Ffiona Lewis’ paintings echo the landscapes that she paints—not only pictorially, but also emotionally—as they capture the stillness of coastal scenes, but are undercut by a unsettling sense that sees her scratching and scarifying the surfaces of the boards that she paints onto.
Having initially trained (at the Polytechnic of Central London) and practised as an architect, Lewis maintained an interest in fine art throughout—making linocuts and woodcuts whilst studying. A growing dissatisfaction with her career choice led her to a series of courses at Central St Martins, and a job in the props department at the National Theatre, where she subsequently had a show of her work.
Once she had made the transition from architect to artist, Lewis met John Wells, who introduced her to the luminaries of St Ives—Patrick Heron, Terry Frost, Janet Leach, and Rachel Nicholson, among others. In 1996, she had a two-person exhibition with the latter at Dartington Art Gallery.
In 1999, Lewis joined the Redfern Gallery, where she has shown regularly ever since. She has also exhibited extensively elsewhere, including in Denmark and Ireland. In 2011 she won a regional prize in Discerning Eye at the Mall Galleries. Her pictures derive from the coasts of Suffolk and Cornwall, with scenes that are stripped of people but nonetheless allude to a human presence—a caravan in a wood, for example, or a meal left half-eaten. Andrew Lambirth has said of her work that “Lewis has tended to paint the evidence that people leave behind, or their trace in the landscape rather than the people themselves.” (2012).
Her palette is elegantly conservative—using a reduced selection of colours, she can convey her subjects with a quiet reflection. The boards that she uses and the scarification of their surface are distinctly personal touches that avoid the fussiness and prettiness that could detract from the painting itself. Because surface is important to her, she prefers timber panels to canvas, which she subjects to a lengthy layering treatment using gesso, primers, grounds and textured mediums. Her work is painstaking—she sees her subject once, then refines it through sketchbooks, mock-ups and what she calls ‘contact sheets’ (sometimes using embroidered patterns as a trial), until it becomes concentrated into one final piece. Her years as an architect can be seen in the geometric designs that seem to almost unconsciously underlay her work, an element that is softened by the blur of colour across the image, dragged across in scratched indentations. She has said of her practice that “smallness, localness, emptiness is what I love” (2005), and this is echoed through her ouevre.