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Victoria Brown - a Derbyshire artist whose love of blossom has led to an inspiring art project

PUBLISHED: 15:16 29 April 2014 | UPDATED: 15:16 29 April 2014

Victoria painting in Hardwicks fruit orchard  Photo: Rebecca Moore

Victoria painting in Hardwicks fruit orchard Photo: Rebecca Moore

Rebecca Moore

Victoria Brown’s ‘Blossom’ paintings will be exhibited at Hardwick Hall in May

Victoria Brown's 'Blossom' projectVictoria Brown's 'Blossom' project

Blossom... the very word has a positive ring, as in phrases like ‘the blossom of youth’ or the Oxford Dictionary definition of the verb as ‘to reach a promising stage.’ Horticulturally, the blossom on trees is one of nature’s most eye-gladdening sights, not least because it brings the confirmation of spring and the promise of summer. Culturally, notably in Japan where cherry blossom abounds, the flower is a symbol of the beauty, fragility and preciousness of life.

It’s no wonder these elements have inspired Derbyshire painter Victoria Brown. Her project, entitled simply Blossom, which began last spring, appropriately comes to life again as the blossom reappears. Thanks to funding support from Arts Council England, the National Lottery and Arts Derbyshire, Victoria spent last May as Artist in Residence at the National Trust’s Hardwick Hall, enabling her to paint in situ in the Hall’s fruit orchards. A year on, Victoria will be exhibiting her paintings at Hardwick and hosting a ‘Pop up’ Blossom Studio at Derby QUAD where she will display her work and offer community artwork and ‘blossom activities’.

Visiting Victoria at home in Weston-on-Trent, I walk in from the damp, cold, overcast remains of winter to behold a studio bursting with the multifarious colours, shapes and sizes of blossom flowers. During her Hardwick residency, she captured on canvas every stage of the brief but beautiful life of the blossom from petite bud through full bursting splendour to petal fall.

In the course of the project, Victoria found not only complete artistic satisfaction but also a fascinating subject with many hidden meanings.

Victoria Brown in her studio  Photo: Ashley FranklinVictoria Brown in her studio Photo: Ashley Franklin

‘In this hi-tech world, we need more connectivity with the natural world, and there are few more wondrous celebrations of nature than the effervescence of blossom. The Japanese have a huge connection with blossom, holding sake parties under the trees. For them, blossom represents the ephemeral nature of our own existence – it’s beautiful and bursting with life but its time alive is tragically brief. My aim with this project was to explore their transient nature and delicacy, celebrating their arrival then connecting to the loss when they disappear.’

As a child, Victoria connected with both the natural and artistic world through a fascination for patterns in nature. There was an early connection to blossom, too: when one of the trees under which she played ‘house’ bloomed in spring she would collect the petals and make perfume.

Victoria’s artistic sensibilities were further stirred by her father, Barry Stocks, an East Midlands’ lace manufacturer. ‘As there were three girls in the family, father would often come home with bags of lace,’ recalls Victoria. ‘Lace is all about design, detail, delicacy and intricacy and that very much inspired my artwork.’ Indeed, Victoria’s most successful project in her nine-year career as a full-time artist was ‘Losing Lace’, a commemoration of the East Midlands lace industry for which Victoria created some striking lace paintings as well as an archive of interviews, photographs, memories and stories interwoven with the industry so firmly associated with this region.

Moving from her initial studio space at Banks’ Mill in Derby to her own home studio has brought Victoria closer to nature. ‘While at Banks’ Mill, I missed my morning walks around Weston which were feeding my creativity,’ she recounts. A series of paintings entitled Hanami – the Japanese for ‘blossom viewing’ – were created as a direct response to spring walks around Weston, studying and sketching blossom trees.

The Hanami series, which then led to the Hardwick project, has seen the blossoming of Victoria’s paintings, illuminating her forte for painting bold, bright, vividly coloured canvases both depicting and abstracting the natural world and also highlighting her love of pattern and intricate detail. Furthermore, Victoria’s art found fresh expression in moving from her studio base to paint on location as the Hardwick’s trees bloomed. It was, according to Victoria, an unforgettable and cathartic experience:

‘I was in heaven. There I was painting in Hardwick’s two beautiful orchards where, in the middle of the week especially, there was hardly any sound beyond a rustle of branches. If you walk in nature, it can be so healing and restorative, and I felt I was in a magical place.’

It became even more magical, Victoria declares, when she set down her large blank canvas under the trees. ‘Because the sun was out, I straightaway noticed the shadows falling across the canvas. It was a Eureka moment: I discovered a new, playful, spontaneous, “in the moment” way of working which involved me drawing over the shadows and painting the blossoms over that. I had a wonderful time. I was supposed to spend 18 days there but I did many more – I couldn’t keep away!’

As she painted in orchards of crab apple, old apple, pear and damson trees, Victoria drew many interested viewers and, as part of the project involved ‘engaging with the public in celebration of the blossoms’, some were encouraged to participate, drawing and painting alongside her. Victoria also ran creative workshops with family groups in Chaddesden which led to them painting the cherry blossoms in the community, and the whole project turned into a photographic record, too, with outstanding pictures by professional photographer Rebecca Moore.

When Victoria’s artwork goes on display at Hardwick Hall, she hopes viewers will feel the ‘special energy’ of blossom. There is certainly a vibrancy to her large paintings with the blossoms seemingly dancing and leaping around the canvas as if celebrating their full bloom. The liveliness is enhanced by setting the blossom against vividly coloured grass greens and sky blues, while other canvases are enriched by the addition of sequins and gold leaf to the acrylic paint.

Victoria’s absorption in this project, following on from her Hanami series, has brought her the title of the Blossom Lady. However, a new project is looming which could earn her a fresh epithet. Through her husband Andrew, an arable farmer who works for a grain company, Victoria has discovered that 2016 has been designated by The United Nations as The International Year of the Pulse. ‘Pulses are a nutritious and versatile food that could be the answer to feeding the world,’ Victoria points out. It’s also, she believes, a plant ripe with artistic possibilities: ‘The pulse bean has flowers and the peas have tendrils and I’m thinking about paintings as part of a wider project connected with land, food and growth. Maybe after being the Blossom Lady I could become the Pulse Woman!’

Victoria Brown’s Blossom paintings are on show at Hardwick Hall from Saturday 3rd May to 5th May, and in the Apple Store in The West Court and the South Gazebo next to the fruit orchards until the end of May; the ‘Blossom Pop Up Studio’ is at Derby QUAD on Saturday, 26th April. The photographs of Victoria’s paintings were taken by Mandy Heathcote Photography.

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