Picture of the week: 14/12/20

THIS week’s picture is a stunning Chilterns landscape taken from a winter exhibition organised by Herts Visual Arts featuring the work of more than 40 artists from across Hertfordshire.

The hand-signed oil painting is by self-taught artist Sabbi Gavrailov, who lives with his wife and two sons in Hemel Hempstead and only fully rediscovered his love of art earlier this year.

Over the Chiltern Hills by Sabbi Gavrailov

A keen photographer and cyclist, Sabbi is originally from Bulgaria, where he studied architecture and civil engineering before settling in the UK in 2003 to pursue a career in luxury hotels and hospitality.

A fascination with digital photography over the past decade has helped to encourage his love of local landscapes, but despite always wanting to become an artist one day, the opportunity had never really presented itself.

One of Sabbi’s extraordinary high-definition photographs

“When I was young, art was everything to me,” he says. Then in April, when his father died from cancer back home in Bulgaria, it seemed to unleash a creative outpouring of emotion.

“I must have produced about 50 paintings in the past five months,” he admits with a smile, having startled friends with the ease with which he began producing everything from classic portraits to eye-catching landscapes, using single strokes of a palette knife with feeling and precision.

Sabbi Gavrailov in his studio

Often using his own high-definition photographs as a source, he was soon hard at work, putting down some of the roots of his inspiration to the fact he spent his childhood and teenage years in a small town which has extraordinary artistic connections.

Brezovo is the birthplace of two iconic Bulgarian artists: Zlatyu Boyadzhiev, who died in 1976 and is known for his portraits and landscapes depicting the Old Town of Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s second largest city, and village life in the region, and Mincho Katsarov, an artist celebrated in France but virtually unknown in his home country.

Whether or not there is anything in the Brezovo water to explain Sabbi’s artistic endeavours, there’s been no stopping him this year.

Bluebells by Sabbi Gavrailov

“The devastating event of my Dad’s death has triggered an overwhelming desire to paint again,” he confesses. “It’s like something I have never known or done before in my life.”

As well as using his digital photographs and cycling trips into the Chilterns countryside as a starting point for his art, he has produced still lifes, portraits and seascapes too.

Autumn scene by Sabbi Gavrailov

“I see no sign of stopping, quite the opposite,” he says. Spurred on by his friends’ enthusiasm for his work, he has become an active member of Herts Visual Arts, where he now has a gallery in addition to his own art website and social media links on Facebook and Instagram.

With some of his paintings available as originals and others as high-res prints, he has also been undertaking commissions.

Campfire at dawn by Sabbi Gavrailov

“My college years gave me a different perspective on art while I studied architecture. Then I got drawn to digital photography very quickly and I felt the need to educate myself further to get the most out of it.

“I got my diploma in digital photography and this opened a different world, through the lens.  Now inevitably the painting and photography for me go hand in hand,” he says.

Summer stroll by Sabbi Gavrailov

“I constantly experiment with different styles of painting and push myself to learn new techniques. I love to paint portraits, seascapes and landscapes. I feel the power of nature and human expression around me: it is the greatest inspiration one can find and I express it through my paintings.”

Picture of the week: 07/12/20

ANCIENT landscapes provide the inspiration for many of our favourite artists, and Anna Dillon is no exception.

“As someone who enjoys long-distance walks, travel and exploration I am determined to visit and paint as many landscapes as possible within my life,” she says.

Whipsnade by Anna Dillon

That sense of exploration is reflected in her output, which includes collections ranging from First World War battlefields in France to Irish coastlines, and encompasses dozens of vibrant paintings portraying half a dozen different English counties from Cornwall to the Cotswolds.

But our choice for this week’s featured picture takes us to a painting entitled Whipsnade, showing the view from Ivinghoe Beacon looking out towards the famous chalk lion which has overlooked the Dunstable Downs in Bedfordshire since 1933 and was restored in 2018.

Born in Wallingford, Anna trained as an illustrator at Falmouth School of Art in Cornwall and ditched her job as a graphic designer in 2009 when she decided to paint for a living. “It was the best thing I have ever done,” she says. “I feel lucky and my passion for the landscape gets deeper each year as I learn.”

