Exploring Timelessness With Painter Freya Purdue
This week, we catch up with the award winning Freya Purdue, a UK-based oil painter whose work draws from a wide range of sources — from the most obvious classical themes in painting to the subtlety of philosophical and mystical thought.
“From childhood I knew I was going to be an artist,” but it wasn’t until she was 26 that she enrolled in Saint Martin’s School of Art (now Foyles). She then earned an MA at Chelsea School of Art, and was awarded the Cardiff Junior Fellowship in Painting.
“It was the tail end of an era in art schools where students received grants for travel, living, and materials. Anyone who managed to get a place was able to go and focus wholly on study and painting”
Her other grants and awards include the Digswell Arts Fellowship and the Boise and Villers David Travelling Scholarships.
Freya was fortunate to study under some of England’s artistic luminaries, including Gary Wragg, Jennifer Durrant, Albert Herbert, Henry Munday, John Hoyland, Patrick Caulfield, Albert Irvine and John Stessica in her undergraduate years and Ian Stevenson, Roger Ackling, Victor Willing, Paula Rego, and Patrick Heron during her Master’s Degree.
“This is how my story began and I have always felt grateful for those early formative years which were both a great life experience and a period of development, learning and experience in painting which enabled me to develop my own language and approach.”
Our interview with Freya Purdue picks up after those halcyon years and focuses on her career as an artist. And it’s a career that has been unquestionably successful. Along with countless solo exhibitions, she has exhibited with Gimple Fils Gallery London, Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge, Vimonisha Gallery, Madras, L.T.G. New Delhi, Galeria Stara Bwa, Lublin, and Christie’s, London.
Life as a fine artist (or any type of creative for that matter) isn’t often classified as ‘easy’… What’s the journey been like — have there been any memorable highs and lows?
Following my MA at Chelsea, I won the junior fellowship at Cardiff School of Art for a year which was a very rewarding experience. This was followed by a good range of excellent exhibitions, opportunities, and awards over the next few years.
Of course, there were difficulties along the way — mainly to do with earning money for studio and supplies as well as making a living and living life. Lecturing at Chelsea and Hertfordshire University whilst enjoyable but was both demanding and time consuming. I think this combination of difficulties is familiar to many artists.
Promoting artwork was very difficult and expensive before electronic media and it was difficult to exhibit work… due in part to this and in part to a lack of opportunities.
Things are so different today. It’s so easy to publish work online and instantly communicate with people.
It is easy to get more information about galleries and all kinds of exhibition spaces — everything has speeded up including the procurement of material and for me, it makes more time for painting.
You form such vivid details and wonderfully complex juxtaposing shapes. Do you have a general process you follow? How long does it take for you to complete a work?
I have no set formula, I would have to say there is a range of processes I use to start making a new painting after having established the main idea for the work.
I work in response to the nature of the idea.
So that means either drawing directly on the canvas with a brush, or wash on a colour. Sometimes I make a little drawing on paper (but I don’t make sketches) to work out the structure or format, or make monoprints to look at possible colour combinations.
I look for the atmosphere or spirit of the idea as the core of the work begins to form. I often start working on the painting first and then explore the possibilities by doing some visual or cultural research to support the expansion of the visual aspects of painting.
Sometimes an idea can lead to a clear method of making and the painting reaches conclusion relatively fast (2 or 3 weeks, which is fast for me).
As for the time it takes to complete a work, this varies immensely.
Some work is clear from the beginning and it can just be the time it takes to make it.
Some visual decisions can take a long time to percolate before the next stage of development is decided, so the time it takes me to finish a work ranges from a week or two or sometimes up to a year or two.
Do you prefer to work in series rather than on stand-alone pieces? How many artworks do you have in progress at any given time?
I don’t prefer to work in series. I do work on a range of paintings at the same time, but they are not always a series. Most of my work is on standalone pieces with an occasional series when a specific idea needs more than one work to fulfill its potential.
I can have up 20 paintings on the go at any one time, all in different stages of development and this is mainly due to my research process and sometimes and slow visual decision making. I take time to discover the right visual aspects or components.
My artistic decision, coupled with the practicalities and the time consuming aspects of the oil painting process mean my work can take a long time to complete.
You’ve said that when painting you’re “absorbed in the discovery of an energized sense of connection and consciousness”. Has the ever-growing prominence of technology threatened or enhanced that connection?
I think the developments of technology have in many ways speeded up the painting process — it’s so much easier to research visual ideas, to order materials and to promote the work online. These are all big positives!
Painting takes a new place in relation to technology.
In many ways, painting is an old art form that is much challenged in this current digital climate, but there’s still a lot of people making paintings — why is that?
Painting remains still! And it promotes quietness, reflection, and even meditation. It takes the consciousness into a different space. It retains its mystery and although the image of the painting can be communicated online it is always a surprise to see them in the flesh. There’s almost always so much more to the work than the digital image. The true power can only be experienced when standing directly in front of the work in real life.
Usually, I pick a work and ask artists to give me a breakdown behind what they were thinking… but every single one of your artworks is so evocative that I just can’t choose! Is there a trick to building in such a deep sense of fascination in the viewer’s mind?
Each of my works is about attaining clarity in relation to a source idea. As I see it real ideas are living energy and can be translated infinitely.
Ideas are timeless and have been explored by human beings since the very beginning of time, from the very first known human marks right up to today’s creators.
Of course, no one has a prerogative over these ideas so people working in all the arts and sciences are using them everywhere.
This is where each person must find their own identity and creative voice, their own special vision, their unique magic that can be shared with others who may have affinities with the spirit of their work. Every moment is a mystery and is different from the last, so why not take advantage of it and create something new!
For me then, each painting is the expansion of my own voice that builds a connection with who I am and with my fellow human beings, past and present.
Creating magnificent artworks is only one piece of being a successful artist. How have you navigated the more commercial side of the art world? And in particular, do you do any sort of online marketing of your work?
‘The art world’ — whatever that might mean — is an anathema to me and I have never really entered it. The commercial side of things is another world and not one I wish to spend my precious time thinking about.
I like working towards putting on solo exhibitions because it’s a chance to really take in what I have been exploring in one go. It’s also an opportunity to let others catch a glimpse of my vision. Selling work is fine, but it’s not my focus.
I am always keeping my eyes open for venues to show work, but exhibitions take a lot of energy so I don’t want to do too many. I have one at the The Yellow Edge Gallery in Gosport in October and two coming up; one at the Quay Arts near where I live on the Isle of Wight and one at the New Cut in Halesworth. That’s quite enough, I need my quiet time in the studio most of all.
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