Bobbie Russon’s paintings are charged with the unspoken curiosities of the young girls that they often depict – girls on the brink of becoming adults, appearing sweet and light but with something brewing within – impending independence, the cultivation of a personality, tastes, opinions, thoughts… these children are about to leap into the world of adulthood and appear both vulnerable and brave. The earthy colours and dingy interiors which they inhabit would not be out of place in a Tim Burton book illustration, and a painting such as ‘The Pact’ is so full of character it’s hard not to believe that these characters are not living and breathing. One of the most exciting figurative painters working in the UK today, Bobbie Russon’s new show ‘Soliloquy’ opens at the Bo Lee Gallery at the Clerkenwell Gallery on the 29th October 2013, and goes on until the 3rd November 2013.
‘The Decoy’, 100cm x 120cm, oil on canvas
Lisa: You had a very glamorous sounding art education, having gained your BA from St Martins and an MA from the Royal College of Art. Did you enjoy your time at Art School and what valuable lessons did you learn?
Bobbie: I left Birmingham aged 17 to start my three year B.A. at St Martins, followed by a two year M.A. at the R.C.A. Having this opportunity, pre student fees, now seems like a great privilege, and one I am very grateful for. It gave me invaluable time to develop as an artist and to meet other people with similar passions . The most valuable lesson was that it is okay to try and make a career out of something you love.
‘Transference’, 100cm x 120cm, oil on canvas
Lisa: What compels you to paint girls?
Bobbie: I suppose I use girls in my work, simply because that is what I know. I work quite intuitively, and the imagery and themes come from my own personal experience, feelings and memories, both as an only child to a single mother and as a mother to my two daughters and son.
While I paint from a female perspective, the themes in the work are more generally about being human, and I know that both women and men have found something that speaks to them in the paintings.
Lisa: What reference material do you use for your paintings?
Bobbie: My main source of reference is the ability to allow something from within to emerge as an image in my mind’s eye. I then try to capture that image / feeling on canvas. It inevitably changes and evolves in the process, which is an element of painting I really enjoy, playing with the paint and discovering happy accidents, or manipulating the paint, dripping, blending, using glazes and salivating over colour combinations.
Once I feel I have captured the essence of what I am looking for, sometimes that is enough or sometimes I may use reference from different photographic and observational sources to see how, for example a hand clasps a doll or a cloud formation works. My two daughters often become involved in this process and are quite used to me manipulating them into different poses for some new painting idea.
‘Mother and Child’, 120cm x 150cm, oil on canvas
Lisa: I love the very earthy colours that you use. How do these colours help you to communicate what you wish to communicate in your work?
Bobbie: I have often thought about the earthy colours I use, and why I choose them over bright, vibrant colours. The evocative use of colour can be a powerful way to evoke a certain feeling. The colours I use help me to express something of the way it feels to grow up in here in Britain. From the bleak, muted winter landscape to the grimy city with it’s imposing buildings of deep red brick and variations of grey concrete. At this time of year especially, the quality of light can be beautiful but oppressive. We spend longer confined indoors with the nights drawing in, and become accustomed to the long shadows and the dingy low light creeping through small windows competing with the dirty orange of electric light, not dissimilar to the colours of wartime paintings. I often paint girls confined to these dingy rooms with the light emanating from a small window, hinting at the outside world and all it’s possibilities. In this sense I suppose I use colour and tone as a metaphor.
Lisa: What are your favourite art materials?
Oil paint, for it’s malleability, and intensity of colour. It’s a wonderful material to work with as it can be moved about, glazed over, used diluted and runny or smeared on thickly. I also like to draw with a water soluble pencil or charcoal over tea soaked paper and watch the line bleed into the tea.
Lisa: What or who influences your work?
Bobbie: My own experiences, both as childhood memories and now, as a mother. I like the work of many different artists, from Goya to Grayson Perry, Paul Nash to Paula Rego, but I try not to let their influence get in the way of my own personal journey.
‘Shadow’, 80cm x 80cm, oil on canvas
Lisa: What are the 3 rules behind a successful painting?
Bobbie: There are no rules, if I like a painting, to me, it’s successful. I like work that has feeling, expresses something deeper than decoration or representation, but someone else will love the opposite, both opinions are valid.
Lisa: Where can we see more of your work? (Online or in the flesh)
Bobbie: My solo show ‘Soliloquy’ will be on show at the Clerkenwell Gallery, 20 Clerkenwell Green from 29th October – 3rd November, You can also view the work by appointment at bo.lee gallery in N1 or online at www.bo-lee.co.uk on facebook at Bobbie.Russon.art.page, or on my website bobbierusson.com.
Bobbie in her studio