About our being
Francesca is showing you her way of painting and her way of living. It’s a life where creativity is about the very nature of our being, both personal and collective. It is not one of total isolation, fear or disconnection. Francesca believes that in itself art unifies and connects on a deeper level alone than the ability to make an image. It is about considering how: art is not only something we do but more about who we truly are and how we choose to put this out there in the world, in the way that we live.
Hey Francesca! Tell us a few words about yourself. When did you begin doing art and how did you get started?
Tell us about your artwork, medium, style, subject matter, etc.
Francesca: My love for oil paint and its luster will always win out. I’ve looked at pigments for 10years in different countries too around the world including Spain, Morocco, southeast Asia, Australia, and Italy, fascinated by paint I wanted to know what it was made of. My thinking was that if I understood it better I would be able to paint better, I’m not sure if this is true, a good painter is a good painter because they put in the hours of work they need to in order to understand colour, texture, composition and subject matter, etc…
So I returned to using a combination of pigments and oil paint and there are so many different binders and colours to choose from that’s worth spending time finding out which colours and binders you like to use. I like the combination because it helps me to put the place that I am painting about directly into my work.
In the summer months, I paint outside as I love the changing skies and the land and sea around me. I paint directly on location and I think this gives the work more energy and flow. It’s not right for me to paint a landscape in my studio, it’s illogical but I may finish it in my studio or add to it there further down the line.
I like thick, heavy paint and I work quite quickly on the canvas, I use different size brushes, my hands, even my feet and I suppose the paintings are slightly abstract, they don’t intend to be so much concerned with the image, that is the reference, it’s about the feeling and intuition of the place that I’m looking for in that particular time.
I also love story-telling, I paint about stories of love, travel, a sense of the Bohemia in my work, strange figures can appear when I’m painting and I’ll paint these in, I have a bow-top gypsy wagon which I love to study and paint, it’s the romantic notion of past gypsies that inspire me, such as fortune-tellers, living off the land and cooking outside, I try to live outside as much as possible.
You are working outside and in your studio? What are some advantages of working outside? And do you have any rituals that help you get motivated or in “the zone”?
Francesca: When I work outside I have a constant changing landscape to paint from, on a windy day the clouds move so fast or the waves crash against the sea and these provide energy and inspiration. The advantages to working outside of course are that I have lots of space to paint in. When I retreat into my studio it’s to more private and this helps me work from memory and dive into the stories that are etched in my mind. I don’t really have any rituals but I do believe in breaking down the barriers that prevent me from painting and this means making sure I have the paint I need ready to use, either it’s in the van, or at my field or studio but it needs to be there or I feel frustrated…
You are a specialist in pigments and dyes. Tell us more about that.
Francesca: After my degree at The Slade School of Fine Art with Phyllida Barlow RA CBE and Andrew Stahl I completed a residency in Laos and fortunately a local tribesman and woman taught me the basics of natural dyeing. This knowledge fed into my MA degree, I also learned about pigments at this time and how to gather them and make them into paints, this was great as I had no money and was living on a cold damp boat at the time, I could make art cheaply by making my own paints and dyes. Working in this way helped me understand the world better, I learned to recognize plants and different types of earth and soil. I went onto teaching this at schools as a freelancer before running my own three-day courses, taking people to pigment sites and collecting pigments to paint with.
What pigment recipe would you recommend to someone just starting out making their own pigments?
Francesca: There is so much information out there on how to make paint and different recipes but if I was sharing my knowledge with someone I’d say gather your pigment, dry it out and crush it, then add some linseed oil, not too much, think paint is better and then paint onto some board to see what it feels like. Do not worry about formulas and measuring just try to get a paint-like consistency when you first make paint from pigments and that will be enough to start with…
Your art is very unique. What’s the most challenging part of your artistic process? And how do you overcome it?
Francesca: The most challenging part is getting galleries to see the work, there are a lot of artists about and so galleries are overwhelmed with requests from artists these days. Art is not really something I do, it’s how I live, it’s not limited to what I make, it’s the every day steps and decisions I choose in my life that keeps me painting that is important, it’s in my being, and that’s the difference.
What are you working on right now?
Francesca: Right now I am working on story-telling paintings. They are dark, I’m using ochres, blacks, and reds and laying the paint on heavily to create a world where strange figures, gypsy caravans, fairground rides, and gardens feature and I’m really excited about where these paintings are taking me, further into a fantasy world.
What is the best way to reach people that are interested in your art?
Francesca: I do events each year, I have two open studios events from my studio and I have a couple of local galleries that have my work, through my websites and social media
Are there any upcoming shows or workshops we should know about?
Francesca: I have a show in St Ives in April and teaching each month in the summer from my land, ‘the Colourfields’, ‘a place for true creative freedom and expression’ its a 2-acre field overlooking the sea and an ever-changing sky.
I have 3 and 5-day natural pigment and landscape painting courses throughout the summer, painting holidays, and self-guided residential programs where artists can stay in various accommodations and have the use of an indoor and outdoor studio. There is a lot going on and the dates will be up on my websites www.francescaowen.co.uk and www.thecolourfields.com
Do you see your art as serving a purpose beyond art?
Francesca: I’d like to think that my art can serve a purpose beyond the visual but the visual is also important. A good painting should leave you with a good feeling, changed in some positive way. The pigments I use connect us to a place in the art and during my time teaching, artists have said that they find it very moving and empowering to work outside on huge easels with pigments they have gathered and made into paint. It definitely serves a purpose like this and it’s important. I love it when someone really gets my work and sees the point of it, it moves them somehow.
What’s next on the horizon for you?
Francesca: What’s next?… a few planned trips to new places to paint, traveling round to sell paintings is on the cards, and who knows what else…
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