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Studio visits, insight + feedback

Vanessa Lacey from Irving Contemporary visiting the studio, August 2020

I was thrilled when Vanessa Lacey, Irving Contemporary, visited my studio recently. She was selecting work for a forthcoming group exhibition in September – October 2020 and we were able to have preliminary conversations ahead of my solo show with the gallery in May – June next year.

During the visit, I showed fledgling work emerging from recent experimentations with new processes. We moved paintings around and Vanessa brought her expert eye to the collection. We had a lot of fun as we thought, talked, and laughed together. Vanessa identified visual connections between works that I hadn’t seen or anticipated. Paintings and drawings in storage were brought out and looked at afresh. I was reminded of the magic of in-person conversations and the importance of reviewing a body of work in its entirety.

New fledgling work

Conversations with collectors, artists, creative professionals, gallerists and art consultants are essential to my practice. I love listening to different individuals’ experiences of, and connection with, the paintings. It helps me understand how paintings resonate and live in the world. This is turn pushes, stretches and drives my practice forwards, hopefully making it more meaningful.

In recent months, with exhibitions and fairs on hiatus, these conversations are sparse and even more precious. Artists have been gathering online to think and process together or simply drink wine and chat. We often discuss a particular painting, or any studio challenges, yet a digital image of a painting is not the same as seeing it in the flesh. It is also rare that an entire body of work is reviewed at once.

Vanessa’s visit has helped clarify the visual lexicon of marks, textures, forms emerging in my work as well as some of the conceptual underpinnings. I look forward to sharing these new pieces as they emerge and to hearing your thoughts.

Images below are from my materials sketchbook exploring new experimental processes.

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Navigating uncertainty and an insistence on hope.

At the start of lockdown I found myself contemplating the word calamity. The claxon clanging noise and chaos of it, internal alarm system shouting ’emergency’ in red tumbling flashes. It is describes that feeling of being ‘like a cat in a washing machine’: disorientated, tumbling, as though my limbs were disconnected from the ground and the world askew. Everything felt LOUD. This sense of emergency changes over time and we acclimatise. A new continuum exists without the pressure of exhibitions or external deadlines. Some days I forget and the world is entirely normal, the fields luminous in spring sunshine. On others my fibres seem to sag with a nameless sorrow – a missing of family and friends. On these days I breathe, leaning into the embrace of fields and hedgerows.

In the studio I am trying to translate these thoughts into paint, marks, colour. I have been thinking about the importance of noticing our feet on the ground, held by the landscape and its’ emerging signs of spring. I have finished paintings I have been working on for two years/three springs, begun a series of smaller paintings and am playing with collages using drawings made on ‘drawing walks’. I began An insistence on hope, (then Light meditation I) in 2018 and have been working on it, stripping it back, revisiting it ever since. One morning I rose at 5.30am to walk with the dawn chorus and the painting finished itself that day.

Navigating uncertainty, a series of three paintings produced during lockdown mostly removes the ground beneath our feet, throwing us up into changing skies, hot-blue hope, white and lemon light and offerings of movement and rain. There is a wildness in these.

Outside the studio, I have been bathing in poetry. Phrases from poems thrum under the surface of paintings. I am a few essays into reading Jonathan Davidson’s ‘On Poetry’. I was struck by his words in the introduction and am carrying them with me in connection to painting: ‘privately poems take our concentration and consideration and turn this into energy. Poems find themselves in the firmament. They glow when they are of beautiful use, when they are heard and shared, when they are part of the Poetry Commonwealth. And as we’ve always understood of stars, they are worth gazing at, and sometimes worth following. ‘ (p8, On Poetry, Jonathan Davidson Smith|Doorstop Books, 2018)

And I have been cycling – travelling for miles on two-wheeled freedom. On one ride a lark flew level with my head. I have seen hares at close quarters – gasping at the gift of the encounters. And this morning the wind, green scented, sounded against my ears transporting me to Cornish moors and family holidays. Afterall, every storm will eventually run out of rain (referencing Maya Angelou originally quoting an unnamed country song).

