Anyone who has known Dorset all their lives will find it a very hard place to leave. It leaves poetry in your veins. Dorset folk know how to sum up Dorset in few, and singularly simple words. This exhibition is an ode to having Dorset and the Dorset way in my veins, every last, tiny, delicious morsel.
When I first returned to Dorset after years submersed in the barren urban cityscape of London, it was like balm to my worried soul. I spent the next stage of my life deep in the Dorset landscape, translating it into paint, obsessively, clinging onto its life affirming and replenishing rythmn. It made me happy again and whole and reminded me of the freedom of the total abandon of being a child safe in the care of an adult’s guidance. So there will be plenty of the celebratory landscapes painted en-plein-aire decorating this exhibition.
The narrative paintings in this body of work are explorative of that total freedom in childhood to daydream and drift about able to concentrate on the changing ground you are walking on, or meditate on the crying gulls floating overhead like kites on a string. And the visual contrast of those unpopulated sweeping hillsides to the darkened interiors of ancient family homes we went to buy food, the anticipation of the flavours intensified by the negotiating, the gathering and the stories.
Destruction For Lift - Off
Sketching is an essential part of an artist’s life. To quote the Master Penman Jake Weidmann, “You should study 50% as much as you practice.” I have spent this year going back to thinking in my sketchbook. Drawing directly from life not only hones in on skills, but also in particular is a practise in the capturing of an essence of existence. Just as we receive feelings from a colour, we lance feelings into a creation.The model making began with a piece called “Paper Flowers”. It is a room I used to live in a long time ago: a room in my head that enclosed and puzzled me. The only flowers that could grow there were made of paper. The only stairs there to climb led somewhere out of the frame.My way of working is to externalise inner thoughts. We all have a dual existence: the physically perceived way of living that runs alongside an internal dialogue. These two reels often play the same piece of film, but at times they digress from each other, neither one switching off but the outer one certainly not representative of the inner. My interest is in materialising our thoughts and daydreams. Feelings from a time spent in a remembered cottage nestled amidst heather and bracken, with a warm, dark cosiness. How an apple tastes. Frames of mind.In short I have been cutting up of my oil paintings and incorporating them into experimental models, hence the title of the show. They have been received as ‘3D paintings.
This latest body of work is inspired by the book “The Third Policeman”, by Flann O’Brien. He wrote the book at the same time Picasso and the Cubists were painting three dimensions onto a flat page in a semi abstract way. The book is written in a very visual way; when reading it image after image floods my mind.The book is unusual with the all - revealing twist at the end. The middle part features an other-worldly pair of policemen, who have the theory that a bicycle, a rider and the road will become each other, in different percentages, according to how often the bicycle is ridden. I find the idea of the bicycles interchanging personality with their rider and the road, a wonderful one. Anyone who has done an activity to any great extent will understand this idea. How realities meld into one another and make way for strange imaginings. The idea that a road has seen many generations of travellers and therefore has many secrets is also a theme in the paintings.One of the policeman has fathomed a way of carving immaculate miniatures of ornate boxes. The miniatures go down in size and fit inside each other like Russian Dolls. They are so beautiful that they seem to dance of their own accord on the table. The tenth box is smaller than a pin head; there are 22 smaller than that. This strangeness furthers my interest in endless possibilities. I have made a model of the police station that is a little like a treasure box.The third Policeman is never seen, but they know of his existence by his nightly visit to sign in the book, and to tell you of him would spoil a good read!
Philomena At Home with the Surrealists
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 this August and September. 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 Penrose 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.
Old Oven Stories
Philomena Harmsworth’s exhibition at “Le Vieux Four” patisserie, in Beaminster, is about the twin themes of food and stories. Sparked from work exploring café culture, this most recent collection comes in two forms. The first form is working directly from life. Working like this reveals insightful behavioural characteristics, which find their way into her pictures. Sitting with friends having treats, she can be part of the group and watching the group almost at the same time. This form involves going directly for movement and stance, and the speed of painting is key to capture group interaction. Time is limited and enlists the instinctive part of painting. The outcome is light, unlaboured pieces, where the characters twist and morph in and out; capturing movement.
