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Colourful storytelling by Angie Braven

Angie Braven’s exhibition at the Fleet Gallery in St Leonards simply stops you in your tracks. HOT’s Lauris Morgan-Griffiths noticed people coming into the gallery, looking around and sighing the word “colour”, as if the sun had just come out from behind a cloud.

And indeed it has in Angie’s work. It first transports you with colour and then, looking into the images, you see amazing stories. Any artist tells tales, whether evoking actual stories, an atmosphere, a feeling or a memory. But Angie Braven’s images are writ large, talking to you from out of the frame.

I asked her if she had always been a storyteller. Unsurprisingly, she has.

Dressing up

Dressing up

“As a child I was very dyslexic, I didn’t read until I was about 11. I also couldn’t see, so I went around in my own little myopic world. I thought because I couldn’t see people that they couldn’t see me.”

Then when she got her first pair of glasses, her left-hand and right-hand brains connected and she discovered she could read and she devoured books, anything from Dostoevsky and Mickey Spillane to Enid Blyton. Her father, an architect, was a very good storyteller. And a magician. Sleight of hand magician. Magical.

Angie grew up in the 1950s when the UK was devoid of colour – fashion was grey, grey and more grey, television black and white. Children had to amuse themselves: she made up stories, made camps with her sister under tables at the bohemian Arts Club – artists getting drunk, talking, art everywhere. And she was a tomboy; holidays were spent with her cousins in Worthing and  in the moonlight they would frighten themselves playing cops and robbers around the trees at Sunbury Ring. And always going her own way. “I was small and I was bossed about and told what to do – and then I’d go and do whatever I wanted to do anyway.”

Sussex Downs, Memory from childhood

Sussex Downs, Memory from childhood

Angie studied at Hammersmith School of Art, in the sixties, spending “three exhilarating years making paintings and sculpture”. Then, anything was possible in music, the theatre and art. She has always worked as a professional painter as well as an art therapist for people with special needs and teaching part-time at Chelsea, Ravensbourne and Hastings art schools. She has exhibited in London, Hastings, Atlanta and regularly at the Royal Academy, living in Hastings, bringing up her family. She and her husband, artist Gus Cummins, hold a strong artistic centre in the town where Cummins has recently had an acclaimed exhibition at the Jerwood (see recent HOT article).

Indian Village

Indian Village

All that rich storytelling and colour radiates out of the frames: stories, inspiration from Vladimir Nabokov and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, dreams, travels in India, northern Africa, Spain and Greece, Hastings fishing beach and her own colourful garden.

India was a revelation to her; her sort of place, “they’re all a little bit mad like me, so I feel very much at home there.” The pictures reflect her life and her moods, some sunny and colourful, playful, others quite dark. Dressing up, clothes, shoes and bustiere – “I remember Angie wearing those shoes.” Sussex Downs, Memories from Childhood, gardens and the Hastings Old Town Fishing Beach, Tahiti – look closely and you’ll see Marlon Brando and Angie in a clinch in the water. Angie features again in Elvis in Alexandra Park – with a dog looking up surprised at the two of them.

Surprise (Mickey Mouse)

Surprise (Mickey Mouse)

Some are politically motivated: women plying their trade, lascivious men, but also playful: the alphabet angels, penguins to zebra; string puppets and puppeteers in Warhorse and Mickey Mouses squished into a small 1945 style suitcase – “I was stuck and I had to do something so I took a Mickey Mouse from my collection  and started to paint.” And mood: Mumbai Times I would  have expected to be vibrant with colour, instead it is painted in pastel shades. “I think I must have just got back from India and was a little bit flat.” So that is how it came out.

She tends to paint in series. Prompted by nightmares of – and anger about – female genital mutilation (FGM); to get rid of those images in her brain, she painted them onto the canvas. “It made me so angry, how dare people mutilate girls.” At the moment she is working on a series of angels. “Everything  is so utterly depressing that I think we all need a Guardian Angel.” And Angie is just the person to create one.

Angie Braven is at Fleet Gallery, Norman Road, St Leonards-on-Sea TN39 0EG, until 28 April.  Open Wednesday-Saturday, 10am-5.30pm.

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Posted 12:20 Wednesday, Apr 18, 2018 In: Visual Arts

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