Anne-Marie Butlin is a truly accomplished artist based in North London who predominantly works on intricate floral oil paintings. With almost 30 years experience, Anne-Marie’s paintings are simply exquisite. We were lucky enough to see her work in real life at the Hertfordshire project (which you can view here). We caught up with Anne-Marie to find out more from where it all began to the present day…
You have been painting beautiful pieces for nearly 30 years, where did it all begin?
I used to draw and paint continually as a child. Then with youthful optimism I embarked on a Fine Art degree, and never considered doing anything else. I was lucky enough to have begun selling work while at art college, and in the summer after graduating, I had a painting accepted to the Summer Exhibition at The Royal Academy, London. This made me realise that there is a huge thrill in producing work and having it exhibited; and no greater compliment than someone choosing to live with your painting in their home. This quickly led to lots of exhibiting opportunities and I have consistently shown professionally since this time, alongside some gallery work and teaching. I’ve now been painting as a permanent career for over 12 years, ever since my youngest daughter started school.
Your paintings are predominantly inspired by a variety of flowers and plants, has this practice changed over time?
Like many people I am really fascinated by flowers. Of course, they are hugely decorative, but they are also strong and complex structures which embody a lot of symbolism, representing the rhythm and continuity of the natural world. One very positive consolation in our current situation has been the emergence of all the new growth and life of spring around us. I used to paint only rather quiet still-lives, but a few years ago I visited the home of a garden-designer in North London (where I live), as part of the NGS open-garden scheme. The apparently wild beauty of this planting was of course very carefully constructed, but I loved the messy complexity of the leaf and flower shapes – and the energy of it. My ‘Wild Garden’ paintings were a bit of a turning point for me and over the past few years I have embraced this theme.
In normal times, I find myself spending a great deal of time in spring and summer travelling around Southern England visiting gardens and landscapes to draw and photograph. I also often take sneaky photos of London front gardens and urban spaces. With our current climate concerns, garden design is increasingly naturalistic in its use of plants and flowers and I try to reflect this in my paintings; wild-flowers and hedgerows are taking over.
We guess there’s no such thing as a typical day, but what do your days involve?
As I have a studio in my garden, I need quite a strict routine, because otherwise I would use all my time being distracted by all the things that need doing in the house.
I generally make sure that I am painting by 9am, once my daughters have gone to school. I will either continue to work on a painting or start something new. Fortunately, I have lots of commitments and deadlines, which is ideal for a creative person because it doesn’t leave much time for the inevitable introspection and doubt.
Of course, there are days when everything flows beautifully and days when I find it harder to concentrate. I have a short break for lunch and there are a fair few cups of tea consumed if I’m honest. Quite a lot of the painting process involves standing back and having a big think – always aided by a cup of tea.
Mid-afternoon I stop briefly to have more tea and a chat with my girls when they arrive home from school. In the winter that is the end of my painting day as the natural light has gone – in the summer I can carry on well into the evening.
The work is quite physical – especially when I’m working on really big canvases – so I also take a break for a Pilates class once a week, and do at least 20 minutes a day to keep my back healthy.
I also regularly have days visiting gardens, or taking photographs for a commission, arranging photography and visiting my framer and delivering to galleries.
What do you love most about your work as an artist?
It is incredibly satisfying to create something from a totally blank canvas. I am always attempting to make something beautiful, so it’s a ‘feel-good’ process. At its best, painting becomes a sort of meditation. I become immersed in all the tiny nuances of shape and colour in a patch of stems and leaves, finding a way to translate it into paint. I’ve realised that I work most efficiently when I almost switch off my conscious thought and become absorbed in listening to music or the radio. I usually listen to Radio 4 all day.
I love the freedom of it – it’s been a perfect career to work around child-care. I like having lots of time alone, and yet I also hugely enjoy the contact and social interaction with others.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career?
Like most women, I found it difficult to maintain momentum in my work when my children were very small, and did little painting for a few years. But of course, having my daughters has also enriched my work – not least because I paint them all the time! This has led to ultimately led to another arm of my practice, portrait commissions, which I find as rewarding and inspiring as my other paintings.
You regularly take commissions directly from clients and interior designers, what would be your dream project?
Well I do love to get to know my clients – selling work through galleries can feel a bit impersonal sometimes, so it’s wonderful to be able to talk to people about what they would like, and see the space where the painting will sit. Two of my favourite commissions involved painting a specific garden and that is a lovely process – gathering photographs and discussing what will work best in terms of colour and composition.
It’s lovely to produce work for a beautiful space. I have some local clients who had a quite stunning living-room with beautiful cream and soft -green furnishings. The room had an enormous picture window, framing the very lush green of the garden and surrounding trees. My painting of wild hollyhocks picked up on all of the colours of the interior, and reflected the green from outside. I felt quite emotional when I was able to see the piece installed, and all the colours worked together beautifully.
It can also be really gratifying to see when a client has skilfully chosen your work to fit into a particular interior. I was really thrilled to see my work ‘September Garden’ in James and Alexandra Stacey’s stunning Humphrey Munson kitchen, as they had made such lovely colour choices and my painting looked as if it had been made for the space – no doubt it had found its natural home.
You’ve got a solo exhibition coming up at Thackeray Gallery in Kensington, what can you tell us about the work you’ve created for this?
This exhibition has been planned rather swiftly! I was thrilled to join this lovely gallery last year – it has existed for more than 50 years, and it’s a rather special place. They really look after their artists and clients in a rather traditional way, and as an artist I feel incredibly well supported.
The owner of the gallery had been checking my output on Instagram; she felt that my work has the right look and tone for this difficult time. My instinct has been to keep anxiety at bay by painting furiously, and all the pieces have been quite joyful and colourful. As usual I’ve simply been responding to the progress of spring, painting blossom and garden flowers as they emerge. And I’m continuing to do that as we continue swiftly towards summer. Hopefully, people will be able to come along and see the show in person in July, but if not, it will be available to see online.
Are there any other exciting events/ projects coming up later this year? What are your plans for the rest of 2020?
In August I am having some work in a group show at Beside the Wave Gallery in Falmouth, a summer exhibition at Cambridge Contemporary Art, and Fresh Art Fair with Linda Blackstone Gallery in the Autumn. At the end of the year I may have some new cards produced by Dry Red Press, and I will be catching up on my portrait commissions which have backed up a bit because of the lockdown.
I have been producing some lovely limited-edition giclee prints for sale on my website, and I am planning to expand the range and promote this during the summer.
I usually open my house and studio for Crouch End Open Studios in May, and of course that has been cancelled this year; so I will also be working extra hard to put on a great show for the event in 2021.
Anne-Marie’s exquisite works are so unique and inspiring, if you’d like to explore more of her artwork or enquire about a commission of your own visit the website here.
Images: Paul Craig, Anne-Marie Butlin