The painter Philomena Harmsworth had her first “awestruck about a piece of art” moment at the age of 17, looking in a school textbook at the collection of sculpture in the garden of Farley Farm House. She realised that she was looking at something that she did not fully understand, and was deeply moved by.
It is fitting therefore that she is now holding an exhibition of her own at Farley Farm House in August. It took until last year for her to completely understand the sculptures. When she was touring the house and garden in preparation for her exhibition, she was confronted by the actual sculptures, and suddenly had an epiphany. She saw the Pemrose enjoyment of life.
The paintings in the exhibition are a Celebration of Sussex, and Sussex’s Celebrations. In particular the Fire Festivals – Bonfire Night and May Day – and the links and the differences between them. They are both about ritual, fire and dressing up. But one is more about destruction and death of the old year, and the other about birth and the creation of the new. The opposing imagery also links into her application of paint, a lot of layers of existence go into the paintings – the actual time taken, her moods, the weather (shadowy colours come out on overcast days), and mark-making changes.
Philomena has created paintings that work with the art already at Farley Farm House. The sense of humour of Picasso for example; and that he tried to catch the personality of a person, not just doing a straight portrait but trying to catch their intrinsic nature. The paintings also celebrate that Philomena sees the intrinsic nature of the world as a mathematical one. She loved maths as well as art as a child, and she uses this understanding to try to get to the essence of what she is painting; of the objects, the people and their stories.
So why is Philomena painting Sussex? The answer is that although she has now been here for a couple of years, it still feels like her new home. She also feels that the best way to understand something is to draw it. When she first arrived in Lewes, she could feel the medieval ancientness of the place, from something like a wrought iron gate standing like a ghost at the entrance to a school. Brighton has some of these echoes of the past too, walking where lots of people have been before; but has a happier, festive party feel. She wants to convey the feeling of discovering the mysteries and secrets of a place when you are a newcomer.
The exhibition starts on August 3rd and runs until September 21st at Farley Farm House.