Phoebe Dickinson is a British, figurative artist, best known for her landscape, portrait and still life paintings in oils. Classically trained at the Charles Cecil studios in Florence, she has held to date three four successful solo shows, each curated by herself. In 2013 she was selected to appear on the Sky Arts programme ‘Portrait Artist of the Year’, produced in conjunction with the National Portrait Gallery. She has exhibited in the Royal Society of Portrait Painters annual exhibition for two consecutive years, showing in 2015 her portrait of Carson from Downton Abbey. Phoebe’s subsequent portrait of the Cholmonderley children at Houghton Hall was chosen for the BP Portrait Award in 2018 and was exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery. She continues to exhibit regularly at renowned galleries in London and beyond and paints both for herself and for private commissions.
Tessa Packard [TP]: Where in the world have you found most inspirational to paint and why?
Phoebe Dickinson [PD]: This is a hard one! I love Italy and France for landscaping because of the light and the Cyprus trees. Their distinctive shape works so effectively in a landscape sketch. It’s also much easier to persuade myself to get out there en plein air, at all hours, when I don’t have to don my arctic gear and my fingers can move easily. Having said that, there is nothing more serene than England on a snowy morning or in the midst of summer looking out to sea.
[TP]: How competitive and saturated is your market? And what qualities, aside from talent, would you say you need in order to make it as a successful artist?
[PD]: I know – and am friends with – a lot of artists and I’ve never felt any negative competition. We all really support each other, and even if we do similar things the market is big enough for us all. We each have individual qualities that set us apart from the other.
To make a successful artist I think you need real determination and a fighting spirit. You are only as good as your last painting and there are often terrible days when I want to give up, but I think the trick is to head into battle and not let the painting beat you!
[TP]: Do you believe that anyone can be taught to draw and paint to a professional standard?
[TP]: You’ve chosen not to specialise in one particular area, and to date still paint a mixture of portraits, landscapes and still lifes, as well as dabble in print making. Why do you choose to keep things so diverse?
[PD]: For me they are all so interconnected. If you improve in your still life painting you will undoubtedly improve in your portrait painting. Remember, the fabric of a dress is essentially a still life.
Landscapes are actually quite different but sometimes I just need to get out of the studio and be in nature, battling the elements. It makes me feel really alive and you can’t be precious when doing a plein air painting. So perhaps landscape painting encourages looseness and freedom and if you can get those qualities into a portrait then you are on to something.
[TP]: What has been your greatest achievement to date, along with the most challenging moment in your career?
[PD]: I think my greatest achievement is improving and developing as an artist, and coming to terms with the idea that there are no rules and it’s ok to do it my way. I still battle with this but I’m slowly getting there. Other than that, getting the portrait of the Cholmonderley children at Houghton into the BP Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery was a great honour.
I have great challenges every week with my paintings and often want to give up being an artist all together. A more stand out challenging moment was painting a portrait in four hours whilst being filmed and interviewed for Sky Portrait Artist of the Year. I am very camera shy and I got my words all muddled up.
[TP]: Which three artists – living or dead – do you admire the most?
[PD]: John Singer Sargent, Corot, William Nicholson.
[TP]: If you could own one artwork in the world what would it be?
[PD]: I think it would be Sargent’s portrait of the daughters of Edward Darley Boit.
[TP]: If money was no object, and time was no barrier, what would be your dream painting project? Please give details of the location, subject(s), medium and where you would ideally host the final exhibition.
[PD]: I think the dream would be to have the time and financial freedom to paint whatever I felt like, and bearing that in mind the exhibition would be a very mixed bag of paintings from still lifes, to landscapes from all over the world, to portraits and nudes. Since we are in this dream world I would transport the Frick Museum In New York to the English countryside, turn it in to my studio, and have my exhibition there – a bit like the Sorolla Museum in Madrid.
[TP]: You have always chosen to represent yourself independently (as opposed to being managed or represented by a gallery). What made you choose this path, and would you ever consider collaborating with a gallery in the future?
[PD]: I chose this path for many reasons. Firstly, I’m organised and so enjoy the planning of an exhibition. Over the years I have built up a good client list from my portrait commissions so I don’t need to reply on a gallery’s guest list. I also like having creative control of how my shows look and most galleries choose to exhibit their work in a slightly soulless white box, whereas I like my exhibitions to look homely. If the right gallery approached me of course I would consider a collaborative partnership.
[TP]: In your opinion, what is the one thing in the art world that you feel needs to change?
[PD]: I hope and wish that figurative painting becomes more fashionable and appreciated in England, in the same way that it is in America.
[TP]: Finally, how do you like to unwind?
[PD]: Chatting around the pool in the sun with all my family, having what we call ‘loose talks’.
ON THE SPOT
Town or Countryside? Countryside
Favourite city? Florence
Your perfect dinner guest, dead or alive? My husband
If you could time travel to any era it would be…? I always thought it would be interesting to walk around Florence in the Renaissance
The best meal you’ve ever eaten is? Too hard!
The one essential you can’t leave home without? A big Indian shawl
Biggest extravagance? I guess food and cocktails might add up
Favourite book? The complete paintings of John Singer Sargent
What would your gravestone read? I don’t wan’t a gravestone
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