Vanessa Garwood: abstraction, reality and imagination

 Vanessa Garwood, Self-portrait

One of our up-&-coming young artists, Vanessa Garwood was trained at the Charles Cecil Studios in Florence. She studied painting and sculpture, and later served a three-month sculpture apprenticeship in South Africa. This awareness of form in the round gives her portraits a plasticity and solidity which are among their great strengths.

 Vanessa Garwood, Silvia

Vanessa has produced conversation pieces as well as portraits; her work also includes nudes, landscapes and subject paintings; and she uses various media, including sculptures in plaster and bronze, and paintings and drawings in oils, charcoal, and pen-&-ink.

 Vanessa Garwood, Brazil 2 

Her landscape paintings evoke the continents she has travelled in – Europe, Africa and South America. They can have an almost abstract cast; in her images of Brazilian forests, for example, this abstraction emphasizes the qualities of intense light and shadow, colour and heat, and the claustrophobic lushness of palms and other foliage seen at close range. 

 Vanessa Garwood, Spain: The edge of the wood

These landscapes are both decorative and violently realistic; they contrast with scenes painted in Europe, such as this one (above) from Spain. Here Garwood employs a softer colouring to convey the local atmospheric light, and a more removed viewpoint; however, the traditional technique of drawing the spectator into a landscape painting by the use of a road or path, which runs from the foreground into the further space of the work, is firmly negated.  We are presented with a wood in which we are stopped by the trees from progressing; we see the internal space receding before us, but are cut off from it, and left in contemplation of this silent place with its untrodden ways.

 Vanessa Garwood, Spain: Trees & shadows

Similarly, in Spain: Trees & shadows, the unfinished area in the foreground blocks our entry, and we can only stand and try to interpret the mysterious spaces of this shadowy wood.

Vanessa Garwood, Red grass

On the other hand, Red grass uses exactly the contrary technique: here the path runs directly before us into the painting in a long withdrawing perspective, and we are only halted by the equally mysterious nude figure which crouches before us in its own meditative trance.

This sense of an otherworldly dimension in Garwood’s paintings  strongly imbues her latest project – a series of subject paintings inspired by stories and fables, which she is remaking in contemporary style; her sources include – amongst others – Aesop’s Fables and Struwwelpeter.

 Vanessa Garwood, The Tailor of Gloucester

One of the most powerfully effective of this series is The Tailor of Gloucester; the subject of Beatrix Potter’s eponymous book. The exhausted tailor has fallen asleep in his workroom, which is hung with a rich variety of fabric and costume. On his lap the unfinished waistcoat is inspected by some thoroughly realistic mice. At once a subject picture and a portrait, this is also an astonishingly decorative still-life painting, in which the fabrics take on – like the foliage of a Brazilian jungle – a strange abstract quality.



About Mark Mitchell

Dealers in 19th-20th Century British and Continental Works of Art
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