John Piper’s Brighton Aquatints

John Piper – ‘Regency Square from the West Pier’, plate III, circa 1939
John Piper – ‘Regency Square from the West Pier’, plate III, circa 1939

John Piper was one of the leading artists of the 20th century Modern British Art Movement. He worked in the abstract, romantic and classical traditions as a painter, ceramicist, writer, designer and printmaker. Piper’s 1939 illustrations for the book ‘Brighton Aquatints’, have been credited with the revival of the aquatint as a 20th century print medium in Britain.

The book consist of twelve aquatints of Brighton. Two hundred standard copies were printed and a further fifty-five copies were hand-coloured by the artist. The prints were not signed, although Piper did sign and dedicate some copies of the book. The illustrations were printed by the two Alexander brothers who had a basement workshop in Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, London. The watermarks which appear in the paper are irregularly placed and are styled as a hand raised in blessing, a head, said to be that of Christ, and the date 1399.

The process of creating an aquatint involves exposing a plate, usually of copper or zinc, to acid through an applied layer of granulated, melted resin. The acid incises the plate between the granules creating areas of evenly pitted surface. This can be varied by applying additional resin, scraping and burnishing. Different strengths of acids are also employed. When the grains are removed and the plate is printed it results in variations of tone. The effect often resembles watercolours and wash drawings, hence the name Aquatint.

Rooted in the English tradition John Piper’s work often relates to a place, be that a landscape or a building. Piper brings a particular quality of engagement to his subjects. He captures the poetic, his emotional response and thoughts, as well as the essence of the physical reality. These themes and responses belong to the English Romantic tradition. Piper seeks to look beyond what is immediately apparent; to what the artist Paul Nash referred to as the ‘genius loci’, the spirit of the place, ‘a reality more real’.

John Piper - ‘The Royal Pavilion’, plate II, circa 1939
John Piper - ‘The Royal Pavilion’, plate II, circa 1939

John Piper’s ‘Brighton Aquatints’ combine technical innovation with exceptional draughtsmanship, complexity and detail. They are accompanied by a very personal introduction by Lord Alfred Douglas and notes to each image by the artist.

This ‘Piperesque’ view of Brighton re-acquaints us with the familiar. I was in Brighton last week as a sea fret rolled in causing the Brighton Pavilion to shimmer in the bright spring sunlight. The scene was reminiscent of Piper’s view of the ‘The Royal Pavilion’ which remains remarkably unchanged from his 1939 aquatint. In his notes Piper describes the building’s extravagant beauty and the great affection in which it is held.

The Royal Pavilion, Brighton in the spring sun light
The Royal Pavilion, Brighton in the spring sun light

In ‘Regency Square from the West Pier’ we are reminded of a view now lost to us. John Piper describes how the pier appears like a ‘dazzling white meringue, brittle and sweet…florid and grand as anywhere.’ Regency Square is laid out on a gentle slope in the view beyond.

In both these aquatint prints the use of acid at different stages in the process has created the texture of the grass and background. Stopping out varnish repeatedly applied has been used to create the waves and skies.

John Piper wrote quoting Constable ‘Painting is with me but another word for feeling…’ Piper’s ability to use landscapes and buildings as a focus for his emotions has the effect of gifting the world with, what has been described as, ‘a human sensibility’. These qualities are apparent in ‘Brighton Aquatints’. His work gives an extraordinary articulation of the English vision and spirit.

John Piper’s ‘Brighton Aquatints’ rarely comes to the market and so it is with some excitement that I am looking forward to Toovey’s specialist Book sale on Tuesday 21st April, in which a copy, signed by the artist, will be auctioned with a pre-sale estimate of £2000-3000. (View the lot here)

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 15th April 2015 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Life as Art: Olivia Ferrier

Olivia Ferrier detail of 'Soldier Crow'
Detail of 'Soldier Crow', bronze, produced in an edition of 9, by Olivia Ferrier

Many artists invest their work with autobiographical elements; this becomes the artist’s voice that unites their body of work. Olivia Ferrier is an award-winning Brighton-based sculptor working predominantly in bronze. She draws on her own experiences travelling and living around the world to create her work. Nicholas Toovey tells us more

Olivia Ferrier: 'Horse Head', bronze on a reclaimed Sussex sea groin, produced in an edition of 9
'Horse Head' by Olivia Ferrier
Olivia Ferrier: 'Dryad', bronze, produced in an edition of 9
'Dryad' by Olivia Ferrier
Olivia Ferrier: 'Three Crows on a pair of gates', Bronze with gold plate on a teak and iron gate, unique
'Three Crows on a pair of gates' by Olivia Ferrier

