Artist Orlanda Broom In Conversation With Simon Tarrant

Orlanda Broom

Orlanda Broom graduated with an MA Fine Art from Winchester School of Art (Barcelona) in 1997. After returning to UK from living aboard 10 years ago, she started working full-time from her London studio. She moved from London and is now based in Hampshire.

Broom’s main painting practice takes two distinct forms: lush, exotic landscapes and abstract pieces. Connecting these bodies of work is a strong sense of colour, references to organic forms and the exploration of the mediums she works with.

Pleasure Dome
Orlanda Broom Pleasure Dome 2021

The abstract paintings are created through a process that involves no intervention with tools or brushes, just the flow and manipulation of the medium on the canvas. There is an immediacy and freshness borne out of this way of working which is complementary to the layered aspect of her landscape paintings.

Broom’s landscapes represent re-imagined places which are celebratory, and in some senses, a rose-tinted view of the natural world. The surface joyousness is tempered by an uneasy sense of abandonment. Broom depicts wild places that are uninhabited and timeless, offering a glimpse of paradise that would ultimately ensnare and/or is potentially lost to us.

Large-scale commissions have included a 4x4m centrepiece for the lobby of the new Four Seasons in Downtown New York and a large abstract for the Mandarin Oriental in London.

On a cold winter morning during December, I step into Grove Square Galleries in Fitzrovia to meet with the talented and charmingly modest Orlanda Broom. Surrounded by Broom’s large luminous landscapes, I am immediately transported into the tropics – colourscapes full of vibrant forms and light – the perfect antidote to the grey London sky outside.

Simon Tarrant: Tell me about the painting process for your acrylic and resin artworks.

Orlanda Broom: With some of my paintings, I start off with an abstract resin pour on the bottom, as the base layer, and then I work over the top. It’s a pouring process that I’ve let set, the painting gets to a certain point where its close to being finished, then I’ll put more resin on and over paint on top so that you’ve got this super hard shiny surface. It’s at that point I’ll be adding final layers with more defined marks and details.

Simon Tarrant: Talk me through the loose abstract marks vs the detailed plant forms.

Orlanda Broom: I try to keep it as dynamic as possible in the way that I’m painting. In the last stages I tighten it up a little bit with some over painting with these defined marks. It’s all about layering and layering up to get that density so that you’re looking back through the painting.

Simon Tarrant: Howard Hodgkin comes to mind in your luscious landscapes – he famously took years, sometimes decades to complete paintings – how long did these paintings take?

Some of them have been hanging around for quite a long time (laughing). I sometimes come back to paintings and keep on working them, that’s one of the beauties of working with acrylic – that process can speed up quite a bit because you don’t have to have that long drying time, as you would with oils.

Simon Tarrant: Do you apply a final glaze?

Orlanda Broom: This one, ‘Unpaved Paradise’, has a final resin finish. The resin gives it that depth, that slightly sort of 3D effect, you almost get a shadow behind the painted bit on top, some of them can have four or five layers of resin.

Simon Tarrant: What is the resin product you use?

Orlanda Broom: Epoxy resin. It’s really fun, really versatile. I started using it a long time ago, I just loved building up layers and layers of varnish upon paintings, and was looking for a different medium that would get that thick varnish effect and I kind of stumbled across resin, and it’s led to all sorts of different uses. I’m always experimenting with stuff, I started doing abstract pieces with the resin as well, which is using it in a completely different way, more like a flow painting that you’re working on with that immediacy, the complete opposite of this, which is months of sitting, looking, layering.

Simon Tarrant: I feel like I am entering a tropical landscape – is this an imagined landscape?

Orlanda Broom: I’m always drawn to that sort of exotic feel, I love colour obviously. I like messing around with the plants – I’m not a botanical expert – I quite like sticking cactus and hot/dry things in, with more luscious leafy, humid kind of context. But the plants I depict are not strict to the anatomy of plants.

Simon Tarrant: Does botanical painting appeal to you?

Orlanda Broom: I love botanical art and I have lots of botanical art books that I reference for inspiration. I went and did a brilliant botanical drawing course at Kew Gardens. I have to say I struggled for the first few days (laughing) – this is a kind of penance! I hadn’t really clocked that it’s so scientific; you’re documenting things for scientific use, that was what it was for historically anyway. But it was really interesting, so different to the way I am used to working – it was almost like a meditation in the end when you’re sitting drawing a 2cm square bit of lichen… looking for a perfect representation. I was like wow, this has been a different and great experience.

Did you paint to a utopian theme for this group show ‘Arcadia’?

