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Verity Burton: Encountering Moments of Space and Time

Already at the 10th guest on Between the Art, and this week features a fine artist I have been admiring for some time, Verity Burton.

Verity grew up in Norfolk, England, but went to school in Suffolk. This has played on Verity’s mind in the years since as it left her with a sense of rootlessness, although she didn’t recognise this at the time. Verity was drawn to Cornwall and the sea, and left Norfolk to study an Art Foundation course at Falmouth University, and then stayed on to study BA (Hons) Fine Art. It was in Cornwall when Verity began to shape her sense of self. She discovered the effect that a landscape can have on her daily life; she thinks often of the windy coastal walks, clouds down to the ground and the way everything was relative to the sea.

Verity moved to London after graduating, where she worked among a group of artists at specialist materials shop L. Cornelissen & Son. The people and the art materials kept her there for 3 years but she could feel herself disintegrating inside her London life, and so decided to head back to Norfolk to repair herself and plan the next steps.

Today, it has been five years since Verity returned to Norfolk and although she still longs for the hills and sea on her doorstep, she has a life that she didn’t expect to find here! Verity works full-time at Norwich University of the Arts and keeps her practice going alongside, creating botanical-inspired work that embodies moments of encounter with a space or the feeling of a time.

In-keeping with Verity’s detailed, multi-layered, yet understated art work, this article creates a feeling of calmness and empathy as Verity speaks of the renewal of nature and how certain places can direct our presence in life. Her reflections on the balance between art and life are something I’m sure a lot of us can relate to, whether they are blurred boundaries or not. Read through to the end to discover Verity’s favourite book list!

Where do you work? What makes this place important for your creative process?

I work in my home studio and it’s really important to me to have that space nearby. On a practical level, working full-time, I don’t have the energy to go to an external studio space, but I also find that having that safe, quiet space as part of my home helps me to navigate the balance between art and life. Often I will spend time in there just sitting, thinking, looking out of the window, reading or journaling. That headspace keeps me functioning and is as integral to my practice as the act of making; one wouldn’t exist properly without the other.

Over the last couple of years my little garden has also become increasingly important and a place to find inspiration. Investing in a little patch of wilderness, and charting growth and release through its stages, has become a great joy. In the lighter months, I spend quite a bit of time there documenting what I see.

"I will spend time just sitting, thinking, looking out of the window, reading or journaling. That headspace keeps me functioning and is as integral to my practice as the act of making; one wouldn’t exist properly without the other."

How would you describe your creative process? Do you use certain mediums/techniques to develop your creative ideas?

My creative process very much overlaps with my way of going about the world. For me, life and art have always been blurred, and it has taken me many years of feeling I ought to separate the two to appreciate the ways that they can inform each other. I have come to accept that I cannot remove the artist in me from my other daily exchanges.

I am highly sensitive, and my creative process serves as a space to observe, pause, process and reflect. It’s an opportunity to sit down at the table with all the things that matter to me.

Drawing has always been a fundamental part of my process. I use a mechanical pencil, which I have had since my days in Falmouth, black fine liners and coloured pencils. I go through phases of using watercolours, collage and printmaking too. The tactility of materials and the sheer joy of using them has always underpinned everything I do. More recently, I have also been exploring digital drawing and the ways it can take my work in different directions.

What is the main subject of your inspiration?

I’m inspired by the constant renewal of nature and the way it teaches me about life’s phases. I have always been very preoccupied with transience, loss and the fragility of things.

I think about wilderness and containment a lot, and the tension between the seen and the imagined. My process of image-making seeks to navigate the wilderness found both externally and within.

What are you working on at the moment?

At the moment, I’m working on figuring out which direction to steer my work in next. I find winter difficult and ideas don’t naturally flow for me in the darker months, so I have been granting myself permission to slow down with making work, taking lots of walks and trying to rest.

What does “sense of place” mean to you? Is this concept present in your work?

Physically, I think there are certain landscapes that for me create a sense of being in the right place. This is usually amongst mountains or by the coast. As Rebecca Solnit writes in A Field Guide to Getting Lost, “they become the tangible landscape of memory, the places that made you, and in some way you too become them.” These places confirm my sense of identity: I leave a part of myself in them, but I carry the experience of their wilderness with me too.

However, I think a sense of place also exists more abstractedly. Within my work, a sense of place is present in an intensely personal way, whereby the botanical spaces I create embody my moments of encounter with a space, or the feeling of a time. Works become inherently imbued with memory and become a snapshot of a time or feeling for me.

Are there elements of your work that connect with or are inspired by the natural world?

Most of my work is directly inspired by plants, flowers and shadows. I think I use the process of working from the natural world as a direct antidote to everything I find difficult, overwhelming or mundane.

Does the natural world have a part to play in your everyday life?

I think the main reason why I love big landscapes is the ever-present, striking awareness of my smallness within it. Living in Cornwall, I felt myself living as part of a moving, breathing land with the clouds and sea mist forever in my face. Living in a largely flat part of the country now, it’s easier to forget the land and see the weather as an inconvenience, rather than as a whole system we are living within.

I try to combat this with houseplants and getting outside whenever I can, growing my garden, listening to the birds in the trees, noticing the curb side flowers. These are the things that ground me, that remind me the world is bigger than my world, and it is always changing.

It would feel amiss not to mention light, as I would say that this has the biggest impact on my everyday life. Sunlight can change a space entirely; it opens up dimensions and possibilities, it makes me return to objects to see how they alter as time passes. A day I’m chasing shadows around the house is a good one.

"The main reason why I love big landscapes is the ever-present, striking awareness of my smallness within it. Living in Cornwall, I felt myself living as part of a moving, breathing land with the clouds and sea mist forever in my face... Reminders that the world is bigger than my world..."

Do you have a favourite artist or creative individual? Someone who has artistically inspired your work?

I love Egon Schiele’s sunflower and tree paintings. They can be ragged and bleak, which really fascinated me as a younger artist.

I fell in love with Lucy Skaer’s black drawings in the 2009 Turner Prize. They are intense in scale and depth but contain so much detail.

Among my contemporaries, I love Olivia Bush’s prints and drawings. Her beautiful work draws from water and landscapes, and evokes both peace and wilderness. Brie Harrison creates delicate botanical paintings, sometimes contained within vessels. Also, Roz Edenbrow’s bright, playful botanical prints are so energetic.

What would your top piece of advice be for creatives navigating their way in the arts industry today?

Follow what you are interested in, and don’t worry if this isn’t following a straight line. You don’t need to fit neatly into a box – you can have multiple interests, skills, jobs, and ways of working. Ultimately, your life is yours to shape however fits you best.

Do you have a message that you hope to give to the world?

To move more slowly, to pay attention, to honour the quiet things.

Verity’s Book List:

These are a few favourite books of mine, which have many turned over corners and underlined sections:

1. A Field Guide to Getting Lost, by Rebecca Solnit

2. Daybook, by Anne Truitt

3. Handiwork, by Sara Baume

4. New and Selected Poems, by Mary Oliver

5. Silence, by Erling Kagge

To see more of Verity's work, head to her website and check out her Instagram @verityburton

All Images: Artist's Own


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