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'In Conversation' with Stephie Butler and Vandy Massey

Uncontained Exhibition - 7th -31st August 2021

I'm so sorry this 'In Conversation' is late this week, but I do hope you enjoy this interview with both artists ahead of there Summer Exhibition with us in August 2021. The Exhibition will run from the 7th - 31st August 2021. With a preview evening on the 6th August from 18:30pm.

I started off by asking both artist how did there art career start?


It started with a short career as a draughtsman/illustrator before raising my family. My ultimate dream was to be an artist but working life and family commitments meant I didn’t have the opportunity to do so until later in life. Many years ago, in Brighton, I came across a painting I really wanted to buy but couldn’t afford at the time. I used to paint pictures on celebration cakes, thinking it couldn’t be much different, I bought some watercolours and gave it a go. Much later in life my partner gave me the opportunity to give up work to pursue my dream. With the help, encouragement, and opportunity from some art friends I went on to teach my first workshop, in Dubai and have not looked back since.


I’ve always had a creative streak. It started with clothing designs and then ceramics. My sister is an artist and I had admired her work for years. I used to watch her drawing and think how wonderful it would be to be able to create an image the way she could. Then 10 years ago I tried painting for the first time, and I loved it. Initially, it was a way of getting a creative balance in my life. But over time I have painted more and now I exhibit regularly.

Q: What do you love most about been an artist?


Mostly as I’m doing the thing I love most: creating.

Losing myself in creating something that hopefully gives other people pleasure.

The freedom of working in my time.

Sharing the emotions and feelings I see in my subjects in the only way I know how.

Sharing and working with others on something you are both passionate about.


The connections it creates with other people and with our own creativity. I’ve been able to share painting trips with my sister and other artist friends. I love having the ability and the confidence to explore new ideas through my paintings.

Q: What have you learned about yourself and your artwork over the years?


To be myself! This was something someone said to me when I was nervous just before teaching my first workshop. It has stayed with me and changed my whole approach to this day, giving me so much more confidence in my daily life and my art and is something I tell myself almost daily.


I’ve learned to slow down and be kinder to myself. In the business world we value efficiency. But, in order to develop as an artist, I have had to embrace the process of experimenting without beating myself up when a piece doesn’t turn out as expected. Every painting is an opportunity to learn. When you look at a painting, you are seeing not only the image in front of you, but the accumulated past experience of the artist, expressed on paper or canvas.

Q: Where do you get your inspiration from?


In faces, both people and animals. Expressions and emotions fascinate me, wondering what they are thinking and feeling. I often find myself switching off to sound and just studying movements of features and what they portray.


Nature – mainly in the form of places and wild plant life. I love seeing the world in its untouched state, untouched by mankind. I am in my element in rainforests, in the hills and remote countryside, or on coastal paths. Ideally where there are very few other people around. I like to immerse myself in the sights, sounds and smells around me. They feed into my landscape and flower paintings.

Q. You came together and created ‘Uncontained’ can you share the experience of this day and what emotion you both went through to create this stunning piece of work.


What started out as excitement and the need to be able to both see and paint together again after being in lockdown, grew so fast. There was no preplanning, going very much with the flow from start to finish. Initially starting with Vandy having the idea of setting up the largest piece of paper she had, then emptying her studio of everything we could use to make marks with. What made it so enjoyable was there being no pressure in it being a masterpiece, it was all about being able to create together and mostly about having fun. We bounced ideas off each other throughout the day as we decided where to go next, creating in ways outside of our normal styles and media type. Even joking about what we would do if it ever turned out to be a decent finished piece of work, never dreaming or intending it to be so.


The experience of the first lockdown was intense for everyone. Aside from the anxiety of the news reports we heard every day, the whole world seemed surreally isolated. I remember sitting in the garden in spring when all we could hear were birds. No road traffic or trains. And no people either because everyone was staying in their homes. It felt as if the whole planet had gone quiet. In some ways, that was a reset for a lot of people. We realised what was important – for me it was to really celebrate the wildness of nature that I love, and the connection with other artists.

The day we painted Uncontained was interesting. After being shut down for so long, I felt the urge to paint something expansive and much bigger than usual. There was a feeling that we needed to just let rip and allow ourselves to express the joy we both get out of painting by putting it all on that big sheet of blank paper.

Once we got started, the whole process just flowed. One mark led to another. We took turns in painting. We didn’t plan it out before we started – each idea, every mark, was a response to the marks that came before it no matter which one of us had the brush at the time. The whole process was spontaneous and joyful. I remember a lot of laughter throughout the day.

