Featured Artist: Belinda Naylor-Stables
Stories are at the heart of Belinda’s paintings – she uses the natural world to provide a stimulus for her imagery, then after some deep thought she sets to work in extended bursts of creativity telling a story through art. Her work is inspired by Romantic Expressionism and by decorative work based on pattern, with influences from Africa and the Far East. Fiona Gaskell discovers how Belinda Naylor-Stables uses techniques learnt at art college to trigger inspiration, and she explores the scope of Belinda’s resulting creativity.
“From first picking up a pencil I wanted to draw and draw” says Belinda, “but my family didn’t want me to go to art college, so I did a B.Ed. to qualify as an art teacher.” However she never taught art, and instead decided to go into business as a graduate trainee with Pirelli. This wasn’t as strange a move as it may appear, for she was interested in applying design approaches to business and consumer behaviour. This is a theme that has continued throughout her career. She moved on to the National Computing Centre, where she designed IT training materials, and since then she has always integrated a design approach to business.
In 2006 she became self-employed and started a multi-disciplinary M.A. in Design Studies at Central St. Martin’s School of Art and Design. She found the course gave her confidence in what she was trying to do.
Closer to home, the patterns of Laura Ashley’s designs were very popular when Belinda was studying for her B.Ed. and she used them as another source of inspiration for her work. Her first paintings of tea plantations drew on this rich melting pot of different influences. “I like decorative work and pattern” says Belinda, “and also very bold Expressionist painting. I am especially interested in the storylines in Chagall’s work, and I admire the decorative work of the artist Stephen Chambers.”
Of all the strands of inspiration she draws on, the greatest single one is the Romantic Expressionist painter Ewa Gargulinska, who taught Belinda at Central St. Martin’s and later at a Summer School held at her home in the Polish countryside. From Ewa Belinda learnt to use a particular ‘Romantic Expressionist’ method. It starts with improvisation exercises to think of imagery to paint or walks in the countryside to collect stories which the group then discuss in the evening. After a good night’s sleep and more exercise, everyone sets to work painting.
“I would say that expressionist work means painting with your emotions”, she says, “and the results are an expression of your feelings”.The Far East is an important influence on Belinda’s art, as her mother’s family had been in Sri Lanka for generations, since the rise of the Dutch East India Company in the seventeenth century. Her father was a tea planter and lived in Africa, so African art is another significant influence.
“Each painting has its own story” says Belinda. She thinks of her work as series of paintings grouped around a particular theme, and currently she is working on a series inspired by visiting the Anglo Saxon site of Sutton Hoo near Woodbridge in Suffolk. The cloisonné jewellery she saw there, patterned in glass with a metal outline, and the stories within Anglo Saxon culture, have led to a series of 42 richly patterned paintings of the letters of their ancient alphabet, also known as runes.
I ask Belinda which of her paintings she was proudest of, and her reply is that she is not proud of any of them, and that she is always striving to improve. She tends to paint ‘en masse’, focussing on a series of paintings that link together thematically, and painting day in, day out and even at night. Working so intensively means she tends to feel cut off if she just paints, so outside of these creative bursts she does other things as well that link to her experience in business.
Her early paintings all used flat pattern and she has now progressed to using more texture in her work, experimenting with textural materials such as using a gesso base and painting on top in acrylic. Sometimes she uses oil paint on top of acrylic to achieve special effects. Augustus John is a distant cousin of Belinda’s, and she admires his paintings using a metallic copper background, which works well with her African themes, as in East Africa where she has lived, the soil is very red. She sees a progression in her work in that she uses more texture and her painting is more playful and free, thanks to the influence of Ewa Gargulinska. She works at home and follows the light in the house, and she is working in her head all the time, looking at shapes. “Sometimes a painting can be mulling around in my head for years” says Belinda, “and this process helps me to work out what comes first when I start to paint.” For her, painting is a physical activity and therefore she likes the solidity of board to paint on. She loves the vibrancy of silk and for these works she designs and prints a base pattern and then adds detail and texture by hand with silk paint and gutta.
Despite saying that she is not proud of her work, Belinda sells well at exhibitions and at HVA’s Open Studios, which she holds in her splendid conservatory studio overlooking the open countryside on the outskirts of Harpenden. She shares her Open Studio exhibition with the ceramic artist Elspeth Keith, and they work closely together so the work on display has a unity despite moving on each year. Belinda has also exhibited in London, Aylesbury and Herefordshire, plus more locally at two cafes in Harpenden: Jay’s delicatessen in Southdown and the Methodist Church hall. Her paintings also appeared on stage recently in the Wheathampstead Players’ production of Harold Pinter’s ‘Old Times’ where her symbolism supported the play's themes. (Photograph by kind permission of Chris Brooker.)
Current projects include three paintings in an exhibition at Harefield hospital and co-authoring a book on leadership with Paul Smith of the University of Hertfordshire. The book is going to be illustrated with Belinda’s paintings, which feed on the leadership ideas in a kind of symbiosis. She also teaches public speaking at an evening class at the university. Linking art with business is a significant part of Belinda’s working life, and she recommends TED talks by artists on the internet about making a better world and changing habits, such as attitudes to the environment. Belinda’s name will be familiar to readers of the HVA newsletter, as she writes a monthly ‘Belinda’s Bash’ as well as the blog. The wide range of her activities and interests could be an inspiration to us all.
See more of Belinda’s work on www.hvaf.org.uk/Belinda-Naylor-Stables/gallery
By FIONA GASKELL