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.

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

Click on an image below to enlarge

A Sense of Play: Paul Cox

'Sea saw' bronze by Paul Cox
'Sea saw' bronze by Paul Cox

The art world has been accused of taking itself too seriously, so it is refreshing to discover an artist whose work has a tongue-in-cheek approach. Nicholas Toovey meets Paul Cox, an award-winning sculptor whose work is based around play.

Paul Cox in front of 'Ahoy'
Paul Cox in front of 'Ahoy'
'Token' polychrome resin by Paul Cox
'Token' polychrome resin by Paul Cox
'Looking for the promise land' stoneware with glaze and oxides by Paul Cox
'Looking for the promise land' stoneware with glaze and oxides by Paul Cox
'City Cuts' corten steel and Polyurethane paint by Paul Cox
'City Cuts' corten steel and Polyurethane paint by Paul Cox
Detail of 'Colour of Shade' by Paul Cox
Detail of 'Colour of Shade' by Paul Cox

Paul was born in Sussex and lived in Partridge Green throughout his childhood. He recalls being painfully shy whilst attending Steyning Grammar School, but it was here that he was encouraged to explore art. Loving the hands-on approach he says “art was the only thing I excelled in”, perhaps the freedom of this subject acted as escapism for the young dyslexic student. With the support of his encouraging parents, Paul then fell onto an artistic path, relieved and pleased that there was a route he could explore. He attended a foundation course at Northbrook College before attending the Winchester School of Art leaving with a BA (hons) first class degree in Fine Art Sculpture. People soon started to talk about his work and through his art he had the voice to communicate without actually saying a word. With every new skill, material mastered or method of working came more enthusiasm and self-belief. A postgraduate MA followed at the Royal Academy Schools. Attributable to the great tutors and the knowledge and confidence they imbued upon him, Paul embraced his new visual vocabulary and was excited by it.

Having left the county for his education, Paul returned and settled in Newhaven and states “if you have ever lived near the Sussex coast something always brings you back to the area”. Here, his double garage is his studio and the front and back garden become an ever changing exhibition space. For Paul his sculpture is part of him and therefore it is not unusual to have it surrounding him, passers-by who gather around his front garden however, are obviously not quite as used to it. Does Sussex inspire him? Definitely, he loves the landscape, particularly the Downs, the fields with ploughed tracks forming natural patterns, the richness of colour, particularly in spring with the lime greens contrasting with the blue skies. He loves it all, including the more industrial side of Brighton which has a magical reflected light from the sea. Paul is a part-time tutor at Northbrook College where he teaches full-time foundation students and runs an evening course in sculpture techniques. Becoming a teacher proved to himself that his childhood inhibitions of speaking in public are pretty much a distant memory.

Paul works in a very visual way, “I collect my everyday experiences in notebooks in the form of drawings, notes and scraps of paper. I believe it is important to ‘play’, physical or intellectual play is involved in anything that is created. With an open mind to materials and a persistent investigative attitude anything is possible. I like to be surprised; many great things have come from mistakes and accidents”. Always wanting to see a sculpture in three-dimensions he makes small models which he can later scale-up. Using cardboard, bubble wrap and paper, Paul creates the moulds for his final vision, turning ephemeral material into valuable works of art. From such small beginnings works such as ‘City Cuts’ have begun, the finished version reaching over 2 meters high and weighing literally a tonne. His largest work to date was ‘Ahoy’ a 6.5 meter high bulbous ‘toy’ boat perched on a table beside a chair, this 6 tonne sculpture has travelled across land to its new home in the Cafesjian Center for the Arts in Yerevan, Armenia.

Paul’s sculpture and drawings generally have underlying humour portrayed in varying degrees of subtlety. Even those that may seem serious might have been made in a quirky way or have a twist of sorts. One of his main stimuli for creating is this injection of humour – it makes him smile to bring visions from his own world into ours. His offbeat approach is a considered contradiction to some other art that leaves him cold, mainly due to its dry and sometimes uninviting facade. Paul has produced corporate commissions since leaving the RA Schools, but recently he has been asked to produce commissions for private individuals. ‘Colours of Shade’ was a sculpture for one such project and he enjoyed the challenges of working to a “down-to-earth” realistic budget yet still creating a sculpture that fulfilled the collectors requirements.

