Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Ann Dunbar, Painting & Embroidery Artist, Tells Her Story




Born and educated in Hampshire, UK, I am an award-winning international artist living and working my art dream in Paris, France.

“Only you know what you want from life, it is given to us for a reason”. 

From an early age I loved to draw and my parents instilled in me love for nature. A cornfield was my playing ground and I have fond memories of stacking up haystacks making a den which I used to hide and observe the wildlife. I loved dens where I felt safe. As the youngest in the family, I was often left alone to amuse myself with useful activities such as reading, sewing, and later cooking. I made my own clothes, thanks to my mother and aunt, both of whom were gifted French (Belgian) needlewomen. 


Hidden Place. Aquarium Series


I also admired the many intricate lace pieces made by my Grandmother. I drooled over the delicate and precious pieces which appeared very luxurious, especially a certain black lace dress embroidered with roses in ribbon and silk and encrusted with jet beads. Without realising it at the time, textiles and art became an important aspect in my life. I recall my father buying me a paint box and my mother requesting me to paint her a horse. When completed, I was so touched that my father framed it and it followed them wherever they went. It had pride of place in the dining room too, when they moved to their new home in France for their retirement. 

I have re-inherited it and it’s a constant reminder of their encouragement. My destiny to become an artist was signed and sealed from then on, however it was not as straight forward as that.


Palace & Pavilions, Mixed Media & Embroidery on Paper 

I was offered a place at Art College after schooling but again thanks to the wise advice given by my parents I attended University to obtain a teacher’s diploma, which I finalised in 1975 at Battersea College of Education. It was a fantastic year for me: I was engaged to my husband, won first prize at a painting competition in Streatham, London, and at my teacher training finals art show (textiles and fashion), I was so lucky to be recommended by the examining tutor to follow a three year arts degree in textiles and art, which I was so happy to accept.

Six years of university education, armed with a B.A. degree in Textiles and fine Art and a fully qualified teacher, I found myself teaching for sixteen years in schools and colleges but I still had my inner voice calling to do my own art. I finally took the plunge, went into part-time teaching and developed an original style which took ten years to find my unique expression and signature: a distinctive marrying of painting with the charm and elegance of embroidery. 


Embedded Rockpool Series. Australia


The idea came from my mother’s collection of post cards. One particular card of a Spanish dancer with an embroidered costume stood out. I thought it would be wonderful if I could combine embroidery over my watercolours on paper. What a battle!  The paper would not stand it! The paper would tear or buckle with the weight of stitching; the thread would get congested under the machine needle, the needle made too many holes! You can imagine the frustration. Patience and perseverance have a magical effect of making miracles.  

Benjamin Disraeli said “through persistence many people win success out of what they seemed destined to be failure".  I had that “eureka” moment. It all fell into place with practice. I nearly gave up. I dropped the idea of sewing onto paper many times but I came back to it like a scientist in a laboratory and experimented with different papers, threads and needles with more confidence and expertise in using the machine and manipulating the paper, I discovered eventually, how to prevent thread breaking. I solved the warping of paper; I got rid of the ugly holes.


Marine Magnificence, (Gold Palm Art Award, Monaco, Mixed Media and Embroidery 80X90cm

The overall result was more polished and well presented. I was ready to embark on my career with my personal technique. My personal style came later.

Due to my husband’s job relocation, we moved to Paris. What luck, Paris, the place of dreams and art! I made the most of my surroundings; the effects of the colourful country side, the picturesque floral villages with their window boxes over –flowing with geraniums, bustling markets with exotic flowers, the wild flower prairies in the suburbs, the glorious gardens and the architecture all inspired me. I took part in the famous Parisian Salons with success accumulating diplomas and awards. 

I had a traditional, classical style which still did not feel special yet. I think it all started to happen when we travelled abroad. Visits to Egypt, India, Hong Kong, Cambodia, Japan and then Australia, changed how I used colour, my palette was stronger in contrast and value. My compositions were rich and bold. I continued to experiment with textures that I could acquire with certain threads: there were lots of new types of threads available commercially such as hologram, variegated and metallic.


Ponts des Arts, Embroidery on Watercolour Private Collection 50X40cm 

I have an inherent love of Asian Art. The style appears to flow through naturally in my work, especially with the empty spaces of colour in the painting voicing out passion, quietness or serenity and the embroidery aspect applying presence in its detail and decorative textural form to the final presented art piece.

Today my style is still figurative with a romantic, poetic twist. My objective is to present an invitation to embark on a timeless journey towards my perception of the world. Australia seems to have made the most influence in my work. The striking landscape forms and contrasting colours have changed my approach of working. Not only do I use water colour as a base but also I include mixed media: Gold leaf, inks, chalks, liquid acrylic interference, fibres and foils are all integrated and embellished with free embroidery. Trips to the coast south of Sydney, the Barrier reef and the Red desert made its impression and I created many works on this for several years.

I am now working on an underwater series inspired by the aquariums of Singapore and Okinawa. I am enraptured by the silent beauty which is hidden from us under the sea. An aquarium is gratifying to observe, it brings us closer to understanding this fragile world and helps us to appreciate the diversity as well as the magnetic appeal of marine life. This watery world in which may hold the root of life itself poses many questions about our existence and the eventual human impact on this frail place.

My fascination for the sea is probably due to a near death drowning experience as a child. This bewitching pull, the fear of deep water, is probably to remind me to be grateful to be alive. Face the fear and it will become a friend. I simply love being an artist as it is my way of contributing something back to the world that inspires me.


Autumn Extravaganza (Kyoto Japan) (Private Collection)


This is Week 8 of 52 Artists in 52 Weeks. Thank you for reading and sharing Ann's story today. To see more of Ann's work and connect with her, please visit the following links: