Liberty London: The Debut of my London Landmark Collection
Last year I moved from Singapore, where I had been living for eight years, to my new studio in Surrey Hills just on the outskirts of London. Prior to living in Singapore, London had been my home since my university days, and the London that I came back to last year was just as vibrant as I remembered it. As you may already know, I love painting unique architectural features, so I was particularly struck by the wonderful juxtaposition of historical buildings and striking new landmarks that had gone up while I was gone.
Many of my clients who purchased pieces from my successful Singapore Landmarks Collection asked if I would be creating a London Landmarks Collection. For me it was a very natural transition considering how inspirational London’s buildings are and how many fond memories they evoke for me. I’m proud to say that the project is now fully underway with a selection of some of my favourite London landmarks, some of which are obvious and others not so obvious. The first painting in the collection is the iconic Liberty department store building.
AN INTRIGUING HISTORY
Liberty was named after its creator, Arthur Liberty, who had a vision of bringing fine Asian handicrafts like paintings, silks and ornaments to the London public. In 1875 he borrowed £2000 from his father-in-law and leased half of a shop on Regent Street. The store was an immediate success, and Arthur was soon able to repay the loan, buy the other half of the shop and expand his offerings to furniture, carpets and other much sought-after hand-crafted Asian products.
Arthur also collaborated with Edward Godwin, a distinguished architect and founding member of the Costume Society, to create a costume department that would eventually go on to earn a reputation as a fashion house that rivalled those in Paris. Arthur Liberty also supported new designers and helped promote Art Nouveau and the Arts and Craft movement, and this is why Liberty still has a great reputation for design-led gifts and fabrics today.
The eye-catching black and white exterior of Liberty reminds me of the colonial bungalows in Singapore like the Black and White House I painted. The facade came about when the building was revamped in 1924 in the popular Tudor revival style using the timbers from two ships: the HMS Impregnable and the HMS Hindustan. Now you can’t miss this eclectic building on Great Marlborough Street that Oscar Wilde once called “The chosen resort of the artistic shopper.”
A PERSONAL CONNECTION
I used to go into Liberty as an art student and dream of owning some of the beautiful textiles on display there. Later when I was just starting out as a young artist and designer I began creating textile designs and selling them through an agent. The agent never told me who the clients were, but one day I walked into Liberty and there was an entire section of stationery products printed in my Dragonfly design. I can't tell you how shocked and surprised I was and how validating it was for me. Of course I had to buy a few of the items as keepsakes and presents for my mother and grandmother even though they cost me more than what I had actually received for the design.
I’ve been very influenced by Asia and Asian design in my own work, so I love thinking of Arthur Liberty bringing exotic and unusual Asian designs to London, as well as him supporting the arts, crafts and design movement here in England. The design of the building, its history and its Asian links resonate with me, and I always find a visit to Liberty's is an inspiration because it is a portal for some of the best design in London.
THE PAINTING PROCESS
My paintings are built up in many stages and layers and the architectural ones like this painting take many studio hours. First I visited the store to take photos and make some notes and quick sketches. Then I returned many times to get a real feel for the place, and finally in the studio I decided to paint the central section of the store that houses the flower shop and the entrance, and I chose to paint it on a 152 x 122 canvas.
I use acrylic paints and acrylic pens to work on my layouts, so I draw the image up first in a coloured crayon or a light grey paint to set the composition. As this is a black and white building, a lot of time was spent getting all the black parts really black and all the white parts crisp and clean. I also used several glazes to build up the reflected colours in the windows and then onto the flower shop at the entrance. The flower shop was a joy to paint with all the colours and different shapes of the flowers.
Lastly I added in a few figures that I drew from life outside the store on Great Marlborough Street including a man with his flight case, a lady walking and a fashionista selecting flowers. As Liberty's is a store I felt the inclusion of a few people added to the piece. For the figures I used a monoprint technique on fine Chinese paper. I also used hand-drawn text, which is one of my trademarks in my architectural paintings.