Art should provoke emotions and enrich our lives. Paul offers sculpture with an undeniable boyish charm that is infectious to the onlooker. It is virtually impossible not to smile at, or interact with, his idiosyncratic style. Paul’s sculpture thrives on a sense of play, but his work should not be disregarded as a novelty. He is a dedicated artist who consciously chooses not to take himself too seriously, providing a breath of fresh air to the contemporary art market.

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

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

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

Sussex’s Contemporary Art Auction

'delphinium3' by Dan Bennett

Nicholas Toovey is the painting and book specialist at his family’s firm of fine art and antique auctioneers and valuers. Here he talks about his forthcoming contemporary art auction, to be held at Toovey’s Spring Gardens auction rooms on May 28th. He also discusses the reasons behind hosting this innovative sale.

I have been fortunate to grow up surrounded by art. Regularly visiting museums and galleries from a very young age, my parents inform me that I saw some amazing exhibitions from my pushchair. I have early memories of Giverny, mainly stomping over a blue bridge rather than looking at lily pads. Similarly, I vaguely remember seeing pictures of horses in a cave at Lascaux and thinking I could do better – I couldn’t, even today. One of the earliest memories of a painting that has stuck with me was seeing Henri Matisse’s ‘L’Escargot’ at the Tate. The bold use of colour and the fact that he was in ill-health when he made this vast work has always impressed me.

Whilst I appreciate all art, through my personal exploration of its history I found one particular area that I adore above all others, the British watercolour tradition. It is arguably the first period where Britain led the way in the history of art. Our nation of artists promoted the watercolour medium to one that was worthy of finished paintings. The artists of the day infused our landscape with poetry, melancholy, reverence and atmosphere. Names such as John Robert Cozens, Joseph Mallard William Turner, John ‘Warwick’ Smith and Francis Towne have produced some of my favourite paintings. Thomas Girtin was another from this era of talented artists. He painted ‘The White House at Chelsea’, a small unassuming watercolour located down a side corridor at Tate Britain, which happens to be my favourite ever painting. I also love the patrons of this date, especially Dr Thomas Munro, who set up an informal academy at his home on Adelphi Terrace. Here he made the work of Cozens, one of his patients in Bethlem Hospital, available for study by the next generation of watercolourists.

With this love of late 18th and early 19th century watercolours, many people are surprised by my unwavering passion to promote contemporary art. In my head I hold a romanticized vision of Munro as a selfless promoter; I feel a similar self-imposed duty to promote the artists of today for the future. It was with this in mind that I created Toovey’s Contemporary Art Auctions. The auctions only include works of art consigned for sale directly from the artists, an entirely new concept that was totally unique when the first sale was held in 2006. Conceived through my desire to offer a new platform for artists to exhibit and sell their work, the sale also offers an exciting way for art-lovers, collectors and patrons to acquire contemporary art. There is nothing quite like the adrenaline rush of bidding on a lot at auction. It is the best form of gambling around, if you win you get to take something beautiful that you really wanted home with you, if you lose you don’t pay a penny!

I have organised preview exhibitions of the sales at local museums, joining the dots between artists, buyers, museums and auctions. This year the majority of entries are housed in the preview exhibition ‘Hung, Drawn & Displayed’ at Horsham Museum, which runs until 11th May. The medieval timber-framed building in Horsham’s picturesque Causeway provides a contrasting backdrop to the diverse selection of 21st century art.

Another aim of the sale is to promote the arts in Sussex and make contemporary art more accessible. My biggest concern is that for many the term contemporary art conjures visions of unmade beds or diamond encrusted skulls, this often leads to bewilderment and a misunderstanding of art today. Exhibition pieces such as these are used in the same way a car manufacturer will produce a concept car that will never go into production. I feel it is important to remember that contemporary art is simply a term that covers art created in our recent lifetime. Contemporary art therefore encompasses a huge spectrum of work, from more traditional pieces to radical and innovative art.

The auction offers a perfect starting place to venture into the contemporary art market; with 60 highly talented artists providing a wide variety of styles. The selection of 170 original works of art is a truly eclectic mix and I hope that even if you do not like some of the works, you will be able to appreciate the technique or skill of the artist. Similarly I hope you will fall in love with a few pieces and have just the right home for them, fortunately everyone has different taste and as curator I attempt to reflect that. The selection process is carefully considered and I draw upon my knowledge of fifteen years experience in the resale art market when contacting and responding to artists. I dedicate a considerable amount of my personal time to organise the event and to source a mixture of highly acclaimed names and emerging talent. I also believe art should be inclusive and so the auction caters for all budgets, with work carrying presale estimates between £50 and £8000.

