Glamour and intrigue in East Oxford for Artweeks

Those walking locally for exercise in East Oxford might see a Nicholas Phillips’ painting on an easel in his large front window on Cricket Road.

A newcomer to Oxford and to Artweeks for 2020, his watercolours are inspired by the ambiance of film, cinematography, costumes, sets and scores,

Artweeks visitors to his virtual home gallery in East Oxford can enjoy a series of large meticulous watercolours which hang alongside smaller intriguing ‘Cinderella’ collages from 16th-25th May, unless of course the lockdown restrictions have been lifted by then, in which case he will be open for business.

Nicholas was born in Penang, Malaya. His father was a rubber planter and his first six years were spent on a plantation in the northern state of Kedah. A series of evocative paintings hark back to his childhood and are rich with an exotic nostalgia from pigeon-holes behind hotel reception desks to the mystery of old-fashioned telephones and mysterious conversations.

One painting is named Macalister Road after a long street beginning in downtown George Town, the capital of Penang, which passed both the new and old and maternity hospitals, where Nicholas and his mother had been born respectively

“The lights/light shades are very evocative of my growing up in Malaya, as with the ceiling fans that would dim a half an hour before ceasing as the estate’s generator in the factory closed down for the night,” Nicholas explains, and on the left hand side of the painting stands a decorated Coromandel-lacquer screen, that has been handed down through his family, from Shanghai via Hong Kong, to Penang and then London. It appears in several of Nicholas’s pictures. 

Nicholas also promises a collection of Cinderellas, although not the Disney variety. The term ‘Cinderella’ refers to the fact that in the early days of philately, or stamp collecting, stamps which were not produced for revenue/official postal use were deemed unfit to be included in stamp collections, just as Cinderella was excluded from the  fairy-tale ball.

“I was in London on business in a building where coincidentally a stamp fair was being held so when I’d finished my meeting I had a look around on my way to the exit and there, at one of the booths, was an envelope addressed to my grandfather at his firm of accountants in Penang Malaya 1945!” Nicholas explains.

This extraordinary coincidence inspired Nicholas to create collages using real postal material, original items from postal history, plus personal history and geography from the past, along with his signature combination with a hand finished, digitally remastered and printed versions of his original watercolours.  

A narrative, intended to illustrate a moment in a story, the ‘Cinderella’ series was born. 

In addition to painting watercolours, a slow and careful process, Nicholas reduces digital images of his paintings to the size of a stamp, laboriously creating perforations to make his own ‘Cinderellas’. These he adds to old letters and envelopes chosen for their aesthetic appeal or an apparent intrigue, his artwork adding a new chapter to the imagined story in the old envelope. 

In one of the collaged pieces, for example, Nicholas’ chosen Cinderella depicts exotic lowered eyes beneath a beautiful blue parasol against lush greenery whilst the flowing purple ink on the envelope is water-marked as if caught in the rain, or from tears shed by the original recipient of the envelope. 

To see Nicholas’s work go to http://www.nicholasphillips.co.uk or to see his  Oxfordshire Artweeks contributions go to www.artweeks.org

Visit www.artweeks.org to see the art of hundreds of artists, designers and makers throughout May during the Oxfordshire Artweeks festival or follow #oxfordshireartweeks on Instagram.  

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