From Canterbury to Jerusalem

Alice spoke with author Guy Stagg about his first book.

I first met Guy Stagg quite a few years ago at a drinks party. I had begun with ‘So what are you up to at the moment?’, and to my surprise, the answer, for once, was both unexpected and fascinating.

Guy it turned out, had recently arrived home after walking all the way from Canterbury to Jerusalem, alone.

On hearing this, I cornered the poor man for the rest of the evening, gleaning every detail I could. Just what an amazing thing to have done! There we all were sitting at our desks day in day out in London, justifying our ‘careers’ to ourselves and everyone else, endlessly attending banal drinks parties, or just drinking too much cheap white wine in the pub, and Guy, aged 25 had, instead, decided to make this stupendous trip, and not only that, he had done it alone.

Over the last couple of years I had heard he was writing a book about his walk, and when I got wind it was soon to be published, I decided it was time to get in contact again.

So we met, on one of those abnormally freezing spring mornings, in a Dalston coffee shop, and Guy kindly told me all sorts about his own journey, why he took this pilgrimage and why he decided to write about it.

In June 2012 Guy set out on an impromptu walk from his flat in South West London, with the aim of reaching Canterbury the next day.  He walked in a pair of borrowed hiking boots and his Barbour, and he reached Canterbury Cathedral on the eve of midsummers day, and says, on arrival felt ‘pure exhaustion’.  He said, as he lay in the grass in the shadow of the cathedral bathed in evening sunlight, he felt for the first time in a long time, completely ‘in the present’, the walk had allowed his ‘mind to be cleared out’. 

 Outside Canterbury Cathedral, there is a stone which marks the start of the pilgrim route the ‘Via Francigena’ and on seeing this stone, it was in that moment, that the idea came to him, and he knew that what he would do next.  He knew that he needed to do it soon, to plan quickly and just go, without too much time to think about it.

The part of this that I find amazing is the complete courage, the courage to walk away from your day job, your ‘career’ and to undertake a venture into the unknown, and also to do it completely alone.

Guy studied English at Cambridge, and says at 16 he knew he wanted to be a writer.  After graduating the logical career seemed to be journalism, but the fast-paced journalistic style on the comments desk at a newspaper turned out not to be a path that would make him happy. He says at that time ‘he was not proud of his writing’, indeed writing was actually making him unhappy.  He was for a time on anti-depressants, and was saving money for law-school, with a change of career in mind.

In the spring of 2012 he came off the anti-depressants, and it was at this point that he decided to make the impromptu walk to Canterbury that changed everything.

 Six months later, on new years day 2013, he set out for Jerusalem with the intention of ‘leaving his life behind’. Although he was following a pilgrim route, this wasn’t a religious pilgrimage, at this point Guy ‘wasn’t a believer’ and didn’t believe ‘that ritual could heal’. His only initial deadline was to reach Rome in time for Easter.  He took everything he would need and could carry, planning for the alps in the winter, and far warmer climes further East. He navigated using maps, although of course he did have a phone with him just in case.

On the way he stayed in refuges and monasteries, and started to go to mass, sharing in the worship and practices, mainly out of politeness but also out of an intrigue for these medieval rituals, and the people who performed them, and the desire to know ‘what it felt like to be a believer. ‘

He passed through France, Switzerland, Italy, Albania, Macedonia, Greece, to Istanbul where he witnessed the Taxim Square Riots, and on through Turkey, Cypress and Lebanon, and did take one flight to Jordan and then onto Israel, walking around eight hours every day.  He says he rarely felt nervous mainly because he ‘had no prior experience or danger, and hadn’t thought about the risks’. But his ‘perspective on highs and lows shifted’.

He also hadn’t anticipated just how kind people would be, nor how much they would share about their lives and experiences. He says that perhaps they were prepared to share more with him, as he was just a stranger passing through. And that often the personal information and fundamental experiences being shared had a religious strand - marriage, children – the most important times in peoples lives, which he found ‘nourishing’.

The purpose of this trip was never to write a book, but as he went, he kept a diary every day taking notes, initially mostly functional jottings, but as he went on, he started to capture events more closely as they had a ‘deeper emotional effect’.