From her Oxfordshire studio she shows off some of the works which have been taking shape during months of lockdown, including a new series of Chilterns landscapes and aerial views for a collaboration with drone pilot Hedley Thorne.

The locations of each painting and photo connect with local history to provide a narrative which the pair hope will give valuable insights at their Airscapes exhibition planned for 2021, providing a ‘birds-eye’ view of the Oxfordshire and Berkshire countryside.

Lockdown has also provided opportunities to explore the local landscape on foot, and Anna incorporates notes from her walking diary to accompany some of the paintings, like that from Lodge Hill, north of Bledlow Ridge in Buckinghamshire.

View from Lodge Hill by Anna Dillon

It’s October and the elements are against her, she recalls, with strong winds and flurries of rain.

“Walking through the outskirts of Chinnor, the track becomes lined with beech trees in wonderful colours of yellow and orange. As I shuffle through the fallen leaves The Ridgeway takes a sharp turn right into a large, expansive and attractive piece of downland called Wain Hill as I cross into Buckinghamshire,” she writes.

“The track steadily climbs on to Lodge Hill where the grass on the track is like a green, velvet covering. The views from up here are spectacular with a 360 degree panoramic of the Chilterns.”

Frequently Tweeting about her enjoyment of the local countryside, from frosty walks by the Thames to visits to the “mother of all hillforts” at Maiden Castle, she has developed her style using bold and strong colour which reflect the form, contours and light of the land, using thin layers of oil paints built up gradually and slowly.

Original paintings might sell for up to £2,500 but many of her original paintings are also available as limited-edition Giclee prints and greetings cards.

Inchombe Hole, Buckinghamshire by Anna Dillon

One suitable seasonal walk portrays Incombe Hole at the end of December and forms part of her extraordinary Ridgeway series of oil on board paintings, of which prints are available.

“To my right I can see Dunstable Downs and behind me is the famous Whipsnade Lion,” she writes. “I bought my first house not far from here in a village called Slip End on the edge of Bedfordshire. The sun sets on an inspiring walk and the last day of a brilliant year.”

Further afield, her Battlelines Redrawn project started as a study of how some of the wartorn battlefields of the First World War in France and Belgium have regenerated over the last century and exploring poetic connections with the chalk landscapes of the North Wessex and Berkshire downs.

She also cites war artist Paul Nash as a particular inspiration and his special affinity for the wooded hills in South Oxfordshire called The Wittenham Clumps has been reflected in many of her own paintings.

New friends and fresh perpectives

IT’S BEEN a month of meeting new friends and embarking on fresh adventures, despite the restrictions of a second national lockdown.

Competition solving can be thirsty work – so we were delighted to be able to offer a tasty tipple as our first ever picture quiz prize.

The quiz has been running for over a year now but our friends Kate and Ben Marston at Puddingstone Distillery near Tring kindly stepped in to make the contest a little more enticing by offering a 10cl bottle of artisan gin worth £10 to the winner of our November quiz.

The story behind the success of the couple’s small Hertfordshire distillery was the subject of a feature on our Rearing & Growing page, where we would like to feature more stories about local growers, smallholders, farm shops and food producers in the future.

Previous articles included an item on Cornish forager Rachel Lambert, while Olivia’s hunt for rosehips and subsequent rosehip syrup recipe featured in another post.

Roaming a little further afield, we were delighted to be able to write about Adam McCulloch’s website featuring walks across Kent, although our most popular recent posts have been those focusing on local adventures, hunting down fungi in local woods and enjoying the spectacular colours of the fall.

Meanwhile guest writer Lucy Parks has continued to entertain readers with her adventures with Cypriot rescue dog Yella over in Amersham. Lucy and other members of the 50-strong Beyonder Facebook group have also been sharing pictures from their autumn rambles.

It has also been a real delight this month to expand our range of local artists featured in our Picture of the Week series.

Hot on the heels of the local landscapes of painters and printmakers like Jane Duff, Christine Bass and Rosie Fairfax-Cholmeley, it was a pleasure to be able to feature the photography of Anne Rixon and the extraordinarily intricate embroidery of textile artist Rachel Wright.

