Overton artist Arabella Ross
PUBLISHED: 11:16 16 July 2018 | UPDATED: 11:16 16 July 2018
Vibrant and colourful, Overton artist Arabella Ross captures nature in its most vivid form says Sandra Smith
“I’m looking for the best in me, my potential. As an artist I live with doubt but when I leave the studio I can’t wait to get back to it. I am working towards my dream; the more I work, the more it draws you in.”
To converse with Arabella Ross is to absorb her enthusiasm. She is intense yet giving, appreciative of nature and its proclivity to stimulate the senses. Family too, is important.
“I have a very supportive husband. He’s a visionary and a good critic. And one of my friends is 83 and still painting. I look up to her.”
In addition to those close to her, another major influence is time spent in India. Her first trip, an exchange between Brockwood Park School and schools in Bangalore and Benares, proved to be so profound they prompted return journeys.
“In 1992 I was offered a three month residency in an artists’ commune in West Bengal. I drew in charcoal and painted with a great sense of urgency. My Indian coloured collages became part of a recycling process; collected scraps of sari, newsprint, peeling advertisements and incense stick packets from the streets of Calcutta. These fragments represented an essence of the place. I was very inspired by the rural areas; hand painted mud houses, landscapes, people, culture and animals which are an essential part of that way of life. I went back again in 2009 to trek in the Himalayas.”
If you’ve never experienced Asia’s flora and fauna in the flesh, Arabella’s portfolio is a sensual alternative, each image provoking the sights and sounds of exotic destinations via a density of colours which ooze heat, humidity and atmosphere. Macaws, I notice, are particularly popular.
“I’m not sure where they first took root but because of their colour and the sketches I did of parrots from my formative years in India, I’ve always been drawn to them.”
This awareness of “being in nature” drives the 58-year-old’s reinterpretation of animals. Tigers are a common subject, both for their beauty and also the way their stripes may be abstracted; though the finished result isn’t necessarily planned.
“I’ve just started a tiger but whether it becomes more formal or abstracted I can’t say. The painting is in its early stages and paintings evolve. It’s about instinct.”
Tropical destinations aside, Hampshire is also a regular source of creativity. Her working studio is an old, extended, north facing pool house. The building overlooks their swimming pool, a tennis court and cypress trees. From here Arabella walks around sketching and completing colour plans, all the while conscious of avoiding anything too linear.
“Drawing is often a good starting point. I feel an affinity with charcoal because it’s so close to my fingers. I just think some aspect of those drawings will find their way into my paintings.”
I’m not surprised when this Overton artist describes the painting process as energetic. A well of passion bubbles beneath the surface of every comment and the size of her canvases, up to 6’, convey the essence of physicality behind each image. Such dynamism, however, is accompanied by a dichotomy, as Arabella identifies.
“There’s a sense of being able to not be in control, but have control at the same time; it’s a very fine balance. I remember being guided by Eileen Cooper, Keeper of the Royal Academy. She taught me how to draw from my imagination and I’ve never forgotten that.”
Preparing to paint sometimes involves a technique Arabella learned during her BA course: soaking rabbit skin granules until they expand then heating them up before applying two layers onto a canvas, the equivalent of using an acrylic primer. Sometimes fuchsia paint might be the starting point, poured onto a canvas, brushed and left.
“My paintings are about absorbing my landscape and tuning into my imagination. I immerse myself in Hampshire’s lush greenery, trees, rivers, streams, plants and woods which always give me a desire to paint something that speaks of passion for life, looking and colour.”
Whatever her subject, the focus is on creating an image that will impact upon both the viewer and herself.
“I want to surprise myself when I see a picture afresh the next day. It is a great challenge trying to find the right physical expression in paint.”
Meanwhile, given the mental dimension within each painting, how single minded is her output? Are potential buyers a consideration?
“I think about the end market and would like my work to be out there but I am painting very much for myself. When I try to paint for the commercial market it hasn’t really worked because it’s forcing painting into a particular mould and it feels slightly less dynamic and alive.”
However, Arabella is interested in the possibility of commissions and recognises the euphoria behind earning money.
“I would love to be able to sell my work,” she insists, “to be valued for what I have to offer; it’s a two way exchange of energy. Someone buying your work is a huge confidence boost.”
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