Images from top:
An insistence on hope, 2020, 20 x 40 x 3.2cm, Sold, private collection UK.
Navigating Uncertainty I, II, III, 2020 each painting 30 x 40 x 2cm, ink and gesso on artist panel. £495 / painting or £1200 all three.
You must know green from green, 2020, 40 x 60 x 3.2cm ink and gesso on birch, £860 unframed / £960 framed in white lime waxed wood.

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Take a breath

This week as the world tilts, we each adjust to our new normal.

For me this is the close, cancellation, or rescheduling of exhibitions and university teaching moving online; the distress of an elderly couple shuffling terrified into an empty supermarket; the noise of mass media and clamouring panic.

In reaction there is village mobilisation, community support networks. And everywhere friendship, problem solving, the limbo of waiting and the view from the window suggesting nothing has changed. The grass keeps growing and the crows still delight in riding the wind.

On Wednesday I walked in the gathering dusk.

Like a cool blanket, wrapping the world in quietness, the darkness was a resting pause. Rain crackled on my jacket, whispering lightly on my upturned face.

I thought about what might be useful, what you might need right now to lend you strength and space to breathe.

So here is silence.

Here is planting your feet, feeling your toes and the soles of your feet on the earth.

Here is breathing, deeply into your belly.

Here is listening in widening circles to the sounds of the world around you.

Looking deeply at a flower, a tree, a plant growing.

Inhale. Exhale.

Here is a moment to pause.

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Alex and the Clowns 2019-20


Between October 2019 to end of December 2020 I am aiming to raise 10K for Clowns Without Borders UK through a range of community building activities, sales of work and direct fundraising drives. This is not something I can do on my own and I hope that you will love what I have to offer and want to get involved.

The money raised through the campaign will help the charity establish a regular presence at the Moira Refugee Camp in Lesvos, Greece. The camp is four times its maximum capacity and none of the larger charities have a presence there. The Clowns will deliver family play sessions to help children laugh, play, forget their struggles and be children again. These interventions create precious respite from the day to day horrors of camp life – offering hope, kindness and solidarity to support children’s wellbeing and help them to process what is happening.

Why Clowns Without Borders UK? I personally know the Director of the charity with whom I have worked on community and participatory arts projects since 2009, as well as a number of the clowns. I can vouch for the quality and integrity of the work they do as well as its positive impact. In addition, the administrative team is small, donating much of their time for free. Their artists – professional performers and musicians – also volunteer their time and expertise for free. They are clowns not in the scary dubious sense but in the joy-filled laughter-giving playful sense offering hope and solidarity, helping to re-build communities.

Why do this?

Right now, there are a billion children who live in areas affected by conflict, war or disaster. When this happens children are often the first group in any population to lose their rights; the right to be a child. Clowns Without Borders aims to bring this back encouraging children to laugh, play and forget their struggles…to simply be children again. The clowns do this by creating unique opportunities for children to engage with performances created by expert clowns, jugglers, acrobats and musicians.

Community and a love of people are at the heart of my practice. This fundraising drive is a way to nourish, build and develop my own personal and professional communities whilst simultaneously benefitting more vulnerable people in need of our help.

In our current climate creating more love and connection in the world is vital.

Royal Parks Half Marathon – the first fundraising event.

Calendar of Events:

December: (coming up next)
> Pause and Connect – a day retreat for Creative Professionals 16/17 December. All money raised will be donated. £45 / person. Email me to book –
>Sponsored climb – On 18th December I am going to climb for as long and as high as I can on an indoor climbing wall. I have never climbed in my life. I don’t really have a head for heights and when my friend Ruth, a climbing instructor, suggested this I thought… eeek… ok. If you would like to sponsor me you can here:
> Open Studio 7th December. 10% of all sales of work donated to Clowns Without Borders UK.

November: Sales of cards and prints in London and New York raise £57.50

> Launched limited edition print in two sizes (A2 and A3) with 10% of profits donated to the Clowns.
>Launched sales of packs of Art + Charity Cards for £12.50 per pack with 10% of profits going to Clowns without Borders UK – raising £114 so far
> Ran Royal Parks Half Marathon raising £1650. I ran with a team with a team of 20 other people and together we raised £13500 for the Clowns.

