Featured Artist Louise Balaam

1341 130x140cm1340 120x110cm1357 100 by 110 Nightingale woods, quiet evening copy1355 Salt Fleet copy21f85f77409328d302186b291ca114431339 120x110cm1351 Mudflats, pink sky copy1303-saltmarshes-looking-for-sandpipers1288-soft-cloud-pembrokeshire-sky

Where did you grow up and does this affect your work?

When I was young my family lived in various places in Surrey. As children we were able to roam around the countryside. I only realised recently that I’d spent a lot of my childhood on the north Downs and that’s probably why I feel such a connection with landscape and with downland landscape in particular.

I now live in Kent, also on the north Downs. Although in some ways it’s pure commuter territory, I’m always amazed at how much beautiful countryside is very close to where I live and it’s relatively easy to reach the Kent coast or the South Downs from where we are. I’ve recently finished a new body of work based on the North Kent marshes, which has been fascinating to explore. There’s even an Iron Age fort about five minutes’ walk from my studio. I believe drawing is hugely important to my practice, so it’s great to have lots of places I can draw without travelling miles. And London is very accessible as well, for exhibitions, the National Gallery in particular.
Can you tell us about your practice?
My practice is to draw in the landscape, which I feel is very important, so that I can absorb the particular qualities of wherever I am. I try to use the drawings as a record of all the aspects of the landscape – sound, touch and maybe smell as well as sight. I then paint in the studio – I like to work in my own space without interruptions, and I like the idea that the painting becomes a thing in itself. I tend to become rather literal if I’m working outside. In this way of working there is a space for memory and imagination to become a part of the painting.
Art education
I didn’t do art at all at school (though I did a lot of ceramics in my spare time, both throwing and clay sculpture.) I became interested in painting quite a bit later on, when I was teaching. My interest developed through evening classes etc, through an Open College of the Arts course, to a degree and then a Masters in Fine Art.
Where my work sits
I’m very aware of landscape artists of the past, particularly Constable and Turner and their innovative approach to landscape painting. My work is focussed around an emotional response to landscape, so my practice involves an intuitive, gestural way of painting which is particularly associated with the American abstract expressionist artists of the 50’s. At the same time I strive to make work in a way which is fresh and contemporary, and I like to achieve a balance between specific landscape references and the abstract qualities of paint.
There are many artists who I draw constant inspiration and strength from – Turner and Constable as mentioned before, and in the 20th century artists such as David Bomberg, Winifred Nicholson, Peter Lanyon, Willem de Kooning, Joan Mitchell, Joan Eardley, Ivon Hitchens, and Per Kirkeby.  Contemporary artists I admire include David Tress, Lewis Noble, Judy Buxton, Janette Kerr and Simon Carter.
Forthcoming Events
My show at Cadogan Contemporary which just closed was well received and was based on my exploration of the North Kent Marshes, a wonderful wild part of the country not far from my home, which seems to be very little known. It’s a place of big skies and salt marshes riddled with channels of water, and a wonderful mix of historic and literary associations (notably Conrad and Dickens), and past and present industrial sites. It’s bounded by the Thames estuary, so the cranes of the London Gateway port can be seen on the horizon and the huge container ships seem to glide through the mudflats. At the same time it’s very rich in wildlife, with barn owls, avocets, nightingales and many other birds. In the new work I’ve been showing at Cadogan I’ve been trying to develop the abstract qualities of paint I mentioned earlier, while also keeping the specific flavour of the place itself, and the experience of being there.
I am really looking forward to my ‘In Conversation with Anne Magill‘ event at Cadogan Contemporary in June. Although our styles are different I feel we have a lot in common in terms of our approach to painting. I think we’ll have a wide-ranging chat about our experiences as women in the art world, and about painting generally.
I teach exclusively with the New School of Art.
At the moment I do a workshop around once every two months, either at a range of very beautiful venues in or near Lewes in Sussex, or in the School’s amazing HQ on the Thames in London – a truly fascinating location which provides an exceptional  landscape experience in the heart of the city.
The teaching has developed after I was contacted by Camilla, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it – I find it’s very rewarding to teach adults who are really keen to learn, and it helps me articulate what I think,  plus I learn a lot from the students myself.
Andalusia Residential Painting Week 
I am really looking forward to my week’s workshop in Andalusia this September, which is a new departure for me. It’s a completely different and highly dramatic landscape, and looks like another amazing venue, with wonderful food I’m told!
Where am I trying to move towards in my work
I’m always interested in exploring the abstract and expressive qualities of paint, and trying to push beyond the purely descriptive as much as possible, without losing the link with the source itself. Because I want my work to be as expressive and honest as possible, I’m always trying to guard against too much self-consciousness, or paint marks which are simply decorative. It’s a constant struggle!
Organising my life
I usually feel that things aren’t anywhere near as organised as I’d like. I spend variable amounts of time in my studio, usually 2-3 days a week, and much more when I’m busy getting ready for a solo show, for example. I work quite intensely, with breaks for walking, reading, thinking, and drinking coffee. There are a lot of other things which need to be done as well of course – emails, phone calls, social media, marketing, ordering materials, taking photographs, framing, packing and posting, preparing and delivering work, etc etc – not to mention meeting artist friends, drawing, teaching, and seeing exhibitions. I don’t have a typical day, everything depends on what the deadlines are at any one point. I have a lot of to-do lists and just try to prioritise and somehow get everything done.