Having recently returned from the USA where she completed a two year Masters Degree at the New York Academy Of Art, Tessa is back at home in her Somerset Studio where she took some time out to talk to us about her painting life..
I’ve drawn and painted all my life. My more formal artistic education started in my mid thirties at Heatherleys and has carried on in fits and starts ever since, most recently with two years spent in New York doing a Masters degree in Fine Art at the New York Academy of Art. Along the way I’ve variously done a degree in Pure Mathematics, worked at a variety of jobs from the menial: waitressing, to the cerebral: Japanese Fund Management, and bought up four children: both of the above and always emotional.
Drawing is critical to my working process and is how I explore my ideas and develop my compositions. The structural and formal qualities of the image I’m developing are important to me, and a lot of the work is done in my head and on paper before I pick up my brushes. When I’ve decided a colour and tonal palette depending on what qualities I’m trying to emphasize in the composition, I’ll start painting. This is usually the best moment where anything is possible, but once I take the plunge options start to close down. I liken the messy and unscientific painting process to sculpting in shape and colour: endlessly kneading tone, shape and colour, responding to the picture as it takes shape, until things come together and the parts add up to an arresting whole. The all too elusive goal is for the finished painting to stop you in your tracks and ‘make one see the world anew’. I forget who originally said that but it’s a good place to aim for. If it works as a window and as a wall, ie. as paint and illusion at the same time that’s good too!
A recently completed work A Room of One’s Own gives you some idea of how I go about developing a composition. The idea was sparked by a small black and white photograph I came across of a rather elegant self-contained woman in a large floppy hat. She struck me as a dead ringer for my idea of Mrs Dalloway so I used her to populate a painting about Virginia Woolf’s books. I included a still life set up in the foreground that contained references to her books, a Charleston style screen that I made up, and spent a while shunting around the various elements in the picture to produce an interesting composition that included the suggestion of an open door in the background to allude to Woolf’s book 'A Room of One's Own'. I started painting on a ground of several different colours, and left quite a lot of it still visible in the final painting.
Another work I've painted since returning from New York that also involved collaging different elements together is Eggardon Hill. The landscape in the painting was made from drawings done perched on a hillside down in South Dorset, whilst most of the foreground elements came from painting in my garden and drawing seed heads in a nearby field. I wanted to capture the sense of walking through the landscape with space receding in all directions, ie. along the picture plane as well as directly from the front to the back of the painting. The vertiginous and unexpected perspectives I experienced whilst living in New York over the last two years led to a MA thesis paper that investigated perspectival systems and how to deal with spatial issues in new ways in my painting."
A Room Of One's Own and Eggardon Hill are both on view in the Gallery pages