These intuitive pieces feed into the second form used in this exhibition. These are narrative, contemplative pictures that consider deeper dimensions and techniques; developing her themes of metaphysics. The building is the people who frequent it and vice versa.
Philomena’s paintings are extraordinary, making you feel like you are taking part in a novel.
There is nothing nicer in all the world to be packing sandwiches and a flask of coffee when the sun is shining knowing its because you are heading out across the fields to set up an easel for a painting. The light is guaranteed to change all day giving a breath of tonal difference and a movement of shadows. The result tends to be fresh, and lively. I find myself working at speed, partly to capture the moment (especially if there are people involved), but mostly because it is so exciting to be out in the elements doing what I love best.
Creatures of the Night
A seasonal collection of paintings, encompassing creatures and landscapes. The creatures appear to have been conjured from nature; hiding quiet and still. Wintery animals evoked by the noise of the rain and still crisp air. They are there and they are not; Stags and does fading away into their natural environment.
English country life means that we are bombarded by the full force of each season, when the trees are bare and frost hangs in the air visions of animal life appear unshielded by the summer abundance of full foliage. Little jewels adorn the branches of berries and sparkling crystals, droplets of water and fluttering birds. Longer evenings and brooding skies mean that we live the winter months in a bewitching twilight.
The Silence in Thunder
Artists tap into thunder, like a conducting rod, and translate it into sounds and images. There’s not just thunder in Philomena Harmsworth’s pictures; but also music, movement, languorous lines, light and colour, darkness and silence. The silence exists in the eye of the storm, the absence of light or sound between lightning and thunder, and the thrill of expectation. Philomena’s new exhibition at the New Steine Hotel, Brighton, explores this dichotomy between thunder and silence.
She describes herself as a ‘method artist’. “I sketch and paint whilst immersed in the subject matter. Not until I am dreaming the images that I am painting do I feel it is a success”. Her new series of musicians stem from an impromptu concert she was invited to; “it wasn’t my immediate choice of music. What happened was incredible. I was sitting in the front row and felt surrounded by, and part of, the music being created. My response was the painting ‘First Violin’. She finds that live events provide the inspiration and idea, and then when she is back in the studio she paints to music such as The Prodigy or Chopin, according to the mood she is recreating in the picture.
Sometimes people say to Philomena that going to an art exhibition of hers is a bit like going to see a film. Philomena trained as a set designer and worked on films such as Sleepy Hollow and Band of Brothers. She has travelled from a child obsessing over the symmetry of curves, on a painterly journey to film and theatre, and then developed this into the cinematic themes evident in the narrative of these most recent works. Philomena’s exhibitions are thematic in order to enhance the memory journey; like reading a book. Each genre evokes and awakens new thoughts. Each painting has its own story and the brushstrokes are expressively unique to each scenario.
Olympic Sailing in Weymouth
Bridport girl Philomena Harmsworth has produced a body of work that encapsulates the sea in all sailing weathers. The pictures are mainly comprised of boats on the water, of beautifully built athletes glimpsed in mid-action wrestling with and mastering the wind in the sails of their sailing boats, doing the ‘tacking dance’ – and even a Greek sail boat winging its way down Weymouth Harbour.
Philomena says: ‘The sailors are outlined as in the early Grecian pottery painting style, and the scenes are in a spectrum of alluring blues. The harrying wind, high speed of travel through the waves and the motion of boats on the water, are all key themes to this set of pictures. The juxtaposition of ancient Greeks with modern boats and scenarios explores the similarities of our present day Olympic games to the original joys of competing’.
Finally there are pictures of a peopled Weymouth, with men sitting on the harbour wall passing the time of day, or of pretty bunting and a fun fair on the green. These are an exaltation of Weymouth in the sunshine: a congenial place for a day out.
Sugar and Spice
This innovative collection has some very unusual pictures in it. The thread that runs through all of them is “women”, and the many overlapping aspects within that theme.
There are strong archetypal woman figures; from earth mothers to girls in frilly dresses playing with dolls. There are pictures of domesticity, mothers and newborns, interior furnishings. Some of the pictures are firmly grounded, some are very floaty and ethereal.
