As you walk into the cafe, the first thing you’ll see straight ahead of you is a trio of artworks. Starting on the left, and moving clockwise, you’ll see a work titled ‘St John’s Grove’, which is a Giclée print of A3 size.
The scene depicts a back garden in Archway, which belongs to some friends of mine who originally commissioned the artwork. They have done wonderful things to the garden, and I have spent many summer days and evenings there, so I think of it fondly. I wished to emphasise the growing plants in the foreground, mirrored by the leaves that subtly frame the image at the top, whilst the garden furniture hints at the presence of people and life, as I know it to be a garden that is used and cherished, designed yet left to nature, and full of memories, love and labour.
Moving along to the top right, we find ‘Secret Garden’, which is an artwork in watercolour and pencil on paper, of around A5 size.
This developed from a study I did at Bodnant Gardens, a National Trust site near Conway, Wales. The study was made in dark blue pencil, which you can still see as the house, then the green watercolour wash, textural pencil marks and figures in white paint were added later, working from a film photograph I took of the scene. The colours deviate from life, and stand quite saturated, while the sky shares the same teal hue as the shrubbery below. The title, Secret Garden, refers to the sense of quiet within the scene, the figures and birds are at one with the plants and flowers. They stand out, painted in white, to highlight how they, like myself as a visitor, are overshadowed by, and in awe of, the abundance of their surroundings.
Below, we find ‘Train Journey’, a pencil drawing on paper of A4 size. As the name suggests, this piece was drawn from life, and depicts the rolling landscape as seen through a moving train window.
The train journey itself was in Thailand, however the abstraction and blurring of trees, fields, houses and telephone masts gives it a universal appeal, and captures the calming joy any train goer feels, of watching the world rush past while sitting in a comfortable, seemingly-still, seat. The composition itself has a musical quality to it, which seems fitting for the harmonious, unpredictable and unabated visual experience that a train journey provides.
Now, as we turn to the left, we come to a group of four A6 sized works. Starting with the top left, we find ‘Desert Drive’, which is an artwork in gouache paint and pencil on paper.
This piece is one of a series of drawings I created from black and white photographs, taken by my Grandfather in South Australia in the 1960’s. He was in the Royal Engineers, and stationed in Maralinga, though the photos are from a road trip across the Nullarbor plain. It is a flat, almost treeless, arid or semi-arid landscape, and I felt drawn to recreating these amazing textures through mark and line, while the monochrome nature of the photographs gave me license to experiment with colour. This was my favourite study, with the dry texture of the painted background, gestural marks of the ground surface and focus on the car almost out of sight, marrying a beautiful, raw physicality with a fleeting, unknown narrative.
To the right, we find ‘Red Cabin, Stockholm’, which is a Giclée print of a painting I made from a film photograph I took on a boat tour of the Stockholm archipelago. It is instantly recognisable as a Scandinavien scene, thanks to the distinct red and white wooden cabin, complemented by a limited colour palette. Like many of my landscapes, I was drawn to the singularity of the house, against a textural background. The piece balances realism with abstract textures and marks, which is particularly noticeable in the reflection on the water and shaded clusters of trees.
Moving along, below you will come to the artwork titled, ‘Blue Lagoon’, which is gouache paint and pencil on paper.
This scene was painted from a photograph taken on a moving train in Thailand, the same journey as I mentioned previously. The digital photographs, due to the high speed at which they were taken, feature an interesting blend of areas in and out of focus. This artwork depicts an expanse of water in the Sai Yok national park, close to Kanchanaburi, though the view is greatly obscured by the leaves of trees and bushes in the foreground. The title, Blue Lagoon, refers to the intense, cobalt colour of the artwork, and the remote, peaceful, somewhere-far-away quality that image brings to mind.
Lastly in this group, we come to ‘Kitchen Drawing’ which is a Giclée print of a drawing I made early on during lockdown. It depicts a figure, in an interior, with a calendar in the background timestamping the month as ‘April’. Though somewhat dissimilar to other pieces in the show, it appeared strange to me to host an exhibition without some reference to the Covid-19 induced lockdown that has greatly affected all our lives. This study, made solely in colour pencil, saw me apply the process of drawing I would normally do ‘en plein air’, within my home; applying colour and texture to capture a sense of life and stillness to a familiar domestic scene.
Now, if we turn away from this wall and walk to the other side of the cafe, we will find two more groups of artworks. Starting on the far left, with the wall which displays 5 artworks, we will find a piece titled ‘Of Land and Sea’, which is a Giclée print of A3 size.
The print depicts two different coastal scenes. The top is of Iona, a small island off the Isle of Mull, Scotland and the bottom is of Fethard-on-Sea, a village in County Wexford, Ireland. Both these illustrations started life as small collages, which I then drew digitally to give them an appropriate finish and scale. Though images of completely seperate places, I feel they are instrinctly linked both by their content, and by my viewpoint, and my natural tendency to be drawn towards scenes which are beautiful in their stillness and calm, though hint at a larger story.
