Posted 24th September 2018
Nessie Ramm is a contemporary landscape painter with a degree in Botany from the University of Cambridge and an MA in Fine Art from City and Guilds of London Art School.
She seeks out the beauty of ordinary things, and has a fondness for the minute details of the natural world. She was awarded the David Murray Landscape Award (Royal Academy) in 2000, has had three solo shows and has exhibited in various group shows and with The Discerning Eye Exhibition and the Lynn Painter-Stainers Prize Exhibition.
She set up a community art initiative on Vauxhall City Farm, London, and a kitchen garden at a rehabilitation centre in the village of Ozd, Transylvania. She is married with two daughters and an allotment.
'My studio is a gallery of road signs. A 'diversion' sign abandoned in our hedge. Ex- military blue arrows, (I like to think they used to direct tanks about Salisbury Plain) and 10mph circles from a now-developed pub car park. A parking sign from a skip in East Acton and various other different shapes and sizes waiting to be painted on. Friends now bring me their finds and I also have a manufacturer who makes new signs to my specifications.
'I started this way of making work last summer. I was painting on aluminium at the time - I'd just had two circular art boards made for me - but it was quite expensive and I wondered if there was another way. Being an avid recycIer, I started looking for scrap aluminum online and old road signs came up in the search. A lightbulb moment! They are not only aluminium and made to last an age in all weathers, they are designed be hung as well. Plus they are a lot cheaper than bespoke art boards, and of course I delight in giving such utilitarian objects a second life in the fine arts. My first was a 40mph sign, bought online. I attacked it with a paint scraper and discovered the '40' was simply a sticker glued to the metal.
'There is a precedent in art history for painting on metal. I have always loved the portrait of Francis Bacon by Lucian Freud. It's a tiny painting on copper, the metal lends a silky enamel sheen. The portrait would look different if it were painted on something else.
'I have always found what I paint on matters a lot to the final image - it is as important as the brushes or paint. If the surface is textured, as a canvas, it 'grabs' the paint, whereas the smooth surface of metal allows the paint to slide about. This keeps my painting moving along - I have a tendency to paint slowly and get bogged down. It also allows me to scratch in with an old wooden kebab stick - a lot of the detail of my paintings is made by taking paint off rather than putting more on.
Inside Nessie Ramm's studio
'I had assumed the road sign metal would be primed but when I peeled back the sticker I discovered it was simply applied to raw metal. Another bonus! Aluminium will remain tarnish free in the long term, so I decided to paint on it unprimed. I love the silvery shine it gives, reflecting back light even in the shadows. One piece of advice I remember from art school was that painted shadows look most convincing if they are translucent not opaque, that even though we think of shadows as 'dark' there's a lot of subtle light and colour in there. I took the advice to heart and I still love painting in this way - the darkest tones in the verge paintings are always translucent which lifts the whole thing. I save the opaque paint for the solid, lighter parts - the flowers in the foreground. Translucent versus opaque paint is another 'tool' available to the artist - not as immediate as colour or tone but it affects the final outcome quite a lot.
'My next painting will be on a large blank 130cm square sign, at the moment leaning against the studio wall and awaiting transformation. I have in mind a spectacular verge on the Bluebell Hill in Kent; the road is an ugly dual carriageway chopped through the North Downs but the verge is a biodiverse wonderland carpeted with thousands of orchids.
'I'm still discovering new places all the time, it's early days with the project. I'm busy doing lots of research over the summer - my children are now used to little unplanned stops to take photos of flowers in litter-strewn lay-bys when we are out for the day.
'If you know any wonderful roadside verges I would love to hear from you - please get in touch via my website.'
See Nessie's work in Florabundance at Watts Contemporary Gallery, on display until 7 October.