Sophie Rees – the art of simplicity

Dalston artist, who is to open a new gallery shortly, explains how she composes her vibrant paintings

(article written for August print edition of Hackney Citizen newspaper and also published online here).

Canvasses bursting with colour adorn the walls of her Ridley Road studio, last month she organised a 50-stall arts and crafts market at Spitalfields and she will soon be opening a gallery under the arches by Hackney Downs.

Yet 27-year-old painter/business owner/soon-to-be gallerist Sophie Rees is so very calm.

When I arrive to meet her at her studio, the market is in full swing. The sun is beaming down, reggae is booming from one of the music stalls and patterned African caftans are swaying with the breeze.

Working in a studio on the market road has its pros and cons, says Rees.

“I have a love/hate relationship with the area,” she explains, “I love opening the window and peering out at the bustling market. But walking past some of the meat stalls…” she trails off.

She shares her studio with two other artists in a large building set back from the main strip. On the ground floor, there’s a sprawling Turkish supermarket, the first floor is home to a bustling café and other floors are let to fashion students.

In December, Rees moved to her current studio from Hackney Wick’s Stour Space. Originally from Wales, she studied fine art at Brighton University and then moved to London after a post-university sponsored trip to Argentina.

She founded Designers / Makers, a not-for-profit agency with 70 members, in 2010 and she organises an online shop, a monthly market at Spitalfields and exhibitions to promote their work.

When not helping others exhibit and sell their work, Rees spends time painting her own colourful, upbeat oil paintings in the studio.

Having grown up surrounded by Welsh countryside, and going for walks in the Brecon Beacons, she often uses landscapes as the basis for her abstract works. “But it’s subconscious,” she says, “because now London has taken over – I’m inspired by the architectural spaces, lines of vision.”

She might use a pattern she notices on the floor as a starting point – such as the parquet flooring that can be distinguished in Conflicting Points of View – or a passing memory.

But one thing that all her paintings have in common is a barrage of colour. “I’ve always used bright colours,” she says, “I think it’s comes from all the travelling I’ve done, noticing the vibrancy of the clothes worn in other countries, it stays with you.”

Each morning she turns up and decides what colours she will use that day. “I put all my paints away at the end of the day so that when I arrive the next morning, it’s a fresh start – I’m not influenced by yesterday’s colours.”

Rather than producing one-off paintings, she tends to focus on creating a body of work. Her latest collection of has a deep blue running through each canvas that “pulls them together”.

Concerned, a while back, that she was overworking her paintings, adding more layers than was necessary, she is now concentrating on keeping the paintings simple: “I’m pulling back, only using three or four colours for each piece.”

The works on display when I visit Rees consist of mostly pastel colours, with darker lines or blocks occasionally breaking up the serene compositions.

Averse to the traditional method of hanging paintings on a wall, Rees transforms her paintings into sculptures by resting the canvas on a piece of carpet, giving it timber legs, or leaning it up against a surface. The aforementioned Conflicting Points of View will be displayed atop a layer of parquet flooring.

Rees will be exhibiting with Departure Gallery next month but in the meantime, she is focusing on her collaboration with Creative Network Companies setting up a gallery under the arches. Watch this space.

More info on Sophie Rees here and Designers / Makers here.

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