Next, to the middle left, we come to ‘Park Road Junction’, which is a pencil drawing on paper, of about A5 size.
This is the most recent drawing on display, and was made from life while sitting at a public bench. I included this piece to give the viewer an insight into my sketchbook process, and also mark myself as a proud Haringey local, as the junction marks where Crouch End, Alexandra Palace and Muswell Hill meet. I would not deem the location as instantly recognisable, nor necessarily that well-loved by locals. However, it is well traversed and unassuming, which is the typical type of scene captured on the pages of my sketchbook.
Moving along to the top right, we come to ‘Riverside Huts’, which is a drawing watercolour and pencil on paper, of A4 size.
This piece was created over the span of a couple of hours, while sitting at a cafe overlooking the Chao Phraya River in Ayutthaya, Thailand. It bears the hallmarks of a drawing created from life, with a slightly ‘rough-and-ready’ quality of line, and the central seam from having been drawn across two pages in a sketchbook. None-the-less, these qualities give it a energetic charm all of its own, capturing a time and a place in the way a good drawing should do. As you scan over the drawing, areas come in and out of focus, colours and textures connect and reamerge across the piece. It is figurative, yet abstract, and invites the viewer to explore and experience the scene with their own eyes.
Directly beneath, you will come to ‘Alexandra Palace (Far)’, which is a pencil drawing on paper, A4 size.
This is a view that I expect most Haringey locals will recognise, and it is one that captivates me everytime I see it. Realised in a single colour, the image is simple yet striking. It captures the architectural detail of Ally Pally, while, through the use of a soft pencil, brings a sense of wholesome grace and creative spirit to the much-loved local landmark.
Moving clockwise again and completing this group of artworks, we will come to ‘Garden Birds’, a Giclée print of A5 size.
This illustration started life as a gouache painted background in fiery orange, on top of which I drew a scene in my garden, bringing the colour through in the terracotta floor tiles and plant pots. The birds in white complete the composition, and reflect the appreciation I have developed for my local wildlife during the lockdown. There is a texture to the original which is captured by the print, whilst making it possible for the birds, which contrast to the oranges and blues in their brilliant white, to cheerfully steal the show.
Now, we turn our heads to the right, and we come to the final wall, which has four artworks on it. The first, in the top left corner, is titled ‘Alexandra Palace (Near)’, and is a drawing in pencil with collage on A4 paper. Again I have taken inspiration from the local landmark, but this time, brought life to it through saturated colour and a close up view of the front facade. It is a bold piece, in reds, greens, golds and pinks, drawn in a way which celebrates Ally Pally’s richly decorated architectural style.
To the right, we come to another landmark locals may recognise. Titled ‘Hornsey Town Hall’, the artwork is in gouache paint and pencil on paper, A6 size.
This impressive art deco building lies in the heart of Crouch End, and, on sunny days, is dominated by striking shadows and bright highlights. This piece is one of the earliest on display within the exhibition, and marks one of the first times I combined gouache paint with colour pencil. The piece features a minimal colour palette and an uncomplicated composition, and simplifies architectural details down to line and shape. The closely cropped composition emphasises the town hall’s distinctive outline, cut out against a clear day’s sky.
Below, we come to ‘George & Vulture’, which is drawn in pencil on paper, slightly smaller than A4 size.
This piece, with its central seam, was originally drawn in a sketchbook at a pub in Shoreditch, during an era before Covid-19. It depicts a pub interior with people interacting at the bar, drawn with an energy and sense of purpose. While being a study from life, it captures the scene in a balance of realistic detail and intriguing vagueness which invites the viewer to complete the picture, and reflect onto it their own memories and desires.
Moving to the left, we lastly come to ‘Quiet Corner’ which is a Giclée print of A6 size.
This illustration is the most abstract within the exhibition, and expresses my passion for collage and simplifying scenes down to their essential elements. It speaks of a process whereby I take a drawing from life, and distill it down to colour, shape, texture and line, to convey my impressions of the scene. From the original study, made at Luminary Bakery in Stoke Newington, I desired to communicate its sense of warmth and familiarity in a calming and quiet way. The result is not open-ended, nor closed, but instead speaks of a journey, of possibility, and of a desire to keep exploring our vibrant and constantly evolving landscape we live in, and developing new methods to relay it onto the page.
And so that concludes the guided audio tour of the exhibition. If you enjoyed what you saw today, you can find and follow me on Instagram, @isabellamitchell.creative, and mention the exhibition to your friends. All works are for sale, with a price list displayed in the cafe, and also available to view on my website, www.isabellamitchell.co.uk. Thank you for reading, and for visiting, ‘Of Land and Sea’, an exhibition of works by Isabella Mitchell.