On reaching Jerusalem 10 months later, he says he was just ‘so glad to have done the walk and ‘is glad for every step, good and bad’.  He also says he has ‘opened up to being changed’, with a ‘broader shift on his own life’,  and he could identify with his experience in a more ‘holistic way’.

On returning to England, he felt almost obliged to write about his journey ‘I have to write about it’, the unusual historical events he had witnessed, along with his shifting understanding of religion, and this unique perspective he had gained.

And so this incredible experience brought him back to writing, it has been an open-ended process, and it has taken him four years ‘for it to be as good as he can make it’. And he is proud for having worked on something consistently for four years.

We spoke a little about travel writers, and Guy says one of his biggest influences has been W.G Sebald, particularly his ‘Rings of Saturn’ in which Sebald intertwines the precise details of a walk in Suffolk with history, crossing space and time.  Other writing influences have been Bruce Chatwin and his ‘In Patagonia’ and Olivia Laing.

I wanted to ask about his religious beliefs since completing the walk, and Guy said that he now attends church twice a month, and the walk has drawn him closer towards Christian traditions, fundamentally mysticism, although he still doesn’t agree with the creed. For him, religious ritual is a valid resource even for non-believers.

He also says ‘his need for walking’, for the moment ‘has been fulfilled’, although he has been for some walks around England since arriving back from Jersualem.

 His finished book, The Crossway, excitingly is now complete, and I can’t wait to read it.

Alice xxx

Guy Stagg

Talking with Writer Katie De Klee

Alice caught up with freelance journalist and writer Katie de Klee.

Where are you at the moment?

As I write this, I am cruising at 40,000 ft somewhere above Maputo. I suppose by the time I finish all the questions I’ll be nearer Morocco air space, but I guess we’ll see as we go.

I am on my way home to Sussex for a short while. For the last year the longest I have been anywhere is 5 weeks. Between Sussex, Northern India, Bali and South Africa’s Eastern Cape, Western Cape (Jeffrey’s Bay, Muizenberg, Kommetjie, Sea Point, Hogsback, Clan William)… It’s been a quite a nomadic year. So the answer I suppose is – I am all over the place! Writing on a plane seems somehow quite meaningful. My life is a bit up in the air.

What are you up to?

All sorts of things. I am editing a book that tackles conservation in Tchad and shares recipes from a tented safari camps. “Cooking For Conservation” is currently on Kickstarter, and I’m in the process or refining and restructuring the text. I also do copywriting, social media and marketing strategy for South African superfood brand Wazoogles (which is going through a major growth spurt). Plus the odd freelance magazine article, bits of creative writing. And I just did a yoga teacher training, so that’s been taking up some time. And I just started learning to surf. So far the shark evasion is going very well… cutting lines down the waves is proving to be more of a challenge. But the sunrises from the water are amazing.

What are you writing about?

Superfoods and breakfasts, African photographers, London grime poetry, the feeling of cold water on bare skin, rebel mice and what it means to get an architectural education.

Tell us a little about your journey to becoming a freelance journalist and writer?

I started out as a freelance journalist in Cape Town in 2013 when I arrived there. I knew very little about the country, so being in a job that demands you ask questions gave me a chance to find out about SA in a way that tourists (and even locals) never do. I worked for a news agency for a year or so, learnt a lot. But writing news is fairy dark and fairly blunt. So after a while I moved to a youth culture magazine and from there to a design/creativity focused platform, Design Indaba. I was the editor of the Design Indaba web magazine for 2.5 years and then decided to go freelance again. In between all of those things I have written for pregnancy websites, advertising, small business, my brothers, myself, and probably a few things I can’t even remember.

What do you enjoy most about writing?

I like words. And story telling. I’m better at telling other people’s stories than I am my own, so for now being a journalist/copy writer feels like the perfect job. I enjoy the challenge of communicating in an interesting way. I like the mobility of my work. Even when I worked in-house for publications I have always been able to move between my two homes, north and south. And this last year I’ve worked all over the world.

Who / what is your greatest inspiration?

Difficult conversation. I have many, and they change every day. Some of the people I met through Design Indaba were really amazing. They don’t inspire me to join them on their mission, but they do inspire me by having such a sense of purpose. Christian Benimana, Tea Uglow, Naresh Ramchandani. There are more writers that inspire me than I can list… Roald Dahl, Jeanette Winterson, A A Milne, Philip Pullman, Milan Kundera, Ernest Hemingway, Charles Bukowski, Tom Robbins… I could go on…

What has been your best travel adventure?

