Elizabeth Power chats to us about her love of the English seaside, searching for a new way of life, and the underlying sense of calm in her vibrant paintings.
Living in St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex, with her partner and two young children, Elizabeth Power is a contemporary artist specialising in vibrant and colourful paintings. Ranging from nostalgic and iconic coastal scenes to still-lifes of florals and other plants, her artworks harness joyful, vibrant colours to provide a sense of escapism with an undercurrent of calm.
Graduating from University of the Arts London in 2018, Elizabeth's work has been featured in British Vogue, The Royal Academy of Arts, Home House, Soho House, Heals, The London Design Festival, John Lewis, Delphian Gallery and Art on a Postcard. She's also the founder of 'Babes in Arms', a local organisation curating and hosting shows that promote and support artist mothers in the area.
Now her work is appearing at a forthcoming exhibition called Coastal Calm at 99 Projects, in Kensal Rise, London. We chatted with Elizabeth about her technique, her inspirations, and how she found a better life for herself and her family.
Rare moments of calm
Enhanced by a heightened colour palette, this new body of work captures rare moments of calm, featuring nostalgic and iconic coastal depictions, from striped deckchairs to seascapes and charming seaside architecture. The collection also features natural elements such as flowers and other flora, often pictured in vases made by local artisans, against a backdrop of bright light against heavy shadows of a midsummer's day.
She paints mostly with acrylics, as she's drawn to the fast-drying nature of the paint, but she always begins with a backwashed canvas of her signature pink or yellow. Working from her own photography, Elizabeth creates loose sketches on the canvas, followed by expressive painted brush strokes. Raw and organic, each piece plays with textures, exposed pencil lines and visible brush strokes to capture the atmosphere of the scene.
"I love to play with colour and light in my work and keep a looseness and raw quality to my paintings," she explains. "I love to capture the essence of the scene I'm painting but use a heightened colour palette to portray how I want the world to look: full of optimism and life. My work is total escapism from the boring, mundane routine that life brings."
And she's keen to share that feeling with others. "I want to transport the viewer to a moment of calm, a happy place, and capture this still moment of peace in a painting that will last. I'm very much inspired by painters such as Matisse, Hockney, Bonnard, Tal R, Avery, and Dodd: people who use colour playfully and also keep a level of abstraction and simplicity to their paintings. I'm not a fan of hyperrealism. For a painting to be relevant today, it should be notably different from what our eye sees, and full of texture and marked brush strokes."
Her work effortlessly evokes the pleasures of the English seaside, an environment she feels a strong attachment. "I grew up in the southeast and was always visiting Brighton, Hastings and Eastbourne," she explains. "The coastline is magical: something is charming about its slightly crumbling former Victorian glory. The stone beaches, the piers, the amusements, the fish and chips, sweet shops and crazy golf all spark such happy childhood memories."
Yes, the UK coast isn't exactly known for its great weather. And as Elizabeth wryly notes, "There is nothing more British than a windy day fending off seagulls from your chips whilst stubbornly trying to enjoy a fun family day out at the seaside. However, living in St Leonards-on-Sea in Hastings, it genuinely feels like we have more sunny days than not, and the slow pace of life and seaside living is so unbelievably relaxing.
"I make sure I walk to the beach daily, and it calms any stresses away," she adds. "It has an incredible arty vibe and rebellious spirit that pulses through the bones of everyone here, and the community is incredible. I've never felt prouder or felt more at home living anywhere in my life."
Search for a new life
Relocating from West London to St Leonards-on-Sea just before the UK lockdown, hers is just one of the many families drawn to the romanticism of the coast, seeking a different kind of life. Filled with creatives and freelancers, more and more former Londoners are starting new lives by the sea, motivated by the confines of the city during lockdown.
"We left just before the pandemic, so it actually wasn't related to that and was a well-timed coincidence," she recalls. "I'd lived in the city since uni, and although I absolutely loved my time there and have some incredible memories, especially from the music scene as I was in bands throughout my twenties, I was starting to feel pushed out and like it no longer fitted my needs.
"I'd had my first child and had a tiny flat with no space," she continues. "All my friends had either left the city or were living a very different lifestyle to me. And I was forced to work full-time jobs – albeit in the art world – to pay the extortionate bills. I felt so stuck and unable to take the jump to be a full-time artist. Also, I was starting to hate how everything was so busy and rushed. I didn't realise how stressed and anxious it was making me until I left."
Like many, Elizabeth had always wanted to live by the sea and have a slower pace of life, better air quality and more green space for her children. So she was pleased to discover that "we could afford a house with a garden here and actually have the life-work balance we always wanted. I knew some people in Hastings with families who had already moved from London, and their lifestyles seemed idyllic. They all were super-creative, like-minded types, and I knew if they loved it, I would. We visited lots and fell in love with the place more every time."
So once she arrived, did she find the escape she'd sought: the calm illustrated in her beautiful artworks? "Absolutely, yes," she replies. "I genuinely feel so unbelievably happy and fortunate to live in St Leonards-on-Sea. It's the most magical place, full of brilliant people, and I feel like I live on holiday most days. It's so chilled here, yet full of life with lots of exciting things happening all the time, from food experiences to music festivals and art openings.
"Everyone is so happy all the time," she adds. "It's hard not to be when you live in such beautiful surroundings. I feel very supported by my community. I never had that in the city. And let's face it – I couldn't have a beach hut in London!"
Coastal Calm opens from 23 March to 23 April 2023 at 99 Projects, 99 Chamberlayne Rd, Kensal Rise, London NW10 3ND. Opening hours are 11am-6pm Wednesday-Saturday and 11am-4pm Sun (closed Monday and Tuesday). Prints start at £200, and originals start at £2.200.