I met this year’s winner of the Marlborough Open Studios Bursary Award, 26 year old Bryony Cox, Upstairs at Jack’s in Devizes to find out more about her life as an artist so far and her hopes for the future. As it turned out, the first floor café could not have been a more appropriate setting. Seated near John Wragg’s paintings I learnt that Wragg had lent Bryony a small studio space in his house, not far from Bryony’s home.
Bryony grew up a few miles away in Little Cheverell where she spent her childhood usually sprawled across the carpet drawing with coloured pencils listening to music or with the TV on in the background. An enduring habit that has continued, normally on a large scale.
Bryony works on her triptych commission
On leaving school Bryony’s next and natural step was to attend Wiltshire’s well regarded foundation art course at Trowbridge College. Thence to Camberwell which she left after a term, unimpressed with the lack of taught traditional drawing. A period helping Andrew Taylor, a master Stained Glass artist and conservation restorer brought new skills and interest until she was ready to make the next move to study Contemporary Crafts at Falmouth School of Art.
A traumatic burns accident in the workshop during her first year resulted in Bryony transferring to the Drawing course where she successfully completed her degree. Bryony then began her travels to South East Asia, at first volunteering to teach art in Sri Lanka where straightaway she fell in love with the island: the smells, the bustle and colour of local life outdoors. In India Bryony learned traditional Indian miniature painting. Images of the simple but rich life in India captured her imagination: the chai tea vendors serving from a thermos, collecting grass for animals, eye opening rituals, beautiful crafts, but above all the people’s facial features inspired her portraiture.
Working mainly from photographs Bryony strives to show the unguarded moment. “Although their everyday lives are so different, at a basic human level we are all connected.” She went on animatedly, “the structure of Asian features, mainly women, the stories behind their faces, catching them unawares, capturing moments of thoughts, fleeting expressions...”
Portraiture in black and white charcoal tone and oil pastel for dramatic highlight on paper became the past, present and future of her work. Bryony immersed herself in Sri Lankan life in the small coastal village of Unawatuna finding work with a designer, painting murals and sketching people and places.
Sri Lanka became Bryony’s base from which to explore Northern India, South Africa and the Philippines for most of the following three years. The Himalayas inspired landscapes based on her sketches whilst absorbed by the drama of the towering mountains and billowing skyscapes.
Bryony returned to the UK this spring and promptly joined Marlborough Open Studios.
The bursary award has given Bryony the opportunity to discover a creative and supportive artistic community in and around Devizes. She is looking forward to her presentational sessions with Michael Angove and learning how to appeal to a wider audience. Bryony is excited by the chance to “interact and sharing the story of my work, a snapshot of life. I hope my pictures will trigger memories for others." She went on, "My work is about bringing to life small moments from around the World. In part, it’s about people relating and responding to other people whose everyday lives are so different from our own.”
Bryony is currently working on an ambitious triptych (see top photo) for a room with a sloping ceiling. In a year’s time Bryony hopes to enrol on a Masters course at the Royal Drawing School in Shoreditch.
Himalayas: charcoal and oil pastel
Words: Kate Freeman
Photo credits: Top two by Oliver Freeman, the remainder by Bryony Cox