Q. When I saw ‘Uncontained’ I was captivated by the painting, and I felt so much emotion had gone into the painting. I was drawn in different ways as when you look at the painting there is so many emotions in the painting in my opinion. As the audience hasn’t see the painting fully yet, how would you describe it? (Vandy and Stephie to answer separately)


A collaboration of our styles and the way we felt about having the liberty to paint together with such abandon, using so many mediums and experimental techniques. We were able to unite the freedom we were able to feel once again with the nature that surrounded us in the garden.


It is a riot of nature: colour, line and shape all combined and layered as it does in a rampant garden. I love its freedom. I hope that every time someone looks at that painting they are reminded of how much we should value the connections we have with other people and with the world around us. Those are exquisitely valuable things we should treasure.

Q: What is the highlight of your career so far, or your proudest moment? (Vandy and Stephie to answer separately)


There have been a few firsts over the years: getting articles published, selected into the Society of Women Artists, but I think the most recent one is the proudest, not only getting a painting accepted into the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours at The Mall Galleries, but selling it too.


One of my proudest moment was the first time I sold a painting. I’ve sold hundreds of paintings since that first one, but I still get some of that feeling of gratitude and pride. I love the fact that one of my creations is going to bring pleasure to the people who will see it every day. It is such a wonderful thing to be able to share my amazement at the beauty of nature with the people who see my paintings.

In terms of highlights, I would say that the times when my work has been judged worthy of awards has been pretty high on the list. It is always an honour to have artwork selected for an exhibition. To be given an award in the exhibition is even more of an honour.

And of course, the most recent highlight is the exhibition at Wonky Wheel – that will definitely be right up there with the best of the moments.

Q: Who is your favourite artist, and why? (Vandy and Stephie to answer separately)


It’s quite difficult to select one as I’m inspired by so many, but one of my favourites is Emily Lamb, David Shepherds granddaughter. Her art covers portraits and wildlife, my two favourite subjects to paint. Her artworks are impressionistic with a touch of abstraction, something I continuously strive to achieve in my paintings. Her passion for conservation of wildlife comes through in her work, which is so full of emotion.


I have many. It is always difficult to pick just one. As I will be showing my expressive flower paintings in this exhibition, I would have to say that Monet is one of my great inspirations. The visits to his garden in Giverny have been unforgettable experiences. To see the place where he painted his iconic waterlilies was quite special. In his waterlilies, Monet captured a sense of light and space. He exemplifies the best of the impressionist period.

Q: The collection of work from Vandy will be around flowers from your garden, which one are you most excited about seen on the wall in the gallery?


I’m excited about every flower painting that emerges from the scenes in my garden. Each one is very personal because I know the space they came from. When I look through my studio window, I see peonies, roses, meadow rue and agapanthus. I try to capture the colours and shapes of those in my paintings. This time, I am adding a new element. I am including orchids, which became my husband’s passion after we visited the national orchid collection in Singapore. I love their leathery leaves and their delicate sprays of flowers – but mostly, I am fascinated by their wild spidery aerial roots that create lines and shapes in the air around them.

Q: The collection of work from Stephie will be around wildlife, which one are you most excited about seen on the wall in the gallery?


I think it would have to be Savannah. Demonstration paintings are normally done quickly and are often unfinished. But this one captivated me as I was painting, and it went back on the easel in my studio; something I seldom do. It seemed appropriate to work with a more limited palette, remembering the sunset colours glowing on the animals and their habitat. This one brings back so many memories of being on safari in Africa.


I love the way Stephie uses colour in her work. Her wildlife paintings capture the character of each animal. Having grown up in South Africa, I love the big cats so her lions always evoke the sights and sounds of the bushveld which I love.

Q: I would like you to write a short note to your younger self and give them one piece of advice about being an artist (something you have learned along the way or even something they should do, if so why)? (Vandy and Stephie to answer separately)


To follow your passion:

My biggest regret is that I didn’t start younger. Being an artist wasn’t an option where I grew up, it was thought of has just a hobby. I often think of all the years I wasted in jobs I didn’t really enjoy.

Create as much as you can:

Nothing will help you grow and develop as an artist more, than to practice. Create daily even something small. Bigger and more interesting things come out of small marks that you discover by sketching and playing.

Forget the rules:

In my early days of learning, I listened too often to those telling me you have to paint in certain ways. This will hold back the development of your own style, along with the enjoyment of discovery. Paint what you feel and enjoy, you will learn as much from what doesn’t work as you will from those that do.


Believe in yourself. Trust your instincts and don’t feel the need to rush your development as an artist. Enjoy every part of this process – it is all valuable, even the failures. So just paint, paint, paint and then paint some more. The more you paint, the better it gets. The more you paint, the more you know about yourself. The more you paint, the more you get to share the way you see the beauty of the world with everyone who sees one of your paintings.

Just paint without worrying about what other people think.

The preview evening for this exhibition is on Friday 6th August from 18:30pm , if you would like to attend this evening it is bookable via this link

Author: Wonky Wheel

Last updated: 4/7/2021

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