The sensuous life of things

'She placed a vase of jasmine on the windowsill.' 'The glass of water glowed as though the tablecloth's deep pink colour had dissolved and intensified inside it…'. Still life, when you do it in words, is never entirely still – in the background, out of sight, someone is usually moving about, opening windows, eating breakfast. And once people enter the scene, stories begin to unfold and the passage of time picks up is familiar, distracting momentum.

Alice's StudioStill life paintings, on the other hand, really can slow the beat almost to a standstill. Light and shadow hold their balance however long you look, and longer. In their refusal to be agitated by the human goings-on around them, objects radiate the self-contained, silent life of things. Paradoxically, the stillness of still-life becomes deeper and more sensuous when, as in Alice Mumford's new paintings, there's a corresponding feeling of vitality, even exuberance, breaking through. Alongside plain glass beakers and earthenware pots – those old retainers in the house of art – there are pink and orangey red textiles, warm atmospheric greys, and explosive sprigs of blossom rendered with the impulsive, open-ended kind of brush mark that a relatively recent development in Mumford's work.

Modest as they are, the objects in these paintings – the patterned plates, milk jugs and impromptu, vivid little bunches of flowers – inhabit what you imagine to be, in the general experience of twenty-first-century domestic multi-tasking, a pleasant, slightly rarefied world in which there will always be time to spread the table or explore the garden. This is part of their allure, since who can resist the thought of such moments, however seldom they actually occur?

But it's not quite that simple: how is it, for example, that all is quick, approximate brush strokes finally add up to an effective poise and calm? It is much easier to enjoy than to explain how it feels so peaceful on the table top where the sunlight falls and where small, everyday objects focus a very particular sense of solace and in elation.

Michael Bird
August 2010

Alice in her studio

‘Sometimes I ask myself what would I lose or miss if I didn't paint directly from life? I am excited by and wonder at what is revealed by the simple act of looking. The shapes between things and beats of tone seem to affect me. Painting is a way of thinking through what you are looking at. Then the looking becomes more than a naming of objects. It gives you a chance to look at the world without words through interacting shapes, subtle tonal differences and rhythms, warm darks, cool lights. It can involve the abstract, your senses, memory.

‘Different combinations of colour for the palette or a new pigment can help express that perception and give it form. In particular, Gamboge Yellow Lake, which has a golden quality of warmth and light. It is quite translucent, unlike Naples or yellow ochre, and not as acid as cadmium or lemon. It has edginess and energy."

Alice Mumford
September 2008

Alice's palette and brushesThe St Ives and Camberwell traditions

A major strand in St Ives' contribution to modern British art has been the painterly, from John Park and Christopher Wood in the 1920s to, in their own distinctive ways, Brian Pearce and Fred Yates today, and our exhibition St Ives: 80 years modernism (22 November – 18 December 2001) demonstrated this. Alice Mumford, born in 1965, continues this tradition. Her family is Cornish and she has lived in West Cornwall for the past 14 years. There are and have been many painters in her family: she is the fourth generation.

She studied at the Camberwell School of Art and also comes from that tradition of painting from life, with an emphasis on observation, light, tone, space, and placing: this encourages the discovery of that magical beauty which is to be found in the humblest of objects or scenes. She follows in the footsteps of Camberwell teachers and pupils such as Frank Auerbach, Bernard Dunstan, Terry Frost, Howard Hodgkin, and Ewan Uglow.

Julian Lax
May 2003

natural light across studioThe prosaic and the dramatic

The true artist must reveal the spiritual dimension which lies at the heart of ordinary and lowly objects. Alice Mumford is such an artist, following in the still life tradition defined by John-Baptiste Chardin and developed by Giorgio Morandi. She sees clearly in the paintings of Paul Cézanne what she defines as a process of weaving, with the interlacing energies of warp and weft across the entire surface forming a unified picture plane. This interlacing creates the basic abstraction to be found in all modernist painting.

Her objects have at one in the same time a prosaic and a dramatic nature and symbolise the presence of human beings and the mystery of their daily lives. She instilled in English flavour into the still life tradition and, in her profound understanding and joyful handling of oil paint, can be likened to Winifred Nicholson and the School of St Ives.

Professor Richard Demarco, OBE
May 2003