Too many again! Moving to Cape Town has been a great adventure! Nearly 7 years of adventure. Mexico for 7 weeks while I was at university with a couple of friends. We travelled barefoot, eating mangoes and hitch hiking and feeling totally free and brave. India and Bali last year with my boyfriend Warren was an amazing, more adult adventure. Even the last month in Jeffrey’s Bay was a calm kind of normality shift, which opens up a door for more adventures that are similar. We have some adventures planned for the end of this year too.

What are you reading?

100 pages on the internet always. Quartz articles (actually sometimes just their email newsletter). Purple Hibiscus, Charles Bukowski poems, and some books from my course still - at the moment one called Anatomy of the Spirit. Which is interesting, but slow.

What are you watching?

Peaky Blinders, Chef’s Table, Surfing documentaries (not always my choice, but a hazard of hanging out with frothers. "Surfwise" reminded me a bit of my own mad family though, and the Laird Hamilton film was pretty wild. He’s a kook).

What are you drinking?

Tea. Lots of it, an old addiction from cold Edinburgh flats. Sometimes coffee, always tongue-scaldingly hot. Cold beer. Leonista tequila on ice, slowly.

What are you eating?

Mostly vegetarian food. A lot of smoothie bowls for breakfast (you’ll need to meet Warren to understand, we even started making hot smooth oat bowls in the SA winter). Falafels, homemade seaweed sushi rolls, eggs on toast for dinner.

What are you growing?

We grew sprouts and wheatgrass for a while. But then we ate them all… I “grow” my own kefir (“care for”? “farm”?). I got into mushroom and kelp/nori foraging this year too. So the world grows that for me. I try to grow herbs sometimes too… And otherwise some hardy little succulents.

What are you listening to?

My Discover Weekly. It’s pretty eclectic. Franc Moody, Lambchop, Quantic, Paul Simon, Felix LaBand, Bongeziwe Mabandla

What are you dancing to?

Some of the above. Native Young in Cape Town, Franc Moody in Sussex.

Who are you following on Instagram?

Mostly food and travel people, and my friends. And Baddie Winkle.

Online or Offline?

Both.

Favourite place in South Africa?

Scarborough beach, and the Karoo.

Favourite place in the UK?

Home at Avins. And the Isle of Mull.

Favourite place in the world?

I haven’t finished looking for that yet..

What is your Escape?

Reading, yoga, swimming in the sea. Listening to music. Cooking. Anything is an escape from something else. What’s your cage?

Katie de Klee

[email-subscribers namefield="NO" desc="Please follow us for all updates :-) 💕" group="Public"]

Young British Designers

We caught up with Interior Design student Imy Green, and photographed her in her favourite pieces from Young British Designers current collection.

What are you up to at the moment?

Studying Interior Design at KLC School of Design, London

What is your design dream?

I think there needs to be a huge change in hospital design and I am going to make it my life aim to do this (I know it sounds impossible!)

Favourite designer?

Thomas Heatherwick - he’s just so understated but does such clever designs.

Favourite architect?

Zaha Hadid - I thinks she is amazing!

Favourite place in London?

Tate Britain

Which is your favourite piece from Young British Designers collection?

The Dark Romance Skirt by Kelly Love - so light and floaty but also so comfy!

IMG_3476-1.jpg

Young British Designers

Photos Charlie Knight

Location: Chelsea, London

[email-subscribers namefield="NO" desc="Please follow us for all updates :-) 💕" group="Public"]

Talking with Andrew Hunter Murray

Andrew Hunter Murray gets up to all sorts of marvellous things on a daily basis and makes us laugh a lot. He's a QI Elf, a co-host of the No Such Thing as a Fish podcast, a writer for Private Eye, a correspondent on The Mash Report AND a founding member of the Jane Austen themed improv-show Austentatious. Below he shares some wise words and a few of his favourite things.

What did you study?

I was an English student, which was extremely good practice for what I do now - frantically reading large amounts of information before trying to explain it to other people. Except now I get to make jokes instead of having to explain the themes of The Merry Wives of Windsor, which is just as well for all concerned.

