I grew up in the UK, spent far too much time on Greek, Latin and reading fat Victorian novels and started out with a degree in English Literature from St John's College Cambridge. In succeeding years I have lived and worked in many different parts of England, Scotland, France and South Africa. I have spent many years in Hertfordshire in the world's first Garden City, but in July 2017 I moved to the stunning lakes and mountains of southern Austria looking for adventure in a new culture and language.
My first artistic interest was as a textile artist and embroiderer - you can see some of my vestment commissions and other work here. Although I prefer the paintbrush to the needle these days, I still keep my hand in by making the occasional elaborate embroidered burse for an icon. However, it was while living in Paris and researching for a City & Guilds Diploma in Design for Embroidery that I first saw a genuine icon at a small exhibition of late- medieval embroidered and panel icons from Russia. I conceived an ambition to recreate one myself but after many failed attempts I realised that I would first have to learn to draw and paint an icon before I could ever embroider one. Years later, while living in Johannesburg, I met an iconographer who set me on the road to learning the art both of iconography and of egg tempera. These twin fascinations supplanted textiles almost entirely, and in 2009 I began painting and selling my egg tempera work professionally, both from my own website and through galleries and exhibitions. Since then I have sent secular paintings and icons to clients all over the UK as far as Orkney, to different parts of Europe, to the USA, Africa and Australia.
I have now begun using the other part of the egg as well - that is the white, made into glair binder for manuscript illumination, as opposed to the yolk which is used in panel painting. I know some artists manage to work with a tube of watercolour and a perfect manicure, but my chosen niche is a 'whole' art, and requires getting one's hands dirty. I am generally to be found in a grubby overall, hands covered in ink or with debris in my hair. Before the advent of factory-mixed paints, cheap paper and off-the-shelf canvases, an artist had also to be a craftsman knowledgeable and skilled in preparing his materials, even if he had a workshop of minions to help him. From choosing the timber, carving and gessoing boards, preparing binders and understanding the behaviour and reactivity of different pigments, to gilding and polishing, there is endless variety in the work: drawing and painting are only a small part of the process. I hope one day to grind my own mineral pigments and prepare skins for vellum.
These days small-scale work is my speciality. I rarely work above A3 size and as I gather skill and hone fine motor co-ordination I find myself able to produce miniature pieces. In part this is my way of turning limitations to advantage, as I have very modest studio space and am sufficiently myopic to see in glorious magnification an inch from my nose. It also means I can serve the art lover who perhaps does not have vast empty wall space to accommodate a contemporary canvas, but appreciates small and intimate pieces which reward close inspection.
All my work pays homage to or is directly inspired by the many centuries and stylistic manifestations of medieval art. I spend a great deal of time reading, studying facsimiles on line, and visiting treasures 'in the flesh' when I can. I realise that it has always mattered disproportionately to me that things should be beautiful, even though much of human life has to be spent in drab or ugly surroundings. The medieval aesthetic presents the world ennobled and uplifted, human beings transfigured into saints and humble creatures transformed into jewels on a gilded page. When I was at school there was a very jolly hymn we loved to sing in assembly which had a line about Christ being the "Pattern for our duty, Showing God in beauty". This has come to be a motto I have adopted for myself while I learn to make my work as beautiful and worthy as I am able.
Demonstrations and workshops on illumination egg tempera technique
Short talks on icon painting and iconographic art
Workshops on goldwork embroidery and design for liturgical vestments
Cards and prints A selection of my icons are available as prints (mounted or unmounted) from Fine Art America. FAA now has manufacturing and shipping operations in the UK, mainland Europe and Australia, as well as the USA, making their prints a practical option if you are not in the market for an original.
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All text and images copyright Juliet Venter 2018. Please do not reproduce without permission.