Several of the paintings toy with metaphysics; exploring the interplay between surface appearance of manners and civilisation, and the truth of the dark undertones that can lie beneath. For example one picture has two women having tea and cake around a table; one with Francis Bacon-like grotesqueness, the other with a sunny landscape and a pink, gauzy void.
There are pictures relating to story themes and poetry, such as the serpent Lamia, from Keat’s romantic poem, then a girl playing with a doll’s house, with her big godly hands, part of the house is in Hitchcock-like darkness.
Finally a series of creative images feature a weaver, making a story, or a mother embroidering a story onto the dress of her daughter.
Philomena and the Sea
In this exhibition, Philomena Harmsworth has let her imagination sail over (and under!) nautical waters. Always fascinated by the sea, her Dad used to take her out deep-sea fishing as a child. Now, as an adult, she feels she needs to live by the sea, and loves being on a boat; but is almost a little afraid of the sea’s huge, unquantifiable mass. It is these feelings she explores in “Philomena and the Sea”. This eclectic exhibition ranges from narrative paintings of the sea, to landscapes with sea views, and close up observations of boats and fish.
The narrative paintings evoke the feeling of being involved in a nautical story. You are drawn into storms, the flight of sea birds, sailing and then the warmth of shelter, the titles hinting at the stories they came from. In many of the pictures the earthy colour of the figures and boats contrast harmoniously with the sea.
Another series examine the unknown aspects of under the sea. The sea can be hundreds of miles deep and we know so little about it. Philomena says, “Sometimes you can’t describe it, you just have to try and understand it”. She has used the contrasts between old-fashioned, and sometimes biblical images of fishing and sailing on the water; and mysterious dream-like thoughts about what lies underneath. This could range from children’s imaginary monsters to huge whales whose size defies understanding. In one of them, swimmers and rocks seem similar, indistinguishable from each other.
Series of Four
Stoke Abbott artist, Philomena Harmsworth, is rapidly becoming a talent to watch and is currently based at St Michael’s Studios, Bridport.
The Series of Four are a continuation and deepening of the Coming Home and Moving On theme. The previous exhibition focused very much on absolute positivism and the sense of happiness she feels from being back here in Dorset.
This Series of Four are autobiographical of the last four years of her life, centred on the pivotal event of moving back to Dorset two years ago and what it has means for her. The first three are a prequel to the previous show. The final piece is about a feeling of freedom, “but I have an idea that I may be filling the gap between piece 3 and 4 with sub headings for the rest of my life: it has unearthed huge possibilities…”
She has finally put together the series that are a culmination of thoughts that have taken three years to develop. They are oil paintings on canvas true to “my love of paint, for the pictorial element and for the traditional beauty and permanence” She has used Cubist techniques ‘for a sense of transience’ (1 & 2), and Futurist for an ‘impression of movement’ (3 & 4).
This latest body of work is inspired by the book “The Third Policeman”, by Flann O’Brien. He wrote the book at the same time Picasso and the Cubists were painting three dimensions onto a flat page in a semi abstract way. The book is written in a very visual way; when reading it image after image floods my mind. The book is unusual with the all - revealing twist at the end. The middle part features an other-worldly pair of policemen, who have the theory that a bicycle, a rider and the road will become each other, in different percentages, according to how often the bicycle is ridden. I find the idea of the bicycles interchanging personality with their rider and the road, a wonderful one. Anyone who has done an activity to any great extent will understand this idea. How realities meld into one another and make way for strange imaginings. The idea that a road has seen many generations of travellers and therefore has many secrets is also a theme in the paintings. One of the policeman has fathomed a way of carving immaculate miniatures of ornate boxes. The miniatures go down in size and fit inside each other like Russian Dolls. They are so beautiful that they seem to dance of their own accord on the table. The tenth box is smaller than a pin head; there are 22 smaller than that. This strangeness furthers my interest in endless possibilities. I have made a model of the police station that is a little like a treasure box. The third Policeman is never seen, but they know of his existence by his nightly visit to sign in the book, and to tell you of him would spoil a good read!