Artist in residence - Philomena Harmsworth, Chiddingly


- Credit: Archant

Philomena Harmsworth says that she wanted to be an artist “from day one. I used to come home from school and spend the rest of the day drawing, Mum used to have to pry me away to get to bed.

She told me she’d spot my paintings from a mile away in playgroup, as they were always so different from everybody else’s.”

Having completed school she took a foundation course at Camberwell, and it was there that she says she really felt like she had begun. “Actually I did get sidetracked for a while – I did a theatre design course in Wimbledon and ended up in theatre and film for a good few years. Then family life took over and I found a job that fitted in with my children and the school day, namely teaching young offenders. I then became a full-time professional artist five-and-a-half years ago.”

In terms of advice for others wanting to pursue a career in art, Philomena says, “If you want financial success, unless you are the next Damien Hirst, don’t do it! If it’s a vocation and it’s the only way to find your equilibrium then go for gold. But don’t forget to speak to at least one person every day. I read a quote that goes: ‘Leave your comfort zone, that’s when the magic happens’ – that’s how I see being an artist.”

Philomena does occasionally teach her craft, but not as often as she used to: “I was a full-time tutor for four years and to be honest that was an immensely frustrating period, encouraging other people to be creative all day and not being creative myself. So now I say ‘yes’ to short bouts of classes if interest is shown.”

Originally a Londoner, she moved to Dorset as a teenager, before heading back into the city after school. “Years later I found myself drowning. I then lived with my parents in Dorset for three brilliant years before moving to East Sussex two-and-a-half years ago to start a new life – I now feel I’ve found my artistic home.”

When asked what it is that she finds inspiring, she says, “experiences and stories – when I hear someone telling an inspiring story I jot down a sketch in biro to later become an embellished painting in oil. Sometimes it can be as simple as a juxtaposition of thoughts, but also someone’s life story, a piece of literature, a marmalade-making day. Food – the sight, smell and taste of it – or the preparation of it and the gathering at mealtime. The summer, darkness, shades of green. Bob Dylan, my sons, heartache, the weather, (well the latter drives me rather than inspires me actually), being in love. Picasso, Kitaj, Louise Bourgeois, I could go on!”

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It would be foolish to ask if Sussex plays a part in Philomena’s work, as her current exhibition at Farley Farm House in Chiddingly is an ode to her arrival here. “Fresh eyes are the keenest,” she says, before continuing. “My intrigue in the Lewes bonfire celebration began at art college and I swore to myself that one day I’d get there. Now it’s creeping into my bones. The Long Man of Wilmington is a growing delight, introduced to me at the rather fabulous Sunday tour at Farley Farm House, where it was explained how Roland Penrose of the Surrealists saw him not just as a Solstice marker but as his own personal talisman guard. The Downs originally felt like a wall after the rolling landscape of Dorset, now I look for it everywhere I go, like a safety blanket!”

Her current exhibition, Philomena at Home with the Surrealists, is at “a barn next door to Picasso’s, Farley Farm House – the home of the Surrealists, alongside photographs by Lee Miller and the work I grew up looking at in textbooks at school.” The exhibition runs until 21 September, and is open on Sundays from 10am to 4.30pm. Exhibition admission is free.

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