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Winchester artist Jenny Muncaster on creating eye-catching art and having Raymond Blanc as a fan

PUBLISHED: 12:23 19 August 2014 | UPDATED: 12:23 19 August 2014

Jenny Muncaster - photo by James Newell

Jenny Muncaster - photo by James Newell

© 2011 James Newell, all rights reserved

Jenny Muncaster uses her love of food to create eye-catching and mouth-watering art - and Raymond Blanc is a fan

For those who have preconceptions about Still Life art – staid, oppressive, essentially Victorian in its proclivity for dullness – now is the time to set aside such bias. Inanimate objects are, of course, lifeless. Yet when an artist determines to embrace the essence of an object and celebrate the role it once had or continues to play, then there is every opportunity to infuse soul, no matter what the item.

Talking to Jenny Muncaster I soon sense why she is in a commanding position to capture this genre. The Winchester artist’s work not only reflects her effervescent personality, but also her fondness for conveying a story via the liveliness of her canvas along with those eye catching tones she favours.

“As a child I remember my excitement at opening a new box of coloured pencils,” she enthuses. “I love the pure pleasure of putting colour onto a piece of paper, seeing what a crayon or paintbrush does. It’s almost a physical thing, identifying their potential.”

That Jenny is self-proclaimed food fanatic which explains why she went on to achieve two of her greatest and most public successes: commissions for Winchester’s Hotel Du Vin when it first opened and, more recently, her association with one of the country’s most respected chefs.

“I like following food from source to plate. It was exciting having a boutique style hotel in town and co-founder Robin Hutson was passionate about art. He commissioned menu designs and wine cover artwork to start with, but I wanted to focus on menu topics. It was almost like being an artist in residence.”

Inspired by food art, Jenny created ideas for Raymond Blanc during a revamp of one of his restaurants. “Raymond would send me his recipes and I’d paint the ingredients. I have now completed 100 pieces which are displayed in his brasseries around the country.”

Raymond says: “Jenny’s art adds colour and life and charm. She cleverly creates wonderful artistic reflections of our menus that our customers adore.”

The style of this talented artist, whose childhood ambition was to be a Blue Peter presenter, is echoed in her small studio, an old Park Keeper’s House, which forms the hub of her business. Boards containing inspirational images are dotted around with hundreds of brushes plus endless tubes of paint covering surfaces.

The studio is just across the road from her home where there is also a large workshop in her garden.

Creativity and discipline may not be natural bedfellows though Jenny appreciates the need to be focused.

“I start work at 9am. As the day goes on, I get more immersed. I can’t have a conversation while I’m painting, I need to get my head in the zone of what I’m trying to achieve. Then I forget the time completely. My day usually finishes around 6 or 7 o’clock.”

Each piece, whether a commission or something Jenny wants to paint for herself personal is first charcoal sketched onto paper. This is a rapid process to keep the piece lively and quick, and develop a sense of scale, a physical process in which she explores materials to discover their potential.

“I have to put time in for myself, and sometimes that means saying ‘no’ to other people,” she explains.

Jenny has clearly blossomed in Winchester, a city she first discovered when she decided to study at Winchester School of Art.

“I fell in love with the place and wanted to live here,” she says. She completed a degree in Printed Textiles but spent much of her time “flitting between areas - this was key to the way I worked.”

Tapping into what came naturally laid the foundation for her livelihood. She had already learnt good drawing skills and now revelled in café society life.

At the end of her course, jobs in antique shops and bars provided the opportunity to pay off debts. But limiting her time for art to the evenings was a balance that she soon realised could not continue.

“I had a desire to make a career out of art so I worked on a portfolio of ideas and contacted publishers, card and gift companies, illustration agents and galleries. I started putting together work for exhibitions. That built up my profile.”

Taking on her own studio was a further step but it was in 1994 that she collaborated with another artist to set up The Colour Factory. This move allowed her to project a more public image as the studio includes a small shop. It is a commercial leaning that enabled her to sell drawings for reproduction onto giftware, leaving her the space to explore her own path as an artist.

These days teaching has become a rewarding component of Jenny’s profession. She runs workshops not only in her Winchester studio, but throughout the UK. Her exuberance for imparting knowledge lies at the core of her relationship with her students.

“Sharing my passion for art with an audience is really enjoyable whether it be through workshops or video projects. I am currently in the middle of filming a short programme showing how easy it is to start creating art. I demonstrate a whole array of professional artists’ materials and share some of my trade secrets. It’s all really good fun but definitely not too serious - more Jamie Oliver than Melvyn Bragg. I’d love to do more film work and even some TV if the opportunity arose.”

Canvas and gesso board remain her favourite surfaces, the latter’s eggshell finish radiating a glossy feel. But whichever her choice, she is adamant that a blank canvas is too scary for anyone hence she “messes it up” at the outset. Acrylics provide immediacy which makes her paint with speed and spontaneity. She sometimes uses a hairdryer to hasten the drying process and enjoys exploring three dimensional techniques.

“Techniques come to me while I’m working, when I’m immersed in a subject, sometimes through the power of accident. You have to be open to messing something up in order to move on.”

And that is a mindset she applies not just to individual pieces, but to her calling, too.

“Every few years you have to put yourself in a challenging position, maybe through a commission that is out of your comfort zone; or perhaps the subject, materials or size. I’m always striving for the next thing.”

Jenny’s fervour is projected in her many colourful images. She continues to be inspired by her environment and an ongoing commitment to her career and interaction with people fuel her work ethic.

“I have to pinch myself sometimes,” she laughs, “I’m lucky but I’ve worked hard to make that happen. I have worked with great people and been given lovely commissions.”

And I predict that commissions and presenting opportunities will continue to multiply for this prolific artist. Enthusiasm, talent, contacts – she possesses them all in abundance.

The next time you’re dining out, look at the artwork. If you spot a lively canvas of food that oozes a magical mix of charm and naivety, it’s probably Jenny’s.

To book one of Jenny’s workshops go to www.jennymuncaster.co.uk

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Read on

Chef Raymond Blanc on Hampshire produce, local foodies and his new restaurants

Artist profile: Basingstoke’s Kev Munday

War artist Sandra Smith on the inspiration for her work

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