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Meeting Portsmouth artist Louise Braithwaite

PUBLISHED: 11:00 29 June 2015 | UPDATED: 11:00 29 June 2015


Viewing Portsmouth born artist Louise Braithwaite’s work is akin to re-living the jolliest days of your childhood says Sandra Smith after a recent introduction

Wimbledon tennis during match playWimbledon tennis during match play

That art is celebrated as a fundamental and valued ingredient of society is a given. Its various forms entertain, question and inform, an emerging combination of media providing opportunities for artists to not only share their skills at a sensory level but communicate opinions via that same talent.

Despite such flexibility, however, art is still perceived by some as inaccessible if not intimidating. This attitude may, of course, be driven by a lack of knowledge which, in turn, feeds doubt. Yet for others art remains an intellectual pursuit, a cultural parallel universe more private club than open mic, and therefore available to only a privileged few.

But let me invite you to explore the world of Louise Braithwaite. Easy to talk to and with a lightness of humour as bright as her paintings, the individual approach of this Portsmouth born artist cannot fail to encourage everyone, no matter their artistic knowledge, to embrace art.

“Paintings evoke an emotion,” she shares. “Mine make you smile and it’s quite difficult to be pompous about something that makes you smile. My art isn’t intimidating. I go out of my way to make people feel comfortable, and my art is like that too.”

Describing her style as naive, the unique portrayal of each scene, be it a town centre, tennis court or beach, overflows with people, activity and colour. Her work has been described as ‘Happy Lowry’ yet although there is some similarity in concept - Louise’s subjects are more vibrant, more precise and more approachable than those depicted in Manchester’s industrial scenes. Indeed, viewing her work is akin to re-living the jolliest days of your childhood.

On lengthier scrutiny, I also observe a strong sense of symmetry and balance which I suspect is a nod to her graphic design background.

“If you look at how my characters are on the page, they rarely cut so it’s almost like a pattern. One person’s arm won’t quite touch another and a head will fit between others. I’m very weighted - I can feel if it’s right or wrong.”

After completing a Foundation course in Portsmouth Louise attended the London College of Printing, studying Media and Production Design, a course intended to provide the stability of a trade. A sensible precaution yet one hardly needed.

Winchester's Hambledon boutique is depictedWinchester's Hambledon boutique is depicted

Her mother’s obsession for oils, having long been flouted, finally filtered through. An early image - a painting of a single figure with a white dog – when taken to an art gallery for framing was met with four momentum as she recognised the tendency for people to respond when a scene is recognisable or has meaning.

Oils were favoured from the beginning though continue to be used without dilution. First, each image is sketched in pencil before the artist embarks on a methodical, three stage process.

“I start with the flesh colour of the people then dress them in a specific order. That’s stage one using a small paintbrush. Then I put in all the background. That’s done with a pallet knife. This second stage destroys some of the people but in the last stage I go back over and put in details and shadows. I usually have four or five paintings on the go at once.”

Such a methodical approach is accompanied by a rigid formula, making her work easy to adapt when taking on commissions which include people’s homes and even weddings.

“There are a lot of specific people at weddings so I have to make sure aunts are wearing the right clothes, but I can still introduce characters doing quirky things,” she smiles confirming my hunch that the opportunity to introduce humour is one of in the last stage I go back over and put in details and shadows. I usually have four or five paintings on the go at once.”

Such a methodical approach is accompanied by a rigid formula making her work easy to adapt when taking on commissions which include people’s homes and even weddings.

“There are a lot of specific people at weddings so I have to make sure aunts are wearing the right clothes, but I can still introduce characters doing quirky things,” she smiles confirming my hunch that the opportunity to introduce humour is one of Louise’s driving forces.

Getting to know the clients first is a crucial part of the commissioning process so Louise spends time with them in order to familiarise herself with their characters and what they are hoping to capture in a one off painting - which will provide a sentimental souvenir of a memorable event or place.

A country house party in full swingA country house party in full swing

Louise works accompanied by Radio 4 in a studio above her garage which is more Homes & Gardens than the bohemian space for which she has always pined. Still, it’s a far cry from her early career when, at one of her early arts fairs, she gratefully sold 40 paintings, this success providing sufficient money to bridge the gap between house buying.

Since then Louise has barely needed to promote herself, taking on commissions, growing her portfolio and producing her own cards – “It’s very self promoting to get your images out there.”

Despite the 47 year-old’s dislike of “talking money,” she is uncompromisingly businesslike in her approach to pricing because she “doesn’t undervalue things.” This unshakeable confidence, she suspects, is a result of childhood influences.

“I was one of five children and the last by 14 years so I had a lot of one to one attention from my parents. Mum was not confident or sociable but she was flamboyant - I still remember her purple carpet and purple wallpaper with peacocks. She was very encouraging and put all her energy into me. A lot of artists don’t want to stand next to their art but I believe in myself. I’m self confident as a person. It doesn’t cross my mind to be negative.”

Instinctive as this attitude is, I suggest it is also an essential mindset for someone committed to this genre. For popular as her paintings are, they depict a deceptive simplicity born from apparent effortlessness which readily provokes accusations of being undeserved of any notion of being taken seriously. Louise is aware how easily her skill could be demoted, as she explains: “If you spoke to an art critic they probably wouldn’t take my style seriously. But art is weird. I see things that sell that I seriously wouldn’t have in my house! And there are lots of samey things. My paintings are different. You don’t have to be an art critic to enjoy them, they are accessible. Art is pushing a boundary. I’m not trying to take the art world by storm, my art is just me.”

It is this unaffected approach which is her work’s selling point. For every image is uplifting. There’s an aura of joy pervading throughout, from individual expressions to engaging bonhomie, evoking a world as uncomplicated as it is trouble free where pleasure and entertainment are encapsulated in minute detail.

Whether her characters are apple picking, playing on the beach or ballroom dancing, each is eagerly engaged in the moment. And perhaps that is the essence of the appeal. For these pictures are in the present tense, the jazz hands of the art world making viewers the fortunate beneficiaries of Louise Braithwaite’s sparkling attitude to life and art.

Studland beach on a summer's dayStudland beach on a summer's day

Find out more about Louise at www.louisebraithwaite.co.uk


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