I’ve always painted landscapes and found lots of inspiration from my own travels in the past. I liked the sort of murkier aspects of it, that these places could be kind of places of entrapment, that if you did find yourself landed in this landscape it might be a little bit tricky with these spikey sappy plants all around you, so there’s this idea of paradise, but not paradise, slightly strange undertones. I love that pushing things to the edge, like fruit that’s so ripe it’s almost kind of rotten, it’s about to go… (makes a squelching sound). I quite like that with my work, its like dragging them in, catching them with the colours, and then you start looking a bit more and you think spikey things, slight elements of darkness.

Although I have to say, this work is lighter from my Rewild exhibition and previous to this, maybe that’s something to do with the current climate, I needed a bit more lightness in my work over the last year or so. I haven’t been so inclined to put the murkier elements in. But its very open to interpretation, not everybody reads that in my work. I’m happy for that, I like to put them out in the world, and people see them and interpret them as they wish.

When did you go to art school?

I was 16, really young to go to art college, I went straight through, straight to a BA, straight to an MA out in Barcelona, I was done by the time I was 21 I was knackered (laughing), I should have strung it out a bit longer, I was really young when I finished.

When you finished did you want to pursue it?

It was difficult actually. Winchester School of Art had a brilliant MA course and they had these amazing studios, it was a brilliant course but it was difficult to be wrenched away from that into the real world.

Did you feel prepared for a career in art?

Back then you sent slides to gallery, imagine! I remember at the end of college they gave us an A4 sheet which had a list of institutions with a telephone number on, and that was it, off you go, try and get a residency somewhere. It was quite difficult to get going in my twenties. Like lots of artists I went and did rubbish jobs and then thought I’ll go to Thailand for a year (chuckling), and did quite a lot of that. Lots of travelling, which was wonderful, what a lucky bugger you were, you can’t really do that now, its not that feasible. It was great being young in the 90s, but I found it hard to finally really go for it as an artist, and I actually lived in Portugal for five years and it was there that I was able to work, sort my life out, to teach English, which was great, because I did it in the mornings and the evenings. I managed to get away from teaching kids, I taught business English, and then I got a studio, the ground floor of a house and it cost me a 100 Euros a month, and I would just go there during the day, paint.

Are there Mediterranean influences in your work?

Out there I was painting really dark, dark forests, cork trees, which was really strange. Being there gave me the opportunity, the chance to get a body of work together, to start feeling like a working artist. It would have been really difficult for me to have done that in London.

How did your association with Grove Square Galleries come about?

One of the other artists, Marc Standing, followed me on Instagram, and he suggested me to the gallery. I was self represented for a long time, and would be invited to exhibit with galleries, and that had worked for me really well. But it has been really lovely to be under the wing of Grove Square Galleries, because it gives me more time to paint, being self represented is admin central – website, mailing list, responding to people all the time. Now it’s really cathartic – just talk to the gallery.

I know there has been some recent controversy regarding some of your artwork being used without your permission in an NFT drop – what happened?

Ben Moore approached me in 2017 to create an artwork as part of the Art Wars project… there were some really interesting artists involved and the aim was to help raise awareness to missing peoples charity. In early November, without my permission or prior approval, my artwork images were used in an NFT drop which has since been de-listed following IP complaints. As an artist, I am curious to see the ever-changing landscape in the ways in which we create, view and collect artwork and I am exploring the NFT space.

Artist’s studios always intrigue me, what is your studio like?

My studio, I’m lucky and I love it, except in the winter when it’s freezing. All studios are, that’s the problem, generally they are cold. One of the upsides of moving to the countryside is that I’ve got a big industrial unit, I have huge space, managed to fill it, but I can organise myself. I have a photography area, a resin tent to keep it clean and warm, and lots of storage space, and a big painting area so it’s great. Really nice, about five times bigger than what I had in London. It’s also a bit strange, I’m on a kind of rural industrial estate, so about 4 o’clock in the afternoon in the winter opening on to woodlands – is anyone out there?!

Grove Square Galleries Director Serena Dunn joins the conversation and asks Orlanda – were you able to work there on your massive Manhattan piece?

For that I had to rent a space as I was still in London then. I did this 4×4 meter painting for Four Seasons in New York, and I rented an industrial unit down in Dunsfold as I couldn’t find anywhere in London. I lucked out in that because they had cherry pickers and ladders and all sorts of things I didn’t realise I would need, but it gave me a taste for big space and helped with that next step – is being in London absolutely essential? Now, having enough space to tinker with little side projects is brilliant… although I do miss living in London.

Finally, please forgive me, is your name a parody of the famous Hollywood actor?

No! It’s my name and I’m older than him (laughing). I’m not a naked paddle boarder!

Orlanda Broom exhibits as part of the group show Arcadia at Grove Square Galleries, which runs until 5 February 2022.

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