Apart from giving us a chance to support local artists during this difficult time, it has been fascinating to find out all the different ways in which they respond to local landscapes and wildlife in their art.

Watch this space for some more treats over the next three weeks as we embark on a lockdown adventure with Beaconsfield artist Tim Baynes.

In the meantime, our interest in the history under our feet was piqued by earthworks in a corner of Burnham Beeches which hark back to medieval times.

Following similar journeys into the past in search of highwaymen and the heyday of stagecoach travel, our latest trip back in time explored the story of Hartley Court, a medieval moated farmhouse buried deep in the woods.

There’s still time to enter the November competition if you fancy a sparkling G&T – and if you have any time to spare, our features archive now includes dozens of articles about some of the people and places we’ve had the honour to during the past couple of years preparing for the formal launch of the website.

Picture of the week: 28/09/20

THE natural world dominates Jane Duff’s art in the same way it has dominated her life, and our latest Picture of the Week reflects that.

Jane’s childhood was an idyllic existence on the edge of Snowdonia in which she was largely left to her own devices, riding her bike or climbing hills with her dog as her faithful companion. By university her horizons were broadening and she was to spend much of her early twenties in the Nepal Himalayas, initially trekking and camping alone and later becoming a guide herself, taking groups for weeks at a time through Nepal’s magnificent peaks and forests.

When she returned to the UK a few years later to work for OUP as art editor, her passion was for photography and it was not for many years that she turned her hand to drawing and painting.

This led to her enrolling in an arts foundation course and her interest in the natural world also led to an advanced diploma in environmental conservation at Oxford University. She now fuses her interest in the environment with her love of painting.

Landscapes dominate much of her work as demonstrated by Winter Snow in the Wetlands, a 60x60cm oil on canvas painting of the Earth Trust’s River of Life wetland project near Wallingford.

Winter Snow in the Wetlands by Jane Duff

She is also a volunteer for The Earth Trust in Little Wittenham and an avid supporter of their efforts to create new wetlands and improve water ecosystems along the River Thames and River Thame, as well as several new ponds in Little Wittenham woods, home to one of the country’s most significant populations of great crested newts.

“The new ponds, reedbeds, backwaters, wildflower meadows and wet woodland provide vital habitats for wildlife including otters, water voles, club-tailed dragonflies, kingfishers, skylarks , yellowhammers,” she says.

“Regular monitoring has shown that hundreds of thousands of fish fry are using the channels as a safe haven and that 12 of the Thames’ 20 species of fish are already present.”

Woolly thistle on Wittenham Clumps nature reserve by Jane Duff

Phase Two of the project will involve creating wetlands between Little Wittenham and Clifton Hampden and is due to start in 2021.

“The Earth Trust do amazing work,” she says “They look after miles of footpaths and open access land over Wittenham Clumps enjoyed by over 150,000 people per year as well as running a farm and an environmental education programme for local schools.

“ I’m not sure if the general public realise how much work is involved maintaining the paths and hedgerows and forests. Things are really tough for them as for many charities and they do need our support, especially right now.”

Jane put together a solo exhibition entitled Wildsong at the North Wall Arts Centre in Oxford showing 55 paintings of some of the wildest landscapes in the UK, including several west country seascapes and many paintings of the Welsh moors and mountains.

Early Spring in the Coed y Brenin by Jane Duff

They showed remote, dramatic and elemental landscapes – even if she laments there is no true ‘wilderness’ still to be found in the British countryside.

At present she is preparing for a solo exhibition at West Ox Arts gallery in Bampton in Feb-March 2021 entitled A Love of the Land.

Oxfordshire may lack the more dramatic landscapes reflected in her paintings of Mid-Wales, North West Scotland or the far west of Cornwall, but the softer surroundings of Oxfordshire nature reserves, heathlands, woodlands, chalk downs and open spaces, as well as the River Thames and its many tributaries, provide their own inspiration, she insists.

Light over Loch Kentra, Ardnamurchan by Jane Duff

Jane loves the ever-changing light of wild places, as well as the solitude and peace which helps to concentrate the mind, and despite the practical challenges of painting in situ she tries to do so whenever possible.

