Sarah Pickstone: Other Stories

May 23, 2017

Sarah Pickstone’s most recent work is currently on display at CGP London alongside selected paintings from The Writer’s Series (2013) including ‘Stevie Smith and the Willow’, winner of the John Moore’s Painting Prize 2012.  Sarah is a member of Senior Faculty at the Royal Drawing School and here, she discusses her the latest exhibition and her wider practice.

Sarah Pickstone, Other Stories © CGP London

The paintings in The Writer’s Series were based on drawings I had made from Regent’s Park over a period of years. I was interested in the writers who had connections to the park and for whom the park became a focal point or place to work. In general though it was an imaginative idea - not faithful to history. The idea of the park is a useful frame for me - everything I need is there. I like the proximity of nature to the city and the sense of public and private in one very composed place.

Shakespeare’s late play, The Tempest is one of the main themes in the new body of work exhibited in Other Stories. I love this play; it breathes life into any idea you put to it and it provides an important backdrop for my paintings. The character of Prospero I understand as the Artist - and his magic as his means of transformation, of creativity, a play about making art and resolution from political conflict. The last year or two has been difficult to navigate in terms of making art, I have found it hard to be interested in art that wasn't political or that in some way didn't show a conscious awareness of the political upheaval and conflict in the world. It can be difficult to make painting feel relevant but you have to make the work you feel.

Sarah Pickstone, Other Stories © CGP London

Sarah Pickstone, Other Stories © CGP London

During my time in Regent’s Park, I had drawn the different varieties of rose in the various beds - usually old roses with good names.  The roses that I have been drawing since 2014 appear quite abstracted in the large paintings. How on earth can you paint a rose? It did occur to me that this very symbol of Englishness long ago migrated from Syria and China and I love the idea of this journey.  In the painting, a rose ends up in a fist and a stocky hand I had drawn from the bottom left hand corner of Guernica.  I think there’s a stigmata there too - relating to the fallen figure with arms outstretched.

I read poetry, fiction and love theatre and often find a starting point in a piece of text. The idea for 'Stevie Smith and The Willow’ came whilst drawing the willow tree in the park and having a copy of Smith’s collected poems open at the page of ‘Not waving but drowning’. I’ve made paintings about George Eliot who wrote Middlemarch while living in a villa in the park, Mary Shelley, Sylvia Plath and Catherine Mansfield who went to school nearby. Whether you can truly translate narrative ideas is something I think about a lot. Poetry I find, because of its form, has much in common with painting.

Sarah Pickstone, Other Stories © CGP London

Drawing is a critical part of my working process both to begin and as part of the gesture of the larger work. Even the final paintings rely on the white ground of the panel - like the page. I try to leave as much blank space as possible.  The pencil drawings I make are for information and I rarely show them. They are quite ugly and overcooked, but useful. Occasionally I work in pencil crayon but the colour, no matter how hard I try, is always wildly out of keeping with what I’m looking at. I need a few lessons.

Sarah Pickstone, Other Stories © CGP London

Back in the studio I take elements from the drawings and play around with various different media and consciously change the scale and character of the drawings. Play and experimentation are important factors in the process. Predictable marks and things I already know make me frustrated. I have a stack of drawings that I go back to for reference and a whole plan chest full of willow trees.  Most ideas are worked through with watercolour and a large brush. If a watercolour study works, I will make a larger painting in acrylic.

Sarah Pickstone, Other Stories © CGP London

Director of CGP, Judith Carlton, is a long-term supporter of Sarah’s work;

‘We are thrilled to be working with Sarah as I have admired her work for some years now. Our gallery's park setting is perhaps an idyllic backdrop for this rich body of work, especially her stunning new series, some of which were developed in response to Southwark Park.  When I was offered this job 2 years ago I immediately celebrated by buying Sarah's book, 'Park Notes', and set my mind to working with Sarah once I had settled in.  I was lucky enough to see many of The Writers Series in development in Sarah's Cubitt studio, so seeing some of them again in Other Stories is a real treat.’ 

Other Stories is open at CGP Gallery until 4 June. There will be a closing party on Saturday 3rd June at 4pm including a conversation with Sarah, Paul Hobson (Director of Modern Art Oxford), Melissa Blanchflower (Curator at the Serpentine Gallery), Helen Nisbet (Curator, Cubitt Gallery) and Judith Carlton (CGP – London).