Tell us a little about your journey to becoming a writer, actor and QI elf?

By complete good fortune. I got a bit of work experience at QI just after I left university - someone introduced me to the producer, comedy legend John Lloyd, and I then pestered him until he caved and told me I could work there for a month. I spent four weeks finding things beginning with G (we were working on the G series at the time) and presented him with a dossier on Giraffes, Gemstones and Gambia. We’re now on P and they haven’t rumbled me yet.

What do you love most about your work?

When I was young I desperately wanted to find a career where I could a) read and b) write, and ideally c) make people laugh. I didn’t really think that people got to do this stuff for a living, so I’m pleasantly surprised every day to find out I’m wrong.

How do you prepare prior to going on stage / in front of the camera?

I worry, intensely, about whether the stuff I’ve got is funny enough.

What's the best advice you've ever been given?

For god’s sake, if you’re wearing a suit, make sure the flaps of the pockets are out on both sides. That one’s courtesy of my mother. She did tell me something else, but I’m afraid I’ve forgotten it.

Do you have a favourite Fish fact?

After 200 episodes, it’s basically whatever we’ve done most recently. But I do have a long-held soft spot for anything involving animals on parachutes. So, for example: during the second world war, the first allied combatants to parachute into Normandy on D-Day were a few German Shepherds, who were accompanying the first party of soldiers.

Do you have a favourite Jane Austen book?

I have written and deleted my answer to this one about five times. I go back and forth between Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice. The latter is just an absolute Austen blockbuster with all your favourite hits: Persuasion is like her later prog-rock phase where all the themes are being played with greater maturity, and on weirder instruments.

Do you have a favourite writer (other than Jane!)?

Douglas Adams. And P.G.Wodehouse. And Terry Pratchett. Any of the amazing tradition of British humourists who create new worlds and then spend their lives roaming around them. But then again, if it’s Christmas and I fancy a nice murder, I won’t say no to a P.D.James, as she’s the absolute master of nasty murders by well-drawn characters.

What are you watching?

I’ve just finished Detectorists. The opening premise doesn’t sound like much - two middle-aged blokes walking slowly across a field with metal detectors, talking rubbish - and it slowly unfurls into one of the most beautiful, heartbreaking, brilliantly-drawn sitcoms you’ll ever see.

What are you reading?

I’m flipping between a very weird book of sci-fi short stories called You Should Come With Me Now by M John Harrison, and some Grade A Edith Wharton (The Age of Innocence).

What are you listening to?

The background hum of a washing machine. (A couple of my friends are so cool that they probably listen to bands with names like that. Just to be clear, this is just a washing machine).

What are you drinking?

I’ll have a half of cider, please.

Favourite word?

‘Rumble’, but only when preceded by ‘Let’s get ready to’.

Favourite animal?

My first ever pet, Lilt the hamster (1997-1999). In case you’re wondering, she’s not the answer to any of my security questions for my online banking, so good luck with that one, fraudsters!

Favourite place in London?

The water-gate of George, Duke of Buckingham, which is in the Embankment gardens. I frequently bore anyone unwise enough to walk past with me with stories about it, as my rapidly diminishing number of friends will tell you.

Favourite place in the world?

See above. And one interesting fact about the water-gate of George, Duke of Buckingham, is…no, wait, come back, this is good…

If you could have 3 people to dinner dead, alive or fictional who would they be and why?

I would have Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn and James Stewart, and I would make them re-enact all their scenes from The Philadelphia Story until they got angry and left.

Parallel universe career?

If I can pick absolutely anything, I would like to be doing something very very similar, please.

@andrewhunterm

At the Savoy Theatre, London: Austentatious

The podcast on tour: No Such Thing as a Fish

andrew-hunter-murray-round-one-ttc-image1-lst214874.jpg

Young British Designers + The Natural Swede

Emma Andersson, 28, is from Gothenburg, Sweden and has lived in London for 8 years. She currently works in E-commerce in womens fashion and writes her blog

The Natural Swede

. Her blog focuses on lifestyle, vegan food, travel and fitness, including her training for the London Marathon 2018. Here she wears clothes from

Young British Designers

at Circus West Village.

