Bess Harding is a self-taught artist and illustrator. After years of experimenting with a range of media and techniques, she was introduced to oil paints during an evening class at the end of 2016 and soon after realised she’d found her medium. Bess has been painting with oils ever since and has sold work in the UK and abroad. In a career highlight so far, she had a painting selected for the prestigious Columbia Threadneedle Art Prize 2018 at Mall Galleries in London. Having grown up by the coast in Dorset, the call of the sea has always been strong, hence a recent move from London to the seaside town of Worthing in West Sussex.
I’ve always had a yearning to paint pictures, but for many years tried without success to produce a painting I was happy with. But then I discovered oil paints and almost immediately felt that this was it – finally I was painting; this was painting. There is something so inarguable about oil on canvas, it comes with a weighty history that precludes questioning. I remember hearing Grayson Perry in his Reith Lectures, saying that “art can be lots of different things. It can be… you know what – between you and me – it can be beautiful.” Although this elicited a titter from the audience, on hearing it something clicked for me and I suddenly had a licence to concentrate on the quiet beauty of a simple object simply portrayed. I work from photographs of compositions that have sprung to mind, sometimes with a surprising sense of urgency. The perfectionist in me wants to see the finest detail of what I’m painting, and photographs give me this ability. I’ll start and end with the canvas right way up, but turn it round as I paint, to try and evade the brain’s trickery and to help me to see what’s really there rather than filling in the gaps subconsciously. I always feel a sense of wonder when light and shadow – created with as few brushstrokes as possible and under- rather than over-worked – combine to create something just realistic enough. I mix my colours from a fairly limited palette of six paints and white. The subjects of my paintings are sometimes people, but mostly things. I like the idea of taking an object out of its everyday environment, of choosing it, of giving it space to breathe and a little stage to sit quietly on so that it can be considered. I seek to capture the calm grace, stillness and self-possession of certain objects. And sometimes there might be an element of humour: a little interaction between objects; an unexpected juxtaposition; perhaps the viewer will forget my hand in the composition and wonder how those things got there and where they went next.
Bess’s work has been selected for the Society of Women Artists Annual Exhibition 2019 and the Royal Society of British Artists Annual Exhibition 2020. She also had a painting longlisted for the BP Portrait Award 2020.