To celebrate her lifelong passion for Charleston in East Sussex, the artist Camilla Perkins has released a collection of artwork inspired by the Bloomsbury group’s country home. She talks to Jessica Jonzen about why it remains such a rich source of inspiration
THE ARTIST CAMILLA PERKINS AT HOME, SITTING AT THE DINING TABLE SHE PAINTED DURING LOCKDOWN. IMAGE: GEORGIA ROTHMAN
When the artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, and his partner David Garnett moved to Charleston Farmhouse in East Sussex in 1916, little did they know they would create a home which would be a source of inspiration to artists more than a century later.
Almost as soon as they moved in, Bell and Grant began to transform the 16th century farmhouse into a living work of art by painting murals on to every surface. The Italian-inspired frescos have inspired countless designers and artists over the years, and the latest is the illustrator and artist Camilla Perkins. Born and raised in East Sussex, Camilla visited Charleston frequently as a child and the storied house which was the meeting point for some of the 20th century’s most progressive artists, writers and thinkers is the inspiration for Camilla’s latest artworks, including two painted stools.
LEFT: CAMILLA PERKINS SKETCHING AT CHARLESTON; RIGHT: ‘CHARLESTON STUDY 2’ BY CAMILLA PERKINS, OIL PASTEL ON PAPER A4 2021, £300, AVAILABLE AT PARTNERSHIP EDITIONS
What is it about Charleston which especially captures your imagination?
Charleston was such an inspiration to me growing up and I wanted this collection to be a celebration of this romantic, special place. I love how everywhere you look there are sculptures hidden amongst the flowers, and how after the rain the garden turns emerald green. I like to imagine what it must have been like there at the beginning of the 20th century, how many summer’s days ended with a dip in the lily pond, and I love how this perfect English garden contrasts with the rugged chalk landscape that surrounds it.
Has the Bloomsbury group’s approach to making art a part of the home rather than mere surface decoration influenced your approach to decorating your own home?
I really believe that everyday items can be beautiful pieces of art in their own right as well as functional items. The pieces of painted furniture in my own home may not be the most financially valuable but they are definitely the most treasured. They are the items that I hope will be passed down between generations as family heirlooms, just like the furniture at Charleston.
I really like every single bit of space on the walls to be filled up with artwork, I’ve got a mix of both originals, prints, and textiles that I’ve collected over the years. Each piece holds a special memory and I always think that it’s more important to have a space that’s true to your personal style rather than it looking perfect. I love homes that embrace their imperfections – they’re much more fun!
Do you have a favourite room or item at Charleston?
I absolutely love everything about Duncan Grant’s studio and the wash of green paint on the back wall – it’s just perfect! The fireplace is just so iconic with its painted nudes and mantelpiece filled with hand-painted ceramics and family photographs. I also particularly like the large off white dresser with floral motifs in the kitchen and the round dining room table. The combination of pink, grey, and yellow is so lovely.
LEFT: ‘CHARLESTON STUDY 1’ BY CAMILLA PERKINS, OIL PASTEL ON PAPER A4 2021, £300; RIGHT: ‘CHARLESTON STUDY 3’ BY CAMILLA PERKINS, OIL PASTEL ON PAPER A4 2021, £300, BOTH AVAILABLE AT PARTNERSHIP EDITIONS
What else influences your work?
I am hugely influenced by vintage textiles from around the world, and the colour palettes from the mid century children’s books which I grew up reading. I will never get tired of searching for mis-matched antique vases and glassware that I use to inspire my floral pieces, and summertime flowers and plants which are so bright and beautiful.
What is it that you especially enjoy about hand painting furniture, and what do you think it can bring to a home?
I really love how even the most simple patterns can look so effective – all you need is a small plate to draw around to make your own Bloomsbury-inspired painted circles! A piece of hand painted furniture can add such a nice accent to a room which is in need of a pop of colour. It’s also a great sustainable way to revive an old piece of furniture rather than buying something new. My advice is to just go for it! It doesn’t matter if you don’t get it right the first time, you can always paint over it.
Which paints would you recommend for hand painting furniture, and what are the steps to take to get a great finish?
I always use water based eggshell as it’s more hard wearing than regular emulsion, you can get so many beautiful colours nowadays and I’m a particular fan of Little Greene and Fired Earth. I would start by sanding the piece of furniture that you want to paint, then applying a layer of undercoat – two or three layers of your base colour – then paint on your design. Once dry, I like to finish with a layer of furniture wax, especially on items like stools or table tops that will take a bit wear and tear. I find it gives a nice texture as well as a bit of added protection.
LEFT: ‘AMONGST THE LEAVES’ BY CAMILLA PERKINS ON DISPLAY ABOVE THE FIREPLACE IN HER DAUGHTER, WREN’S, BEDROOM; RIGHT: ‘IN FULL BLOOM’ BY CAMILLA PERKINS DISPLAYED IN FRONT OF HER HAND PAINTED DRESSER. IMAGES: GEORGIA ROTHMAN
What are your favourite motifs to paint on furniture?
There are certain subjects that I always seem to come back to: water lily ponds, lobsters, and anything fruity or floral are all winners in my opinion! I really love the kind of marbled texture that is used a lot throughout the house at Charleston and which can be quite easily replicated with a bit of bubble wrap pressed into the paint.
What is your most treasured item in your home?
I really love our kitchen table which I painted on a whim one evening during lockdown. It’s covered in fish and water lilies and instantly brightens up the room. I would also have to include my two Hester Finch pastels that I treated myself to from Partnership Editions a few years ago, they hang in pride of place above my sofa in the living room and are such a beautiful combination of different blues. I couldn’t ever just choose one thing!
LEFT: ‘CHARLESTON STUDY 4’ BY CAMILLA PERKINS, OIL PASTEL ON PAPER A4 2021, £300; RIGHT: ‘AMONGST THE LEAVES’ BY CAMILLA PERKINS, OIL ON CANVAS 60 X 80 CM 2021, £1250, BOTH AVAILABLE AT PARTNERSHIP EDITIONS
LEFT: CAMILLA PERKINS’ CHARLESTON-INSPIRED COLLECTION ON DISPLAY IN HER EAST SUSSEX STUDIO; RIGHT: CAMILLA PERKINS’ HAND PAINTED STOOLS FROM A SELECTION AVAILABLE AT PARTNERSHIP EDITIONS, £550 EACH. IMAGES: GEORGIA ROTHMAN
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