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Poetry and Art: Sue Leigh writes about the influence of Winifred Nicholson

Poetry is often inspired by art, and poems inspire art in turn. This series of posts celebrates this special connection in the words of artists and poets who have been published by Two Rivers Press.

Small and expansive: writing about the paintings of Winifred Nicholson

The life and work of Winifred Nicholson, the British twentieth-century artist, has always been significant to me. Inspired particularly by colour, light, flowers, landscapes and seascapes, her pictures have a freshness and immediacy (she painted quickly), a lyrical intensity. Her work is joyous. The paintings – often of pots or jugs of flowers on windowsills with a view of mountains, snow or sea beyond – bring together near and far, the small and expansive. It is as if by looking with attention at those flowers we might begin to understand what she calls ‘the secret of the cosmos’.

There is often a visionary quality to her work as in ‘Flower Table’ (1928–9) which she painted at Bankshead, the Cumberland farmhouse where she lived for most of her life. The pots of flowers in this painting sit on a heavy work table which itself sits on a rag rug (Winifred Nicholson designed rag rugs and was also interested in other crafts). I love the radiance of this painting, its silvery light. It is both domestic and homely but also otherworldly.

Why write about a painting? I am always questioning how we might respond creatively to the world and experience. Winifred Nicholson uses colour and form to express her vision. I try to articulate my own, not with paint but with language. Writing about painting helps me think again about the act of making, to consider the possibilities and limitations of different mediums. I live in language but sometimes I would like to be a painter just to see what happens, beyond the words.

Sue Leigh, March 2022

 

‘Flower Table’, Winifred Nicholson (1928–9)

 

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Flower table poem by Sue Leigh from Her Orchards

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Sue Leigh read English at London University and completed her doctorate at the University of Aberystwyth. She worked for Faber & Faber for a number of years before leaving London and settling in rural Oxfordshire. She now works as a freelance writer and poet, and as a part-time tutor at Rewley House, Oxford University’s Department for Continuing Education. The poem ‘Flower Table’ appears in her latest collection Her Orchards, published in 2021.

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