Olivia grew up near Powys, Mid Wales. Her professional artistic career started with a Foundation course at Northbrook College, Worthing, followed by a three-year BA (hons) degree in Ceramics from Bath Spa University. A three month residency in India followed at the Sanskrit Kendra where she first was introduced to foundries and casting. During her three years in Australia she began to seriously exhibit and sell her work. A change in circumstances meant that in 2006 she decided to return to Britain and after a summer studying at the Florence sculpture academy she moved back to Wales. On her return she was still interested and curious about metal casting and worked for a local foundry ‘Castle Fine Arts’. The encouraging staff not only educated her but provided her the freedom to experiment out of hours on her own work, gaining techniques in casting, mould-making and patination (a tarnish that forms on the bronze to create various finishes).

In 2008 Olivia decided to move to Brighton, her brother and sister had lived there when she was younger but her siblings had since moved on. Knowing the town she was drawn to the sea and the creative air of the town. Instantly feeling at home in Sussex, Olivia cannot understand why anybody wouldn’t want to live in Brighton, she quips the weather is better in Brighton than in Wales too. Does Sussex inspire her? Olivia is inspired by everything, her eye often catches an otherwise disregarded object or source for a new idea, she purchased pieces of the collapsing West Pier which she hopes to turn into something at a later date. A work in progress is a bronze parrot that will finally be covered in bright spray paints inspired by the graffiti in Brighton’s North Laine. Her work is inspired by her travels and her attention to details that others may not see.

The majority of her work is still cast at ‘Castle Fine Arts’, combining creating the bronzes with visits to her family in Wales. Olivia’s work is chiefly based around figures and animals (predominantly birds) cast in bronze using a lost-wax casting technique in small editions. This allows her to incorporate found or sourced objects into her sculptures, such as feathers, flowers and other textural items. These forms are often skeletal-like as the artist wishes to capture the essence of the animal or bird. ‘Horse Head’, for example, uses castings of tack including a horseshoe to create the finished sculpture. ‘Soldier Crow’ incorporated castings of small army figures and a toy tank to create the overall bird form symbolising the premature loss of life through conflict. Crows are a recurring source of inspiration for the artist, a bird often associated with bad omens in the Western World. Inspired by her travels in India, particularly the holy city of Varanasi, which she describes as a “melting pot where death and life come together”. Her experiences here, created a different and more hopeful attitude towards mortality contrary to the European views of the subject “I have been inspired by the spirituality in India and the belief in the cycle of life, death, life”. These sculptures could be viewed as strange and macabre or, fragile and beautiful; to quote Aristotle “The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance”.

The sculptor, Olivia Ferrier

As an artist, her work is undoubtedly autobiographical, investing each piece with parts of her life, including her family, travels, reactions, feelings and histories expressed through shapes, forms and symbols. Olivia became a mother for the first time last year and her work will develop in excitingly different ways as a result. Since moving to Brighton her sculpture has been increasingly well-received gaining Olivia the Alec Trianti Special Sculpture Award, Falle Fine Art Award and the Art London Award reinforcing her status as a sculptor of note.

Olivia will be exhibiting new works in a group show with six other Sussex artists at The Gallery, Cork Street, London, between the 31st April and 5th May. Her work can also often be found at Will’s Art Warehouse in Putney, and at The Sculpture Park in Surrey.

For more visit www.oliviaferrier.com

Nicholas’ article was originally published in Sussex Life magazine in April 2012.

Click on an image below to enlarge

Consumed by Art: Jim Sanders

04 Shrines in the artist's kitchen
Shrines by Jim Sanders in the artist's kitchen

Jim Sanders is a Brighton-based artist who believes art should be timeless, as opposed to a fashion-led commodity. Through his art, he wants to convey the common concerns, or fundamentals of life: religion, birth, love, sex and death. Nicholas Toovey tells us more.

Jim Sanders

Jim was born in Solihull and raised in Redditch, he did a degree in graphic design and illustration, but soon discovered that the industry was heavily reliant on computers rather than drawing. The degree did however reinforce his love for assemblage and creativity. He moved to Brighton in 1998 deciding to escape his “red brick and concrete 1960s overspill” town in Warwickshire. Does Sussex inspire him? Only in part, he loves spending time ‘people-watching’ in town, and as his work is often figurative, he admits that must be an inspiration. Jim’s work however, is far more influenced by his childhood and his catholic upbringing. He is now interested in all manner of beliefs for what they convey – “I like the imagination of it and the related stories”.