IMG_1346-1.jpg
IMG_1393-1.jpg
IMG_1707-1.jpg
IMG_1835-1.jpg
IMG_1671-1.jpg
IMG_1603-1.jpg
IMG_1686-1.jpg

Photographs:

Charlie Knight

Black Glitter Great Coat:

Longshaw Ward

; White and Navy Striped Dress: 

Minki London

; Eleni Scarf Dress in Aqua:

Belize

; 'Get Some' Overalls in Black:

Burds

; Bell Sleeved Top in Pure White Cotton:

Teija Eilola

; Celine Lightweight Boxy Jumper in Navy:

Genevieve Sweeney

; Andrea's Old Carpet Tube Skirt:

Simeon Farrar

 - all

Young British Designers.

Lipstick:

NEEK

; Nail polish:

Pacifica

; Shoes and jewellery: Emma's own.

Hair:

Beyond Bronzed

Photographed at

Circus West Village

, Battersea Power Station

[email-subscribers namefield="NO" desc="Please follow us for all updates :-) 💕" group="Public"]

Rebecca Campbell, Artist

Sarah Capes spoke with artist Rebecca Campbell about her work.

Many moons ago, when I was an intern at Dulwich Picture Gallery, the exhibition Ragamala Paintings from India opened.  Since then, I have been fascinated not only by Indian art, but by the way in which it has inspired British artists and collectors since the 18th century. I even had plans to write a PhD on the subject, though that has taken something of a backseat in recent years.I was therefore very excited to meet Rebecca Campbell last week, a British artist whose style and subject matter is heavily influenced by her travels to India. Perusing the works on her website, I was immediately reminded of the Ragamalas. Her paintings possess a charmingly naive quality, focussing largely on animals, birds and plants in landscape settings. And yet, whilst there is this sense of naivety in their format and flatness, the detail in each specific element of her paintings is exquisite. A peacock's feathers, the leaves on a blossoming tree, or an elegantly placed butterfly; her works are characterised by an immensely pleasing harmony where everything seems to have its perfect place.Listening to Rebecca speak about India, it was clear how much of an impact the place has had on her. Having grown up in Ireland, where she was encouraged by her governess to explore the rural surroundings, make sketches and keep a diary of the things she saw, Rebecca’s interest in the natural world started at a young age. She studied History of Art at A-level and recalls particularly enjoying early Italian Renaissance and 17th century Dutch art. All of these early interests are certainly evident in her work. Though perhaps seemingly contradictory, the precision and sharpness of 17th Dutch painting is as present in Rebecca’s work as the primitive simplicity of religious depictions from early 15th century Italy. But it is the addition of her vivid colouring, the exotic landscapes and playful imagery taken from her time in India that makes Rebecca’s works so unique and captivating.Rebecca first travelled to India via Nepal, through to Varanasi and Calcutta, and then explored the south before travelling to New Delhi and Rajasthan. This was in her early twenties, after graduating from City and Guilds with First Class Honours in Illustrative Arts. Rebecca had felt that art school, though enjoyable, had given no indication of just how tough being an artist in London would initially be. She confessed to struggling to define her style at the beginning of her career, which meant that it was difficult for her to gain commissions at first. But she always felt inclined to a more painterly rather than illustrative approach.It was that first visit to India that truly defined Rebecca’s style. The people, the landscape, the architecture, and the array of colours – it is Rebecca’s memories of these things that fill her canvases. She begins by making endless sketches of an idea or a memory until she is ready to turn it into a full-scale painting. I think it is this painting from memory that gives her works an almost surreal quality; they amalgamate various real elements that the artist has experienced and seen, but not necessarily always collectively representing a true scene. Rather, an assortment of animals, birds, buildings and decorations united in a flat, frieze-like vision. Miniature painters in Mughal India would often also do this, particularly in landscapes and architectural paintings, combining real and imaginary elements to make one ideal vision.One of my favourite examples of this in Rebecca’s work is the Charm of Goldfinches. The main focus of the painting is a tree, curiously separated from the rest of the foliage within a fictional garden and enclosed by a decorative wall. There is so much space in the foreground, but somehow it does not feel empty. Looking closer, we can see three goldfinches sitting in the tree, with another flying towards them from the right. The best part of all is the little snail slithering across the foreground; though just one tiny detail, the painting somehow would not be the same without him. As I say, everything has its perfect place. The overall sense is one of a satisfying harmony within an idyllic, dreamlike garden. Another favourite of mine that also achieves this pleasing symmetry is Life at Lodi. The exotic animals, birds and plants are all