“I immerse myself in a landscape for hours, absorbing the atmosphere, the play of light and shadows, the textures and colours of the vegetation before finding the place that moves me enough to want to put up my easel and paint there,” she told OX magazine in an interview last year ahead of her Wildsong exhibition.

“I often struggle to get started and procrastinate a lot as I love it all too much! I find it overwhelming. But once I start I am away with a burst of energy and find myself reacting instinctively to the landscape, bringing the emotions, weather and light of the place into my paintings.

“I will often finish a painting in one sitting but will equally often work further on a painting back in the studio. It can make me a bit nervous painting in remote places especially if there are curious cows and horses around so if this happens, I sometimes pack up and go home armed with sketches and photographs. My two dogs sit alongside me for hours. They must wonder what on earth I am doing.”

She works mostly in oils, cold wax and acrylic and often on a large scale.

She firmly believes that art has a part to play not only in reminding people of the beauty of the landscape but highlighting the importance of protecting habitats and their biodiversity.

“We have such fantastic landscapes in the UK – we are fortunate beyond belief to have so much packed into such a small island. Thank heavens for the National Trust protecting so much of our beautiful British coastline and for our wonderful National Parks and nature reserves. Some of my paintings are of Sydlings Copse, a BBOWT nature reserve under threat from encroaching development to the north of the Oxford ring road.

Sydlings Copse by Jane Duff

“It is small – only 22 hectares – and is considered by many to be the jewel in the crown of Oxfordshire nature reserves. It has heathlands, amazing wildflower meadows, broadleaved woodland and a rare fen and supports over 400 plant species. It is of international ecological importance yet it is still under huge pressure from development.

“We need to respect and protect our natural world much more than we do. If an area is designated greenbelt, AONB, SSSI, SAC or SPA or landscape conservation area it means that it is likely to have very high biodiversity or landscape value and too often local authorities and government disregard their protection status such as with the recent loss of Calvert Jubilee nature reserve near Aylesbury.

Reedmace in Winter by Jane Duff

“This precious flagship reserve has a lake which is a haven for overwintering wildfowl, waders, bittern and tern and it has wildflower meadows with all five species of the rare UK hairstreak butterfly yet it is in the process of being razed to the ground to make way for HS2.

“One can’t always mitigate against loss of some habitats. It takes a very long time for a woodland to regrow with its complex ecology so we must do everything we can to take care of these special places. They are irreplaceable and I would say that it is deeply immoral to destroy them. I’m not sure if I’ve left it too late to paint Calvert jubilee nature reserve but I fear I might.”

You can see Jane’s work at The Wykeham Gallery, Stockbridge, at Iona House Gallery, Woodstock or through her website or Instagram account.

Picture of the week: 21/09/20

THIS week’s painting is a new work by Chilterns artist Sue Graham, who has often drawn inspiration from local landscapes.

A feature in April revealed how a series of paintings inspired by her love of the dawn chorus prompted her family to buy a croft and start planting hundreds of trees on a remote Scottish island.

One of her latest completed works takes its inspiration from a landscape at the other end of the country, in Cornwall.

EXPLOSION OF LIGHT: Sundown, St Ives, acrylic on board by Sue Graham

Sue explains: “In 2019 I decided to organise a group exhibition in St Ives, famous for its artist colony and a place I had always wanted to visit.

“It was a great week: off to have a beer and yoga on the beach every evening after I shut the exhibition doors, and wonderful company from my fellow artists. It was just a fabulous hard-working but energising experience.

“One evening I climbed up on the grassy slope above Porthmeor Beach as the sun was setting. The whole bay was lit up and the air itself seemed to glow.

“I wasn’t interested in catching a precise rendition in paint of St Ives viewed from the hill, more an expression of how it felt to be there at that moment: intoxicated by the sense of space, light, the natural world and infinite possibilities. 

“I started painting this in August 2019 when I got home: it started well and then I got lost in it. So I put it away, then Covid came and cancer came and by the time I felt like painting again I pulled it out and by then somehow in my mind I had resolved how to make it work.