Ultra Marine Like Larksong, 2019 (Limited edition print. 10% of sales to the Clowns).

How can you get involved?

Host an art brunch. You provide the brunch and the guests, I provide the art and the artist (participating invited artists only) 60% of sales go direct to the artist and 40% to Clowns Without Borders UK.

Be part of the fundraising team! Get in touch if you love this idea and want to help raise more money. Email me

Attend a workshop / buy a print or card / support the charity long term directly.

Clowns Without Borders is a UK registered Charitable Trust. No. 1156987
Registered Office:  118, Sternhold Avenue, London, SW7 5JU. United Kingdom
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Drawing – absence and surface

In last month’s post I shared some of the intentions behind my work, namely –

To create paintings that offer spaces of deep listening, embodied reflection and transportation for the viewer. The paintings are an invitation to breathe more deeply, to be alert and present, to step out of the mental noise of everyday life.

In this post, I want to revisit those intentions and to share some research and new work – snippets of the material conversations, reading, thinking and making I have been doing to move my practice forwards – and so to creep closer to that arrogant goal.

Working with land and sky since 2015, the paintings themselves evolve through a physical engagement with being outside. They draw on the visual language of land, sky and space yet increasingly resist the ‘where is it’ of representation. One painting might be the summary of months of walking at a certain time whilst another might arrive immediately and intuitively. If a painting is too rooted in literal representation then it is actively destroyed either by chucking ink over the top and then rubbing or stripping it back or by sanding away layers to discover the pausing silence of space.

Detail of new work.

Underpinning this process is a material conversation that is really about a visceral response to surface. In the Poetry Exchange podcast with the actor Paterson on Roxy Dunn’s poem, “5 am”, he says that ‘he get’s’ Dunn’s poems and that at the end of reading every poem it generates a response in him that is ‘a very Caribbean thing’ – a sound – that is shoulders going down and a deep heart belly exhalation, satisfaction, completeness sound – “huhnmm”. (you can listen to the podcast here to know what I mean: Ever since listening to this podcast over a year ago I have been struck by that sound. It is the expression of the way certain sculptures or paintings feel – and the quality assurance I am searching for.

That sound is 4B Pencil marks on gesso; charcoal and shellac; different densities of shellac; sandpaper through shellac on gesso soaked with ink – especially indigo, paynes gray, or turquoise; ultra marine; the brush marks in painted gesso revealed by ink – but NOT if the whole surface is painted and agitated – only some parts; polished, sponged, naked gesso; sanded back, wire wooled, waxed gesso; the memory of minute marks and flaws, lines, drips, imperfections; the built up patina of fighting with a surface over a period of time – saturating it and knocking it back next to an absence of ink….

Detail of new work.

In “To Take Paper, To Draw” (Landscapes, John Berger on Art), Berger reflects on three types of drawings: “those that study and question the visible; those that record and communicate ideas; and those done from memory”. He says, ” the distinction between the three is important, for each type survives in a different way. Each speaks in a different tense. To each we respond with a different capacity of imagination”. A drawing from any of the three categories can be “miraculous” and can acquire another “temporal dimension”. This comes from the fact that they are drawings, “only notes on paper” with the key ingredient being the paper: “The paper becomes what we see through the lines, and yet remains itself. […] The paper lends itself between the lines to become tree, stone, grass, water, cloud. Yet it can never for an instant be confused with the substance of any of these things, for evidently and emphatically, it remains a sheet of paper.” (Landscapes, John Berger on Art, chapter 2 p20-26, ISBN 978-1-7847-8584-0 published by Verso, 2016).

I have often thought of the work I make not as painting but closer to drawing with its roots in the direct modelling and carving of plaster. The gesso surface is similar to a sheet of paper. It offers silence, space, pause, muscle, poetry, memory, substance and absence. The process of working with it is a conversation full of surprises, problems and opportunities.