perfectly situated before a Hindu temple in a surreal, Indian capriccio.Even when Rebecca’s paintings are not directly referencing India in their subject matter, their format often does. This is the case with the Charm of Goldfinches - nothing in the work really specifies a location, but the vibrant colours, the two-dimensional background and the curious addition of the snail in the foreground all recall the somewhat quirky visions of the Moghul painters. The perspective in works such as The Early Bird Catches the Worm is particularly reminiscent of Moghul Miniature paintings and Ragamalas; the curvilinear pathway surrounding the tree that has been pushed to the foreground, for instance, and the disproportionate sizing of the flowers in comparison to the tree, recall the compositional techniques in this type of Indian painting.The impact of that first visit to India for Rebecca cannot be understated and I was fascinated and heartened to hear and see how those influences continue to seep into so much of her work. In no way are her works attempting to recreate or emulate the art of the country, but they capture and offer us a taste of its essence. Their fundamental purpose seems to be to showcase beauty and simplicity in the everyday – to, as Rebecca told me herself, ‘celebrate life and colour and nature’.After her first trip to India, Rebecca had started to paint furniture and murals and was hand-painting items such as trays and waste paper bins for Saks Fifth Avenue. While this was a success, she recalls it being very time-consuming as she was often reluctant to employ help, preferring to work on her own. Rebecca also felt that although these designs were a useful way of showcasing her work and putting her name out there, she had a strong desire to make the painting itself the main focus of her work, not just as a decorative element. Since 2002, Rebecca has been exhibiting at Jonathan Cooper Gallery in Chelsea. It was Cooper who encouraged her to start focusing exclusively on painting in oils; an idea which she welcomed, continuing to work mostly in this medium since then. Rebecca does, however, accept commissions to work on large-scale murals and wall decorations for private clients. Examples of these can be seen on her website and Instagram page, and I highly recommend having a look. The sheer scale and attention to detail in these works is staggering; I was astonished when she told me she had completed one project like this in just three weeks.Rebecca’s most recent trip to India took her to New Delhi, after a couple asked her to make a portrait of their house and gardens there. She has also had similar commissions in France and the UK, producing stunning aerial views of various properties. These images in particular recall 17th century Dutch and English aerial paintings View of Llanerch Park, for instance. Rebecca’s works, however, incorporate the vibrant colouring and compositional devices of the Mughal painters, resulting in much more than a straightforward architectural likeness, but a lively, characterful portrait.Travel remains a hugely important part of Rebecca’s life and artistic practice. Based in South London, Rebecca maintains ties with India, particularly through her work for the charity Elephant Family.  In 2009, she was commissioned by the charity to paint a life-size model of a baby elephant for Elephant Parade, which was among over 200 others placed around London to raise awareness for the charity. The Wildlife Protection Society of India also commissioned another from her, situated in Green Park. They were subsequently sold at auction to raise money for the charities. She also participated in the Fabergé Big Egg Hunt in London, which raised a huge amount of money for Elephant Family. Rebecca painted a beautiful giant egg decorated with flowers and birds, which was situated in St James’s Park.I have always been of the opinion that when it comes to collecting art, you should buy what are drawn to and what you want to live with, not what you think you ought to buy. That is probably why I have a stack of prints piling up at home, all waiting patiently to be framed. For me, the enthrallment of Rebecca's work – that instinctive need to own and be surrounded by such beauty – was a very strong pull indeed. I started imagining every wall at home transformed into a pastoral haven or an exotic garden. Rebecca admitted to living and working in her own little bubble, opposing the lack of beauty in so much of today's art. She said her work makes people smile, which makes her feel lucky to be doing what she is doing.For me, her work is comforting and familiar, in a way that I find difficult to explain. Her work itself is happy, perhaps that is why. It was a pleasure to enter into the little bubble for a while, and to witness the visual manifestations of a mind so full of colourful memories. Rebecca kindly gave me some greeting cards of some of her paintings after our meeting, which, rather selfishly, I shan't be giving away, but which have made their way to the top of my 'to frame' pile.Rebecca’s next solo exhibition will be at Jonathan Cooper Gallery in September 2018.