'Southwater Iguanodon' by Hannah Stewart
'Chromosome' by William Harling

The Contemporary Art Auction this year includes the work of award-winning Horsham-based artist Hannah Stewart. Hannah is best known for her public sculptures, including ‘Hauling Man’, a life-size sculpture at the Tesco store in Hailsham, which celebrates the rope-making tradition in the area. ‘The St Leonard’s Forest Dragon’ in Horsham Park is also one of her pieces, produced for the town in which she was born. This year Hannah is offering three preliminary drawings for her work in 3-D, one of which is the original sketch for ‘Southwater Iguanodon’. The finished sculpture in Southwater reflects the local brick-making tradition in its base and the discovery of the dinosaur bones in the surrounding area. This drawing shows a slightly different plinth to that produced and now on display in the Lintot Square. The drawing was used for promotional material at the unveiling and provides a rare opportunity to acquire a piece of local history.

Whilst Hannah is offering preliminary drawings, fans of sculpture can still delight in a fantastic and diverse selection, including two bronzes by Hove-based sculptor William Harling. Form is paramount in William’s work, as ‘Chromosome’ exemplifies. This large 61cm (2ft) wide foundry-cast bronze group of two anonymous cloaked figures joined in a striking ‘x’ outline is testament to the sculptors’ skill and considered vision. Their faceless appearance strips the figures of all personality and individual history, hinting towards a metaphysical symbolism.

'Escalator II' & 'Scrumping' by Josse Davis

Work in ceramics is not neglected in the sale. Often deemed as craft rather than art, I choose ceramicists whose work crosses this boundary. Arundel-based ceramicist, Josse Davis, has featured in every auction to date and this year is no exception. He is the son of the famous ceramicist and artist Derek Davis and the painter Ruth Davis. Having been born into a world of colour and form, Josse was always destined to be creative. This year he is offering three pieces from his Alien-themed series, produced in stoneware with brush-drawn decoration in soot-black pigment. This humorous range of work shows how strange some of the things humans do in our day-to-day lives appear.

'Wandering Paths' by Sheila Marlborough
'West Pier, Brighton, no3' by Natalie Martin

Inherently pictures are strongly represented within the sale; always offering a mixture of sizes, styles and media, including quirky illustrations, traditional watercolours and urban-inspired oils on canvas. West Sussex artist Sheila Marlborough is offering a group of paintings including ‘Wandering Paths’. The abstract canvas is an atmospheric interpretation of a landscape that highlights her strong compositions and love of emotive colour. Sheila was elected as president of the Sussex Watercolour Society in 2005 and is also a member of the artist-led co-operative Chalk Gallery in Lewes. In contrast, Natalie Martin’s incredibly detailed and realistic paintings capture urban decay and domestic neglect in a beautiful and revered way. The subject of her acrylic on canvas ‘The West Pier at Brighton, no 3’ exemplifies her expression in art perfectly. Natalie is often described as a ‘painter’s painter’ and has had work accepted by the Bath Society of Artists, The Society of Women Artists and The Royal Academy.

I am always seeking new artists of a high calibre to keep every auction fresh and different from the previous year. A new face participating this year is Dan Bennett, another Brighton-based artist whose meticulously executed paintings on canvas are inspired by his fascination with phosphenes. These intricate swirling patterns that dance across closed eyelids have been the mainstay of his artistic production to date, often translating these spirals, dots and meandering lines into more recognisable subjects such as plants and other organisms. Dan’s work shares strong links with Aboriginal dot paintings, African body art and examples seen in lost cultures in the ancient world, such as those in the Peruvian rainforests. His painting ‘delphinium3’ is one of three works he has entered in the sale highlighting his own unique vision.

I believe art comes alive when you know more about it, I am therefore happy to relay any inherited stories I have been told by the creators. I will be available on the above viewing times to discuss any items within the sale. A fully-illustrated catalogue is also available with further information on all the participating artists and their work. Visit for further information.

Nicholas’ article was originally published in Sussex Life magazine in May 2011.