Interview: Lesley Birch
We speak to the York-based artist about her itinerant life, her idiosyncratic style and exhibiting across Yorkshire
You moved from Glasgow to York via Cambridge. What did each of these places give you in terms of inspiration as an artist?
I grew up going to an island on Loch Lomond every weekend – only a stone’s throw from Glasgow – and memories of this landscape always enter my paintings. In contrast, Cambridge was a landscape shock because it's so flat. But artistically and academically, it was the best place to develop my work on a technical level, learning printmaking at Curwen Studios and becoming a member of The Cambridge Drawing and Painting Society. York is a great location for me: close to Whitby and Sandsend on the coast and with the hills and dales nearby. It’s all here.
So Yorkshire is a good place to be an artist?
I think a place is what you make it. I really love York, and the surrounding countryside is hugely inspiring for a painter: it’s so varied. I love visiting galleries too: York Gallery, now the Centre for Ceramic Art, has been newly refurbished, while there’s the Zillah Bell Gallery in Thirsk, Silson Contemporary Gallery in Harrogate, The Lund Gallery in Easingwold, all of which show fantastic work. What’s more, there are lots of funky places too in York where artistic communities are thriving, including Rogues Atelier and The Fossgate Social. I’m a member of York Artworkers and Leeds Society of Fine Artists, so there are loads of things to do and people to meet.
You have an idiosyncratic style, working in oil and cold wax. Why did you choose that style?
I can create texture as well as translucency and rich layers of colours by mixing oil paint with the medium of cold wax. It’s expensive, but very enjoyable, making the paint more malleable and lush.
What's the artist community like at Pica Studios?
Life at Pica is exciting and inspiring. A core group of us set up the studios in January 2017. We have a film-maker, writers, a jeweller, a metalworker, ceramicists, painters, printmakers and much more… we all bounce off each other and support each other’s work. The building is an 18th century printworks and has a unique feel.
This latest exhibition is inspired by the forest and coast: how did it all come about?
I’ve been on artist residencies – firstly in Corris in North Wales – full of the most beautiful forests I’ve ever seen. The other residency was in Cape Cornwall, right on the sea. I like to paint outside and respond directly to my subject. Even better, I had an attic studio in Wales in which to develop the work further and in Cape Cornwall, a beautiful artist’s cottage studio which I shared with my artist friends from Cambridge.
What's next for you?
In March I’m taking part with Pica Studios in the Hepworth Print Fair over in Wakefield. In the studio, I’m concentrating on new coast paintings, this time inspired by the East Neuk area of Scotland. I’ve made a ton of sketches and paintings whilst up there this winter. I’ll be opening my studio at Pica in York Open Studios in April, and I’ve a solo show in Pyramid Gallery in York in May. It’s all pretty busy!
What's the last book you read?
Hagseed by Margaret Atwood, and I’ve always got art books on the go, including Wyeth at Kuerners – a book by the wife of Andrew Wyeth, full of his stunning watercolours.
What's your favourite album?
At the moment, Hope by Foy Vance.
Where's your favourite place to eat in Yorkshire?
Kiosk at Fossgate, York and The Bruce Arms in West Tanfield, of course!
And where do you go for a drink?
House of Trembling Madness, York.
What's your favourite view in Yorkshire?
Across Sandsend Bay.
For more information visit www.lesleybirchartist.com