Above: ‘Freshly Picked Flowers from the Garden’, by Ann Oram, Mixed Media, 66cm x 101.5cm
From 6th – 19th October 2013, Ann Oram will be exhibiting at Brian Sinfield Gallery in the Cotswolds. The show comprises over 30 works, which features both urban and rural landscape from London and Tuscany, garden studies and flower paintings in an array of different palettes and media. The work celebrates colour, light and texture, through Ann Oram’s sensitive yet expressive approach. I asked Ann a few questions about her work.
Above: Ann Oram in her studio
Lisa: You use a wide variety of different media to make pictures. Can you tell us what materials you like to use, why, and what limitations (if any) you find with each medium?
Ann: The media I use are pretty varied. Having loved John Piper‘s work all my life, I have also used watercolour, gouache, inks, acrylics, chalk pastels and oil and wax crayons. I find it a very forgiving way to work, and gives an endless array of surfaces and finishes. It allows you to layer the work which is the most interesting thing for me. Also it allows you to be quite free with the subject, which I like more and more. I also love working in oil too, as it gives a real solidity to the finish, and very strong colour. This winter, I am going to work with the oil in a freer way than previously, and see where that takes me. As a restriction, I would say that oil tends to tighten up my work a bit… but that’s just me. Other artists can use oil very freely.
Lisa: There is a wonderful sense of harmony in the colours that you use, most apparent in the flower paintings, yet you don’t seem to stick to a specific palette of colours with every painting….how do you select a palette for a painting?
Ann: Well, really I approach each new image with a fresh eye. Particularly with flowers. They tell you what to paint with! Landscape is also quite specific. The West Coast of Scotland is very different in palette to Southern Italy, so it keeps you looking and changing. It’s something I always teach my students to do…use your eyes.
Above: Church in Matera, Basilicata, Mixed Media, 66cm x 66cm
Lisa: Do you predetermine the mood of a painting before you start to paint it?
Ann: Yes, sometimes my head is full of a certain colour. It may be that I have seen some fantastic colour combinations in the garden or on my travels, and makes me determined to paint a red painting or a very blue one, for example. I admire the way John Houston (a Scottish painter who taught me at ECA, who died recently), would paint skies with an arrangement of warm yellows or reds. Or a completely red canvas showing the reflections in a Venetian Canal. His show is about to finish at the Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh.
Lisa: What tools do you use to apply colour to a surface?
Ann: I love very wide brushes for the application of acrylic. The Liquitex brushes have been great for this. Also Swordliners are amazingly responsive brushes for drawing ink, acrylic and oil. And then I have a whole array of acrylic and oil brushes of various sizes to use. Riggers are great for detailed drawing too. Get the best brushes you can afford. That goes for materials also.
Above: Delphinium and Peonies Outside The Studio, Acrylic on canvas, 48.5 x 38 cm
Lisa: Tell us how you go about setting up a still life to paint.
Ann: Still life usually means trying out different fabrics or backdrops, and an array of objects which sit on my studio shelves. Once I am happy with a certain coloured/ textured background, I start to play around jars and boxes and kitchen objects. Flowers or plants are never far away either. Then I look at it from several angles, adjusting the group until I have some kind of harmony within it. It may be that a still life table is set in the middle of the studio, so that I can work from a back or a side view; and sometimes the table is set up against the wall, and cloths pinned up behind the group. A recent still life which is in the Brian Sinfield show, started with an Ikea fleecy throw in a strong orange colour, for the backdrop!! You always work with the view that you are painting something that excites you.
Lisa: Do you always work in front of the subject?
Ann: I work with still life in front of the subject all the time. As for landscape and architectural work, then you really have to gather information in sketchbooks, take colour notes, use photography and generally absorb what’s going on in front of you. I think that it’s not just a visual thing, but also using other senses about what you feel and how you respond to the subject. That’s when you get creative in the studio. You can experiment and try to find a language that describes what is going on in your mind’s eye. Copying a thing slavishly can lead to quite dull work!
Lisa: Many painters avoid pure black in their work – but it looks like you are not one of them? With particular reference to ‘Kitchen, Still Life in Orange‘ (which happens to be my favourite painting in the exhibition!), please tell us how black makes its impact in your work.
Ann: Black is the least used tube in my arsenal! I think you have to be very careful and not to overdo it. Unless of course you set out to work with a mainly black painting- then the rules seem to change for me. My dark tones are usually a mixture browns and purples and blues. Built up in layers.
Above: Kitchen, Still Life in Orange, Mixed media, 166 x 101.5 cm
Lisa: You have been working as an exhibiting artist since 1985 – what would be your word of warning to artists just starting out who are looking for a gallery to exhibit with?
Ann: This is the advice I give to students: Grow a thick skin. It’s so disheartening to get complete indifference from a gallery. But you have to brush yourself down and start with the next one. Someone will take you on at some point. Make sure you like the kind of artist that they show, and that you feel you can fit in with. Galleries are essentially commercial animals too…
Lisa: We’ve also noticed you’re a bit of a tweeter! (or is it twitterer?) Anyway, how important do you think online presence and social media is to promoting yourself as an artist?
Ann: I am very bad at Tweeting and having committed Facebook suicide in recent months I am not sure how to answer this. Everyone says Twitter is the One! And I do know people who do a lot of business that way. As for me, it’s a bit hit or miss. I do wonder if it has any impact at all, as my galleries tend to do a lot of the publicity for my exhibitions. And then I doubt whether the minutiae of my painting life is really of any interest to anyone!! And then there is the time factor…my studio life is very busy.
Lisa: How does teaching affect your work as a painter?
Ann: Teaching is a very enjoyable. If you get a committed group of people that really want to have a go at things, and work hard, then it is a very rewarding occupation. To teach too much is difficult as it takes fantastic amounts of energy. However I have always met great people through my courses and it keeps you on your toes as an artist, and also in touch with people. Painting is a very solitary occupation. Hopefully I will be teaching a course in London next year. Looking for a good meeting place near the Thames if anyone has any suggestions!
Lisa: Where else, online or in the flesh, can we see more of your work?
Ann: My work can be seen on my website at www.annoram.com, and also in the following Galleries: My one woman show with Brian Sinfield Gallery opens this weekend, but Duncan Miller represents me in London, and always has a stock of my paintings available to view. Lemon Street Gallery in Cornwall have work, as does Fraser Gallery in St Andrew’s; and Robin McClure at McClure Art, based in Scotland has a stock of paintings.