Rebecca Campbell

Sarah Capes graduated from the University of St Andrews in 2011, where she completed her MA in the History of Art. She went on to The Courtauld to pursue a Masters in Curating that same year. Since then, she has worked in the London art world in various capacities, from museums and auction houses to conservation. For the last three years she has been working for a renowned Mayfair art dealer. Sarah was born in Vienna, grew up in New Zealand, the Caribbean, and the U.K. and now lives in Fulham.

[email-subscribers namefield="NO" desc="Follow us for all updates :-) 💕" group="Public"]

Alicia Gradon, Artist

Sarah Capes spoke with artist Alicia Gradon about her recent residency at Kingsbrae Gardens in Canada.

Last week I met with artist and writer Alicia Gradon. Alicia and her work have featured on the blog in the past, but I wanted to focus specifically on her experiences during her recent residency in July at Kingsbrae Garden, St Andrews by-the-sea, New Brunswick in Canada. Hearing Alicia speak about Kingsbrae was like listening to someone describing a botanical oasis; an expanse of perfectly manicured flora designed specifically to inspire and encourage artists, sculptors and all crafts. It conjured the idea of a horticultural Gesamtkunstwerk, where everything in the garden is itself a work of art and in turn compels artists to create, resulting in one enormous and constantly evolving artwork.This seems to have provided the ideal environment for Alicia, whose hyper-realistic drawings are a result of her observations of nature in an attempt to engage the viewer with the world around them. Interestingly, however, Alicia’s work prior to the residency focused largely on taking these observations and making them fantastical, with the aim of intermingling the real and the imaginary. Alicia’s work often evolves from her writings, which themselves centre on imaginary creatures, plants, and far-off lands. During the residency, however, Alicia began to recognise that elements of fantasy can exist in the real. The garden exuded to her a magical quality in its variety of flowers, trees and birds; but everything contained within it was, of course, real and tangible.After discussing her work with other artists carrying out their residencies there, Alicia decided to strip back the fantasy and use her surroundings as they are, to create visual manifestations of nature, that would in turn, force the viewer to reconnect and examine in detail elements from nature that they might be taking for granted. As a lover of early botanical illustrations and 17th century Dutch still lifes, I often question what it is that makes these sorts of observations so alluring. Why not go outside and look at the real thing? Talking with Alicia and looking at her drawings made me realise that the translation of the natural world into a two-dimensional image somehow offers more than doing that; it offers the chance to admire both the artist’s skill and the beauty of the object itself. What is impressive about Alicia’s work is that she renders this beauty entirely without colour. Her drawings are always in black and white. Alicia reflected that although beautiful and ethereal, colour can be a distraction and that by stripping it away, the viewer is able to focus purely on the form and structure of the subject.The birds that she draws are vividly coloured in reality – bright red cardinals and ‘electric’ blue blue jays – yet what Alicia presents us with are the intricacies of those creatures laid bare; their purest, most fundamental structures. This monochromatic approach is certainly effective. Alicia recalls a fellow artist during the residency observing her drawings of a cardinal and thanking Alicia for reminding her of a beauty that she had forgotten.Given the fickle and competitive nature of the contemporary art world, where many seek to achieve new heights by aiming to shock, it was refreshing to learn that there are still artists and initiatives that strongly centre on the idea of going ‘back to nature’. Hearing about Kingsbrae reminded me of the artists’ colonies that began appearing across Europe in the late 19th century. As urbanisation took hold of many cities and their surroundings during this time, artists began to seek inspiration from areas relatively untouched by modern culture. They were attracted to certain areas because of the specific light, the slower pace of the local life and the beauty of the landscape. Equally as important as the surroundings, however, was the intermingling of artists sharing their thoughts, theories and views on aesthetics. Van Gogh famously dreamt of starting his own colony in Arles, where this sort of philosophising and creativity could take place to create what he imagined would be ground breaking works of art. Though his dream was never realised, famous examples of such circles include the Barbizon School in France, where Rousseau and Millet featured; St Ives in Cornwall, where Hepworth worked; and Kirkudbright in Dumfires – a longstanding centre for the Glasgow school. Part of the reason that Van Gogh’s idea failed was because he was working with artists like Gauguin, who did not appreciate criticism and strove for autonomy rather than mutual creativity. But the opportunity to share thoughts, advise and inspire other artists is what is often so