“It’s often best to put things away when they get stuck, though I did at one point almost chop it into pieces. This is painted on board: it’s a weird surface, ungiving and thirsty, but it makes for some great textures if you layer the paint and scrape it back again. That’s the technique I used for the foreground, which is my favourite part.”

Art which speaks volumes

FOR millions of Catholics around the world, today’s Gospel reading at Mass is a very familiar story.

Luke is explaining how, with the crowds gathering around him, Jesus recounts the parable of the sower spreading his seed on different types of land, to see much of it trampled on, eaten by birds, withered or choked. Only the seed falling into rich soil grows to produce a successful crop.

Jesus goes on to explain what the parable means in relation to the word of God. But it’s doubtful if too many in the average congregation would immediately relate the story to images of a street artwork conceived by a graffiti artist in Lithuania.

STAR SEEDER: graffiti art by Morfai in Kaunas, Lithuania

That’s where art expert, entrepreneur and seminarian Patrick van der Vorst comes in.

Some 18 months ago the former Sotheby’s director launched a new website linking daily gospel readings with poignant and reflective works of art, accompanied by a short personal commentary.

His choice for today’s reading is Star Seeder, a piece of graffiti art which went viral after it appeared on a wall in Kaunas, the second-largest city in Lithuania.

As Patrick goes on to explain: “At first there was simply the bronze statue (on the left on our photo) created by Bernardas Bučas (1903–1979) in Kaunas, the art deco capital of Lithuania. The sculpture embodies the interwar period where the peasant is sowing grains, working for his country. Fast forward to 2008. Street artist Morfai sprayed the wall behind the sculpture with stars. The composition works only at night, as then with the light which is shining upon the monument, a shadow of the sculpture is cast onto the wall, which then corresponds with the stars being sown by the shadow silhouette of the sower… The grains have become stars…”

Patrick then explains the parable connection by pointing out how the street artwork makes no sense during the day – it is only when night comes that the sculpture shadow is cast onto the wall and the artwork does make sense.

Likewise with parables it may be that they make little sense at first sight, he says. “It is only at certain times, or when our own personal circumstances change, or a certain light is shining upon a certain aspect of our lives that the parables make sense,” he writes.

Ironically, the original artwork was overpainted and it was only eight years later that Morfai was invited to restore it, this time incorporated black granite stars onto the wall behind the statue.

Meanwhile Patrick, who moved to London from Belgium in 1995, worked for years at Sotheby’s before featuring as a winner on the TV programme Dragons’ Den when his antiques-valuing website Value My Stuff was backed by both Deborah Meaden and Theo Paphitis.

But the entrepreneur’s life took a new twist in 2019 when he enrolled as a seminarian with the Diocese of Westminster, studying at the Pontifical Beda College in Rome to become a priest.

His website features an extraordinary range of artworks spanning the centuries, and allowing visitors to consider the daily reading from a new perspective.

His website offers a daily news letter by email with the Gospel reading of the day, alongside an appropriate work of art and short reflection.

Picture of the week: 14/09/20

TO MARK Hertfordshire’s annual open studios programme, our third picture of the week is another featured artist from the event.

Our focus is on artists specialising in landscape, nature and wildlife working in any medium, and our latest selection is a colourful painting by Mary Ann Day.

BOLD COLOURS: Red Sky at Night, Hertfordshire, by Mary Ann Day

A self-taught artist whose work has featured in several exhibitions on the outskirts of London, Mary Ann has experimented with different styles and textures, using a palette knife in much of her work. She continues to be excited by the “magic of paint” and says she is travelling on “an artistic journey that continues on a never-ending rollercoaster of discovery”.

Her work features various themes but is notable for its bold, bright colours, sometimes laid on in thick layers but always vibrant and often evoking far-off wind-lashed islands like Hawaii and Fiji.

“Colour is the key to my work,” she explains. “Without colour life would be a very dull place.”

The Herts Visual Arts event runs until September 30 and features artists, artisans and designer-makers who live or work in or on the borders of Hertfordshire. Visit the Herts Visual Arts website for more details.

