Sarah Bryant - themes

Domestic birds

Friends in France have a capacious garden where they keep some very happy and wide ranging domestic birds. Some are loosely contained within a large pen, and here I spent many happy hours observing and drawing them - the geese bossed, the peacocks posed and the hens rested - and they all provided wonderful subject matter! Beyond the pen other geese toured the garden in a column, and ducks splashed in the pond or lay in the shade; truly a bird's paradise!
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I have visited the Western Isles since I was a child, returning more recently to paint on the island of Colonsay; from here you look across the sea to Mull, Jura and Islay. The skies are magnificent and the light changes frequently and dramatically; the stunning white beaches and turquoise sea make a vivid contrast with the dark seaweed covered rocks and the brilliant green grass and crimson heather in the foreground. The wind blows and the midges invade, but it remains a painter's paradise.
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Still life

Still life subjects present an opportunity for intense concentration. Shut away in my studio, with nothing to distract, there is time for minute observation: the translucency of a petal or the glistening surface of a fish; the pattern on a mackerel or the structure of a shell; the intrinsic qualities of a much loved object or the detritus on a studio floor, each provides a hugely rich source of material.
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Time and again I am drawn to trees, particularly when grouped together: whether stunted and bent over by the wind on Cumbrian fellsides, planted in rows like the olive trees in rich, red Spanish earth, bordering a track as it disappears into the distance or placed more formally in parks and gardens, they demand attention. They are the figures that inhabit the landscape; they provide the verticals to the horizontal, the stepping stones to the horizon.
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What could be more engrossing than to paint by the seashore, assailed by constantly changing sights, smells and sounds. On the north Norfolk coast the sailing is hugely tidal and long periods of relative quiet are interrupted by feverish activity at high tide; sailing boats are heaved into the water and the sound of sails filling with wind and ropes chinking against the mast can be heard. Fishing boats change position on a rising tide and the wind blows ripples across reflections; the smell of the sea pervades the air. As the tide recedes expanses of gleaming mud are revealed, taking on intense pinks and purples in the evening light, while the now narrow channels become an increasingly vivid blue.
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and seashore »


I have long painted views of terrace houses and gardens, as seen from the windows of my house: but more recently commisions have led me to venture beyond, particularly to the river's edge in Battersea where St Mary's Church looks out across the water, just as it did in J M W Turner's time. Standing on the mud below the tide line proved to be a wonderfully peaceful place to be, the sounds limited to the various craft that ply up and down the river followed by their wash breaking on the shore, the geese that waddle over, honking, to see what I am doing and, once, a party of excited schoolchildren drawing their own impressions of the scene.
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I never get tired of watching people; ideally I would choose to paint my subject from life whilst remaining unobserved myself, something I have achieved only in drawing. Catching an expression or the character of an individual must be one of the most challenging problems an artist can face, and yet one of the most fascinating. Perhaps it is more revealing to catch someone employed in a favourite pastime, absorbed in their own world.
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Every August I travel to Seillans, an enchanting hilltop village in the south of France, in order to take part in Musique Cordiale, a Festival spread over nearly two weeks and encompassing a wide variety of music. I sing in the choir, but over the years have also seized the opportunity to draw members of the orchestra in rehearsal: I love to watch a player's stance, the position of the hands and the interplay between hands and instrument. My attention has spread to the choir, audience, and even an exhausted chef, worn out by producing a picnic for the entire company! The paintings shown here are based on the studies executed during the Festival.
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