|From Homes & Gardens
Arabella Johnsen: portrait of an artist
Applying layer upon layer of paint to a six-foot square canvas
is not a job for the faint-hearted. Nor, says Arabella Johnsen is
the challenge purely one of scale. It is a task that requires her
to think on her feet, guiding the paint over the length and breadth
of the canvas, working and reworking until she is happy with what
appears before her. In some cases it means starting again from scratch.
It is extremely unpredictable. You are mixing colours on the
canvas rather than on the palette, and quite often they dont
end up the shade you want them to be, says Arabella, as she
works away in her studio, a converted dairy adjacent to her Hampshire
farmhouse. It is also a very tactile process; she applies paint with
hands sheathed in surgical gloves. Its almost impossible
to do this type of work with brushes she says.
When Arabellas children, Isabella, eight, and Jack, seven, are
at school, the studio is where youll find her. Since graduating
from the Royal College of Art in 1992, she has worked almost non-stop,
striking canvasses depicting flowers, landscapes and, after a trip
to America in
the early 1990s, scenes consisting of cartoon characters. Her paintings
are now in collections all over the world and sell from around £14,000
Arabellas studio is tucked beside the 18th-century house where
she lives with her family and four dogs; outside, half a dozen sheep
and a few chickens roam. She and her husband Nick bought the house
in 1996, when Jack was just two months old. Since then Arabella has
put her very personal stamp on its interior. The painstaking designs
in the sitting room and the murals on the study walls were inspired by Charleston, the boldly
painted house in East Sussex where various members of the Bloomsbury
Some of the decorating schemes involved rather quicker solutions.
The downstairs, for example, is covered in reproduction Redoute prints
taken from a book. Much of the furniture is from junk shops or improvised.
The couples seven-foot wide mattress rests on a frame that Arabella
constructed from rough-hewn timber found at their last home.
But it isnt just the inside of the house that has received Arabellas
attention; in summer the garden bursts with an aromatic riot of fennel,
lambs ears, scented nicotania and wisteria blossom in purple,
white and pink. One of her first projects was to build a terrace for
outdoor lunches. Since then, she has reinforced the idea of it being
an outdoor living space, with arbours and a summer house with its
own kitchen. Beyond the garden is a field in which the familys
Jacob sheep graze and bantams peck at scraps.
There is no doubt that her painters eye has given Arabella the
confidence to dream up and execute decorating ideas in the house that
others might spend months deliberating over. Perhaps being always
prepared to start all over again has made her realise that a brave
decision is never irreversible.
Words: Giles Kime. Photographs: Simon Brown.
Originally published in Homes & Gardens, April 2004. Reprinted
|James Fairgrieve has
an innate ability to compose images of immense beauty through acute
He is one of Scotland's leading painters. Having studied at the Edinburgh
College of Art (196268) he went on to teach painting and drawing
at the Edinburgh College of Art from where he retired in 1998. He
is a member of the Royal Scottish Academy, Royal Scottish Society
of Painters in Watercolours and past President of the Society of Scottish
Birds, animals and the natural world feature strongly in his pictures
which have been widely shown in group and solo exhibitions north and
south of the Border.
His work is held by many collections; the most notable include, HRH
Prince Philip, Ian Rankin and the Fleming Collection.
MacLean Fine Art held a one-man show of James Fairgrieves recent
still life work art artLondon 2002.
For available works please click