Do you have a favourite artist or sculptor specialising in landscape, nature and wildlife work? We’d love to receive your nominations for future works to feature in our Picture of the Week slot – drop a brief explanation for the reasons for your choice to editor@thebeyonder.co.uk.

Picture of the week: 07/09/20

TO MARK Hertfordshire’s annual open studios programme, our second picture of the week is another featured artist from the event.

Our focus is on artists specialising in landscape, nature and wildlife work in any medium, and this week’s painting is a new work by Alexander James Gordon.

LIGHT AND COLOUR: Daybreak by Alexander James Gordon

Inspired by colour and light, Alexander’s influence comes from watching the sky and imagining the possibility of colour to use within his oil paintings.

He lives and works in Barnet and his paintings are abstract landscapes using oils and a palette knife, which enables him to leave visible marks on the canvas, creating a subtle textural layer to the painting.

His oil painting demonstration for the virtual open studios section of the Herts Visual Arts website shows him explaining his technique during the early stages of creating Daybreak.

More paintings are featured on his own website, which also includes information about future exhibitions.

The Herts Visual Arts event runs until September 30 and features artists, artisans and designer-makers who live or work in or on the borders of Hertfordshire. Visit the Herts Visual Arts website for more details.

Do you have a favourite artist or sculptor specialising in landscape, nature and wildlife work? We’d love to receive your nominations for future works to feature in our Picture of the Week slot – drop a brief explanation for the reasons for your choice to editor@thebeyonder.co.uk.

Artist with 20/20 vision

HIDDEN down a backstreet in the extraordinarily beautiful French hilltop village of Saint-Paul de Vence is an unassuming chapel which was once the home of a brotherhood of pious laymen who did good works to earn forgiveness for their sins. 

Today it houses some remarkable works created by the Belgian artist Jean-Michel Folon, who was commissioned by the town’s mayor to renovate the building. It was to be the artist’s final commission before his death in 2005 at the age of 71, and it turned into a sanctuary of light and serenity encapsulating the work of the Pénitents Blancs while at the same time immortalising Folon’s love for the village.

Known for his illustrations and posters for Unesco and Amnesty International as well as large-scale sculptures in Brussels and Lisbon,  Folon’s vision was completed posthumously by a select group of artisans and master glassmakers. One wall is dominated by an immense mosaic of the village (above), while other murals and stained-glass windows evoke the theme of giving, in keeping with the vocation of the Penitents.

The first traces of the brotherhood in Saint-Paul date from 1581 and they existed in the village until the 1920s. Their charity work with the underprivileged included caring for the sick, handing out clothing and food, and giving grain to farmers in trouble. They would also offer food and shelter to lost travellers and penniless pilgrims. Similar religious congregations of penitents are known by the different colours of their habits – white, black, blue, grey, red, violet and green.

Formally opened in 2008, the chapel is a light-filled joyous place, from the stunning baptismal font (below) to the pastel walls and striking sculptures – but these works also hark back to earlier themes about the preservation of the environment, which is why his work seemed so well suited to being singled out as the first Beyonder tweet of the new decade.

It’s almost 30 years since Folon brought together a series of engravings and posters in an exhibition called Notre Terre which ran in several small towns in France, followed by a collaboration in Italy addressing the same subject – and leaving a legacy of large posters covering the walls of Italian cities for several years afterwards.

Today, the artworks in the Folon Chapel provide a welcome oasis of peace in the heart of the village, which became such a focus for artistic endeavour almost exactly a century ago.

Artists first started frequenting Saint-Paul at the beginning of the 1920s. The trail blazers – Paul Signac, Raoul Dufy and Chaïm Soutine – set up their easels attracted by the colours and rich, intense light, and were soon followed by visitors like Matisse and Picasso.

The artists enjoyed the company of Paul Roux – a painter, art collector and the owner of the famous Colombe d’Or restaurant, whose walls are still adorned with their paintings today.

By the 1950s and 1960s, the village had become a melting pot of talent, with poets, artists and writers rubbing shoulders with the movie stars drawn to the French Riviera by the Victorine film studios in Nice and the Cannes Film Festival.

Find out more about the Folon Chapel on the village website.