<div style="display:inline;"> <img height="1" width="1" style="border-style:none;" alt="" src="//googleads.g.doubleclick.net/pagead/viewthroughconversion/1028731116/?value=0&amp;guid=ON&amp;script=0">
CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Derbyshire Life today click here

Jonathan Vickers Fine Art Award winner - Eleanor May Watson

PUBLISHED: 00:00 21 September 2017

Eleanor Watson at Banks Mill studios Photo: The Gribbons

Eleanor Watson at Banks Mill studios Photo: The Gribbons

c. The Gribbons

Derbyshire Life talks to Jonathan Vickers Fine Art Award winner Eleanor May Watson as she prepares for her final exhibition

Eleanor Watson at Banks Mill studios Photo: The Gribbons Eleanor Watson at Banks Mill studios Photo: The Gribbons

Every two years, Derbyshire welcomes a rising artist to take up a residency as the latest holder of the Jonathan Vickers Fine Art Award. Established in 1998, and first awarded in 2001 with the help of a legacy from the estate of the late Jonathan Vickers, a lifelong lover of fine arts, the Award aims to create a collection of paintings which will be recognised nationally and will enrich the cultural life of Derbyshire. Each artist has an overarching brief of ‘A Sense of Place’, which for this Award was themed ‘The Changing Faces of Derbyshire’. Eleanor May Watson was selected for the Award, which is managed by Foundation Derbyshire, back in June 2016 from a high quality field, competing against applicants from across the country. We caught up with Eleanor as she completes her residency and prepares for her final exhibition: Dear Reader, at Derby Museum & Art Gallery in September.

What were your first impressions of Derbyshire?

I had spent some time here as a child; lots of National Trust family days out. It was also the romantic setting for Jane Austen’s Pemberley and gothic backdrop to Jane Eyre. But on arriving for this residency, I was struck by how huge and diverse it is as a county. I was struggling to find a way into making paintings that represented its ‘changing faces’, but equally excited to get to know some of its history and landscape better.

What have you enjoyed most
about your year of living in Derbyshire?

Where to begin: Derbyshire itself is so beautiful; the Peaks, the heritage… the pubs! More seriously, the Award enabled me to spend some invaluable time in the studio, meet some truly extraordinary people and enable me to live in an exciting new place. The project itself gave me a great excuse to get in touch with some amazing women, lots of whom, very generously, made time to meet me and be involved. I really cannot express how honoured and humbled I feel.

I have also made some wonderful friends, who have looked out for me during my time here: the amazing Jonathan Vickers Team as well my teammates and pals at Derby Hockey Club and the artists at Banks Mill Studios. All of them have welcomed me and made my time here in Derbyshire really special.

What was your biggest challenge in terms of the Vickers Award?

The biggest challenge was finding a project which allowed me to discover Derbyshire and explore its ‘changing faces’, but also continue with on-going themes within my practice. I usually make paintings of very staged interiors and gardens.

Making a body of work on this scale was also a new challenge. How to create one which felt like a comprehensive and cohesive investigation, but also offered variety and space for experimentation. Once I had decided on making work which related to the heroines of Derbyshire, I then embarked on a huge research project which felt ever-expanding. I could work on it for years. All that potential presented its own challenges.

How did you decide on your final choice of theme to fit the brief ‘The Changing Faces of Derbyshire’?

Very broadly I was researching the history of Derbyshire. Without really thinking, I began to make a list of the many fascinating female figures in its history. During the launch event at Melbourne Hall and the open studios at Banks Mill the news of this list was so well received that I felt compelled to pursue it somehow. It offered an extremely broad base from which to make works, and although daunting, it allowed me to explore new methods of making paintings.

I was not interested in making portraits. Instead, I wanted to use these women as the protagonists of the narratives. Often they are absent. The viewer explores the space with their understanding of the women in mind, creating new stories. In other paintings, the women appear, but these are always mediated images. Unlike more traditional portraits, these have been framed by a camera lens. I was keen to explore using a variety of source material and how this affects the reading of the painting.

How important is an Award like the Vickers for an artist who wants to make art their profession?