The recent paintings balance between the gesso surface – naked, marked, scarred, built up, pencilled, shellacked, polished, punctuated by brush marks and colour. They are not monochrome drawings but still intend, perhaps, to be like “notes on paper” – love notes to the miraculous world we inhabit. To breathing and space.

New works will be available to view at:

  1. The Other Art Fair, Victoria House, London 3-6 October
  2. Land, Sea, Sky with Byard Art Cambridge – PV 3 October – with exhibition running until 27 October
  3. The Other Art Fair, Brooklyn, 7-10 November
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Kindness by the poet Naomi Shihab Nye

Artwork by Richard Ian Heys

Before you know what kindness really is
You must lose things,
Feel the future dissolve in a moment 
Like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
What you counted and carefully saved,
All this must go so you know 
How desolate the landscape can be between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride 
Thinking the bus will never stop,
The passengers eating maize and chicken 
Will stare out the window for ever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
You must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
Lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
How he too was someone
Who journeyed through the night with plans
And the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

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Thoughts on the cycle of creative practice: incubation, research, experimentation and production.

During May and June I spent time away from the studio. Instead of painting, I was incubating. It is a now familiar pattern: I work intensely for months, then once I have shown the work, I return to the studio intending to get on with things once more but a magnetic force repels me. The blue studio door appears, instead of a happy beacon, a doom weary dragon. My feet are heavier, the walls encase and enclose, even the light is grey and flat. If I force the process I make bad paintings that need to be sanded back and bad drawings that are over painted / drawn/ or pushed and pulled until the paper tears. I leave the studio to run or walk and feel the liberation of sky against my skin and birds overhead. Gradually, incubation leads to curiosity, intuitive hunches and play back in the studio. Momentum builds and the energetic shift in my body is similar to the change a runner experiences before running up a hill. I can feel my legs preparing for the incline as the balance of power shifts into my pelvis and thighs ready to commit and begin the climb once more.

I have been working with sky and land since 2015. In making the paintings I typically cycle between abstraction and something more representational. More recently I have felt inhibited by external expectations that the paintings will be landscapes or skyscapes. I don’t perceive them in this way because whilst they employ the visual language of land and sky, they come from a physical engagement with being outside. On an artist’s retreat this weekend with My Next Chapter the original intention for the paintings resurfaced. I was able to rearticulate this as:

“The intention to create spaces of deep listening, embodied reflection and transportation for the viewer. The paintings are an invitation to breathe more deeply, to be alert and present, to step out of the mental noise of everyday life.”

The challenge when working with land and sky is to paint not what is expected – “the where is it” answer to landscape – but instead to make what feels intuitively right.

Work in progress.

In moving from incubation to making, at the corners of my imagination are soft graphite lines, dense records of movement that anchor the gaze through their simplicity. On the gesso surface the pitted bubbling of water-diluted ink exhales next to the scoring lines of sandpaper, the crinkle of coarse wire wool, and the hairline whispers of a finer grade. In all this mark making there is desire for a visceral grounding. The new work seeks to navigate visual noise through a looseness of mark making and retain some simplicity of gesture.

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The Other Art Fair, Brooklyn: big dreams + friendship

How do you approach your dreams? Some people set life goals, go for them and achieve them. Full disclosure – I am not one of this super human breed. I find that my intuition gets a little noisy and decides something is a good idea. Then I set something in motion and before you know it, I am sneaking up on a BIG DREAM, pretending I am doing something else entirely. At this point my inner critic gets very loud and turns into a shouting chimpanzee. Luckily it is easily distracted by bananas, friends and ‘happy chicken music’ so that I can get on with doing THE WORK.

Deciding to apply, and then do, The Other Art Fair in Brooklyn was like giving a big heavy boulder a tiny little nudge out of curiosity, just to see what would happen, and then sprinting to keep up with it as it gathered speed. Making the work, shipping it, navigating UK and US customs (where my work got stuck on both sides) and four months of nausea inducing anxiety later I found myself flying into New York with two suitcases full of back up work (in case the large pieces didn’t get out of customs in time).