crucial in the development of an artist’s oeuvre.Alicia shared Kingsbrae with four other artists – out of over 100 applicants from across the globe – each working in different media, from rug hooking to photography. They were all older than her and further along in their careers, but through her conversations with them she learned that even though she was abandoning the fantastical element that has always defined her work, the drawings she produced during the residency still very much had her own ‘filter’ applied. Each angle, each line, each shade; the way in which an object is observed, is still so reminiscent of her typical work. Alicia’s work is, essentially, always ‘real’; even when she sets her drawings in fictional scenes or creates hybrid plants and creatures, each element of those inventions and amalgamations come from nature. Yet by deciding to return to the pure, fundamental root from which her creations grow, Alicia’s observations acquire a certain rawness, offering a completely organic result.Each weekend at Kingsbrae, the artists opened their studios to the public for five hours. This offered the opportunity for tourists, locals and other artists to visit and see a working artist’s studio. Although the area is certainly a tourist destination, Alicia describes it primarily as a hub for arts and crafts and mentioned the feel of an artists’ colony about it. She met an extraordinary variety of people, including local permanent artist in residence Geoff Slater, known for his large-scale paintings made with one continuous line. Geoff was also one of the ten panel members that decided on the final five artists for the residency, which, incidentally, was in its inaugural summer. Alicia told me that the attitude of everyone she encountered, particularly the locals, had an extremely positive and encouraging outlook regarding her work and her development as an artist, and that of other young artists working in the area. This sort of attitude was understandably refreshing, coming from London, where it can be incredibly difficult to get a foot in the door for aspiring young artists. The residency presented a variety of opportunities to Alicia; partly due to the people she encountered being so willing to want to help propel her art into the wider world. The residency has compelled her to apply for other residencies in Canada, the USA and Japan. Alicia also met other artists and writers in St Andrews keen to collaborate with her.Kingsbrae Gardens was opened in 1998, having been founded by local couple John and Lucinda Flemer. The garden is based around the family’s old estate, where Mrs Flemer still lives. Set in 27 acres, Mrs Flemer’s creation has become both a tourist highlight and a treasured sanctuary for locals. Most importantly, perhaps, is the array of career and training opportunities that the garden offers. When the garden opened, St Andrews was an area hit by the falling employment rates that plagued the nineties. But with the garden came work possibilities for artists, sculptors, gardeners, chefs, and many more. Alicia described Mrs Flemer as an extremely enthusiastic lover of art, keen to bring in artists from all over the world to share in the experience of Kingsbrae. I imagine her as an almost matriarchal figure, encouraging, supporting and caring for all those that enter the garden walls.Alicia hopes that Kingsbrae will continue to offer residencies after the success of her time there. The impact the experience had on her work and writing has been significant; something that would not necessarily have occurred otherwise. She spoke of having an enormous sense of how precious her time was there that month; she would begin working at 10am and continue into the early hours of the next morning – something she is not able to do in London due to a variety of distractions and obligations. Being surrounded by other artists and people with a similar mind-set was also unique to the experience and certainly affected her practice, causing her to reflect on and revaluate how her work is perceived.Meeting with Alicia and talking with her was like engaging with a stream of consciousness; everything she said about art and our perception of it flicked a little switch in my mind that got me thinking about a whole array of other theories and questions. What was perhaps most clear throughout, however, was how inseparable Alicia’s art is from her very being. She carries it around with her at all times – metaphorically speaking – and talks about art as if it is something she has never and could never be without. She is not compelled by the commercial potentials that being an artist might glean; she went to Kingsbrae to explore her own practice, to be inspired and challenged by her surroundings, and to produce, as I hope you will agree below, some truly magnificent works of art.Sarah Capes graduated from the University of St Andrews in 2011, where she completed her MA in the History of Art. She went on to The Courtauld to pursue a Masters in Curating that same year. Since then, she has worked in the London art world in various capacities, from museums and auction houses to conservation. For the last three years she has been working for a renowned Mayfair art dealer. Sarah was born in Vienna, grew up in New Zealand, the Caribbean, and the U.K. and now lives in Fulham.

Alicia Gradon