It provides invaluable time in the studio. Making is the most important part of being a painter for me. It also flung me far from my comfort zone, responding to a brief has been really difficult, but I have learnt plenty by doing it. Broadening my experience of teaching has also been hugely valuable. Firstly, running workshops and tutorials with fine art students at the University of Derby, which was a great insight into teaching at BA level. Secondly, developing a series of workshops on the science of art for students with STEM ambassadors from Rolls-Royce and staff from Derby Museums. This was a new experience in collaborative working.

What have you learnt about your own artistic practice this year?

It has been really interesting working in an entirely new way. Usually, I make paintings by responding to found images; deconstructing them and recreating the space with a new implied narrative. For Dear Reader, the search was different, much more specific, with the life stories of these women in mind. I have a very different relationship to these works. It is as though they talked or even, sometimes, wrestled back.

My work usually sets scenes which tell stories full of open-ended ambiguity. These paintings work differently, as the viewers’ reading will be informed by their understanding of the protagonist. I was keen to hold on to the inherent mystery of an empty space and not give too much away.

Some elements are biographical and others are invented. I enjoyed being an unreliable narrator, these are always so alluring to me in novels.

Can you explain your Dear Reader, exhibition?

I am inviting the viewer to read these scenes as settings for stories. It is unclear who is speaking, whether it is the protagonist or the narrator. I enjoy this ambiguity. It also refers to the famous line in Jane Eyre: ‘Reader, I married him.’

What advice would you give the next Vickers Award winner?

Choose a project that gives you an excuse to meet some amazing people you would otherwise never meet. Also, sometimes you are fighting a losing battle – so, let the painting go!

What would you like to be doing in 10 years’ time?

Happy and engaged in making paintings of course!

What’s next for you in the art world?

I’m going to get back into the studio and try to digest, develop and refine what I have discovered this year. It will be interesting to go back to working without a brief, and see what I come up with.

Eleanor Watson’s exhibition, Dear Reader, is on at Derby Museum & Art Gallery from 16th Sept to 19th Nov. All the paintings (apart from those selected for the Vickers collection) will be on sale and there will be limited edition prints of three paintings. For more information please visit: www.vickersartaward.co.uk


Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Derbyshire Life and Countryside visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Derbyshire Life and Countryside staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Derbyshire Life and Countryside account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from Out & About

Join In: QUIZ - Can you name these snow scenes in Derbyshire?

Thursday, November 30, 2017

How many of these local landmarks can you recognise?

Read more

Sally Mosley leads a walk that combines a town trail and a pleasant winter wander, with plenty of historic structures to appreciate in and around beautiful Ashbourne along the way

Read more

Mike Smith visits a Peakland village with all the amenities... including delicious ice-cream

Read more

A look at the festive themes and events at the county’s great houses

Read more

6 walks near Buxton

Friday, November 10, 2017

Buxton is the perfect base for a walking holiday in the Peak District. We pick some of our favourites in the surrounding area.

Read more
Buxton Peak District

A collection of walks in and around the Cheshire section of the Peak District National Park.

Read more
Peak District

Simon Burch tells the fascinating story of The Knowle near Hazelwood

Read more

Whether you’re planning a weekend escape or a day out, where better to head for than the White Peak villages of Thorpe, Alstonefield and Hartington? Mike Smith explores...

Read more
White Peak

Photographer Graham Dunn continues his visual journey of the Peak District National Park

Read more

Peter Seddon revisits a notorious trial in Victorian Derby

Read more

The ‘Rural Oscars’ Are Back

Read more

Remote and rural, Sally Mosley’s picturesque walk in the Manifold Valley takes us from from deep wooded valley to ‘big sky’ views

Read more

Ashley Franklin visits Stanton by Dale in south-east Derbyshire – ‘Once you get here, you wouldn’t want to live anywhere else’

Read more

Peak District Walk - Glossop

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Head to the north of the county for a scenic walk around hills and mills in the High Peak with Sally Mosley

Read more
Great British Holidays advert link

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Local Business Directory

Derbyshire's trusted business finder

Job search in your local area

Property Search