Hybris by Jim Sanders
Totems by Jim Sanders
The Solitaires by Jim Sanders

With the exception of his graphic design degree, Jim received no formal training in fine art. This creates a refreshingly naive appeal to his work. His ethos is most akin to ‘outsider art’, this is work usually created by the mentally ill who are untrained and unaware of the art world or art history but whom enjoy the process of making art. Because he is of sound mind and often dips into reference books to further his appreciation of art he quips “I am outside the outsiders, but also outside the insiders!”. His output is primitive and this is often achieved by working with children; they have an unrivalled naivety when painting, born from their unique imagination and executed with an undiluted freshness that is not constrained by conformity. This process first started whilst teaching art to home-schooled children, but developed with the help of two boys, Apollo and Hermes. The eight and ten year-olds often visit Jim’s studio and collaborate with him. The three work together, doodling and getting basics on the canvas, sometimes with direction from Jim, but more often without. Jim then continues to work and develop these basics into a finished work of art. In addition to Apollo and Hermes, Jim often collaborates with other creative types, including poets, musicians and other artists.

Jim regularly creates work in a series; arguably one of the most imposing of these was a group of twenty ‘Totems’ that show his passion for assemblage. Created from found and salvaged materials, such as bottle tops and rusty tools, the totems adopt an autobiographical element, particularly his Catholic background, with each totem reflecting altarpieces and votive offerings. They were exhibited at the Pheonix Gallery, Brighton in 2007. The ‘Totems’ informed his next series, the ‘Shrines’, these are created in his kitchen also from found materials, the Shrines are continually added to with objects sourced for the unknown stories that they tell.

The route of all of Jim’s work is drawing. Whether it be from sketches created with the children he taught, drawings he makes whilst out and about, or ‘automatic’ doodles he makes at the kitchen table whilst cooking dinner. From a selection of over 400 drawings on scraps of paper, twenty figures have been translated in mixed media onto 2.5m high hessian banners, the reverse is plain black with poetry supplied by Xelis de Toro, when displayed in an installation this is all the viewer sees at first. After being lead through, the viewer turns to face ‘The Solitaires’, a powerful crowd of imposing figures that mirror facets of the viewer’s own personality.

Jim Sanders' Studio
Apostasy by Jim Sanders
Now That The Living Outnumber The Dead by Jim Sanders

Jim works from his Brighton home, one room is dedicated to his studio, where pictures in progress cover every wall. Hessian is stacked on the floor, which doubles up as the artist’s easel. Due to the courser weave of the hessian, paint seeps through to the sheets below creating all important layers and textures for future paintings. The rest of the house is dedicated to his work, the utilitarian bedroom has a bed and a wardrobe, but the walls are yet again filled with paintings, as is the staircase, kitchen and music room (he is the drummer in the Country-Punk band ‘The Crucks’), even the bathroom has works of art above and even in the bath. Jim has no settee in the house – “sofa’s are for people who watch tv” and with the absence of a television in his home you cannot argue with his logic. Every waking hour Jim dedicates to the creative process, art is his life and he is consumed by it. Jim’s work can often be obtained at Ink’d, Brighton, or direct from the artist. He hopes one day to own a building, ideally a church, filled with a lifetime of his work, creating a permanent museum or ornate temple of his work. For now his home is a diminutive version of what he will hopefully one day create. He is always open to showing people around his house and studio, in its ever fluctuating state, and a visit can be arranged by contacting him via his website.

The thought of penniless artists was arguably a romanticised Victorian notion intended to encourage patronage, but Jim, choosing to fulfil his desire for creativity, probably does fit into this category. More often than not he lives off £50 a week, but remains incredibly upbeat, “I’m not poor, I am rich from the art that surrounds me… the only time I get frustrated is when I have to choose between buying new paint or a loaf of bread”. Although his work is instantly recognisable as his own, he signs his work ‘SANS’, a shortened version of his surname and a synonym of without.

The imagery Jim creates is without question intriguing, even if it sometimes borders on the macabre. The dark undertones of some works only reflect the rudimentary elements of life, it is our own fears and taboos of the subject that can make his work haunting and uncomfortable. This does not make it any less brilliant. Jim paints and creates for himself, driven solely by his desire to be artistic. Although pound notes are always welcome, appreciation of his oeuvre, it seems, is payment enough.

Words such as ‘naive’ and ‘primitive’ may appear derogatory, but the art world has always had a place for this approach to creating work and if anything, it is often considered an accolade. One can look at the folk art of the 19th century or artists of the 20th century, such as Lawrence Stephen Lowry, Helen Bradbury, Fred Yeats and Alfred Williams, all of whom are highly collected names on the resale market today. Will Jim Sanders join this list of artists in the future? You can never be certain, but one thing is for sure – he definitely deserves to.

For more visit www.jimsanders-sans.com

Nicholas’ article was originally published in Sussex Life magazine in January 2012.