Walking the west side of New York City, looking across to Jersey

For the first part of my trip I stayed in residence with Village West Gallery in my capacity as Collaborative Partnerships Manager for Be Smart About Art. That meant that a few hours after landing, I found myself speeding over the Brooklyn Bridge in a cab with the night view of Manhattan rushing towards me, lights ablaze. It was a movie star moment. A cascade of excitement washed over me. I wanted to leap out of the cab and stand there for hours soaking it all in but time and traffic had other ideas. I spent the first three days with Village West Gallery staying with Robinson and Jim in their extraordinary home above the Gallery. Robinson also founded 14 C Art Fair, an art fair for Jersey City which took place for the first time in March this year at the Hyatt Hotel. Unusually, the Fair does not take any commission so the galleries and artists exhibiting just pay for their rooms. The second fair will take place in February next year and promises to be another great success (keep an eye out for applications opening soon).

Jennifer Krause Chapeau (left) in her studio at Mana Contemporary with Robinson Holloway (Gallery owner, Village West Gallery and Director of Art Fair 14 C)

I spent the first couple of days visiting Mana Contemporary, the Met, Liberty State Park, sorting last minute framing and chatting to my generous and fascinating hosts. I moved over to Brooklyn on Wednesday to stay with Air B and B hosts one of whom serendipitously happened to be an artist and professor at NYU.

There is an extraordinary sense of community at the heart of all the fairs. Roughly 12 UK based artists had flown over to do the Other Art Fair in Brooklyn. It felt like a home away from home. During the Fair I met numerous wonderful artists. Two new artist friends deserve a particular mention – my opposite neighbour in the fair was Birgit Huttemann-Holz, a german artist now living in Detroit. We bonded over a shared love of process. Birgit uses an aluminium plate to create expressive monoprints vibrant with colour. I was also adopted by the British born and now Brooklyn based photographer David Pexton. David’s enthusiasm and warmth saw him introducing me to all the friends who had travelled to support him for the weekend. His work is playful and thought provoking, often with an underlying wry sense of humour – a captured pause in the flow of things.

I have written previously on the intensity of a fair: the rollercoaster of emotions, the intimate connection one has with collectors, the hugs and friendship kindled through shared stories of inspiration and process. Exhibiting at an international fair, one feels an acute sense of vulnerability, the stakes are higher both practically in terms of financial investment as well as emotionally. One’s ego quivers, exposed without the usual comforts and reassurances of home.

During the course of four days collectors, gallerists, visitors and other artists exchange ideas. One feels impregnated by the joy of listening and seeing people fall in love with art over and over again. It is such a privilege to witness this happening on other people’s as well as my own stand. At the end of each day, in the late evening the artists often eat together, exchange stories, decompress, explore and play. One experiences a lot of love and generosity as well as a rich sense of kinship and shared understanding.

It is highly addictive, so a week and a half of incredible humans, conversations, art, places and sunshine later – I have forgotten ever being worried and just want to do it all over again….

Thank you to everyone who visited, fell in love with paintings and took them home. Brooklyn, I had a blast – please may I come back?

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An evolving sense of belonging

In 2015 I showed with the Other Art Fair for the first time. I thought that I would never be as nervous again, that it would get easier each time one did a Fair. In fact, the stakes get higher, the fear and anticipation bigger, and there is always – ALWAYS – more to learn.

I notice each time I do a Fair that my community grows. At the Affordable Art Fair, Battersea showing with Byard Art (March 2019), I became aware of an evolving sense of belonging. As I explored, chatting with other exhibiting artists, seeing work by numerous friends on the walls, it felt delightful to be able to congratulate various gallerists and to find points of artistic resonance and dissonance. Contrast this with early experiences of art fairs straight out of university where one wanders about with little concept of how to connect with a gallery, how to self represent or what a future career path might be.

Byard Art at The Affordable Art Fair, Battersea – Hannah, me and Roz (from left).

Two weeks ago I celebrated my tenth edition of the Other Art Fair through a shared and curated stand with Hermione Carline at Brick Lane. When you share a stand, you bring the best of yourselves to that experience – the different ways you each do things, whether that is in preparing for the fair, the stand plan, the interactions with visitors. Fresh out of the Affordable Art Fair, a half marathon and an intense few weeks of work, I was full of anticipation and a little low on bounce. I am very grateful for Hermione’s patience. We hung the stand together, we thought about the work, we listened as visitors responded in different ways. We learned about our individual practices -the subtly different visual languages we each speak. What matters, what doesn’t, where we each want to go next.

I was humbled by how many people travelled across London to support us. Friends and clients planned days out, coming to see what the collaboration was all about and to feed back their experience of the work. I met two new babies who have arrived since I saw their mothers last as well as numerous artists, repeat collectors and clients. Some individuals arrived out of context and it took me a little while to place why I knew them and how. This is always mortifying and the marble might drop even three days after the meeting. People are important so this can be distressing post fair. Notably at one Fair last year, I failed to remember my best friend’s name when I tried to introduce her to someone else. So if you are ever visiting – please do remind me who you are and how I know you – it isn’t personal, just the effect of seeing thousands of people each day.

Tabish Khan, The Londonist
Artist Simon Gross and Hermione Carline

For the first three days I forgot to listen properly. I was nervous. I was also soaking up a very distracting print by Hermione that throbbed with light and colour. It drowned out a lot of other conversations, noisy in its poetry. On the final day I had an extraordinary conversation with an art dealer and curator. It was immensely encouraging and nourishing.

As I prepare for The Other Art Fair in New York in May, I am struck by the excitement, the sheer “WEEEEEEE” of it as well as waves of fear that clench in the pit of the stomach. There are lots of firsts – shipping work (will it arrive? Will it arrive on time? Will it be damaged? Will it sell? Will I have to ship it back?), exhibiting in another country (what will people think? is it good enough?), as well as navigating financial risk and opportunities. And outside this, beyond it, above it – like a song- are the unbelievable kindnesses of repeat collectors. Those who have said they are coming to the fair and bringing people with them. The cross art form connections I made on my trip in November last year. The possibilities for an international conversation on art and our relationship to art.

Thank you to everyone who came to the Fair. Thank you to John Prebble particularly from The Poetry Exchange who gifted a recorded poem of Dreamwood by Adrienne Rich to me the following week. It was soul balm. Nourishing and beautiful.

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Collaborating with Hermione Carline

This Fair will mark my tenth edition and Hermione’s tenth London edition.

I first became aware of Hermione’s work back in early 2015 and have been an admirer ever since. Hermione has a deep and thoughtful engagement with her process, creating art that is not only exquisite in its execution, but also seems an invitation to visual meditation. We discussed the common threads of our work through a studio visit earlier this year. We aim to express an underlying sense of moving through a landscape, of communicating the living-ness of things. We both seek to capture landscape as it is experienced viscerally, sensorially and in memory. It is a source of wonder that one landscape holds within it echoes of a completely different place. A tone, smell or colour can transport us to another landscape, another time, experience or memory. For the viewer this means that an encounter with an artwork can re-ignite and then immerse one in a lived memory.

Hermione says of this, “The landscape has a universal feeling – you might paint a picture which expresses one particular view point but has resonances with other landscapes in other parts of the world.”


Hermione Carline Biography:

Exploring themes of light and shadow, translucence and opacity through her paintings, drawings and prints, Hermione Carline imbues her work with an immersive and atmospheric quality. She has created her own unique style through her use of hand-cut paper stencils together with a colour palette that reflects both mood and feeling in her subjects.

After leaving the Royal College of art, Carline worked as a textile designer, co-founding the design studio, The Collection, where her clients included Pierre Cardin, Christian Dior and Ralph Lauren. These earlier experiences in designing and Interiors have informed much of her work.

Hermione was born in Hampstead to a family of artists and her father travelled widely, representing Britain as first Art Councillor for Unesco. These early influences and memories inspired her and in recent years Hermione has made a number of trips across the Far East. Her recent trip to China has formed the basis for much of her latest work.

She has exhibited with gallery Elena Shchukina, Mayfair; the Accessible Art fair, Bozart, Brussels; and shows regularly with the Other Art Fair.  She has recently been commissioned to create a number of paintings for Claridges as part of their refurbishment