Venetia Norris will show her finely detailed artwork at north London venue…

Art and auctions, Events, Exhibitions, Paintings and Sculpture — By on August 31, 2015 at 9:55 PM

Venetia NorrisVenetia Norris will show her finely detailed artwork at north London venue, where Handel composed anthems and progressive  education for women flowered,  By James Brewer

London artist Venetia Norris has an eye – and pens, pencils and a good deal of brass rubbing paper – for detail. Her first love thematically is flowers such as anemones, orchids, poppies and delphiniums, and floral arrangements. In recent depictions she has extended her fine drawing technique to subjects as varied as a surprisingly attractive Brussels sprout plant, and nymph and flora adorning a Robert Adam marble fireplace.


.Drawing inspired by Adam fireplace, Croome Court, Worcestershire. Pencil on
paper. By Venetia Norris. Collaboration withthe National Trust. Image
courtesy of the artist.

She detects at a glance features which few others notice: the floral design on a drainpipe and the faint, intricate patterns carved decades ago into a radiator at a historic house. In this way she teases out subtle strands of nature. These to her are the vital minutiae of life, the delicate components, rather than the trifles they seem to the passer-by.

Her keen sense of observation will be celebrated in an exhibition, private view on October 15 2015, in the imposing premises of North London Collegiate School, where she will unveil the portfolio created during her artist’s residency there.

Venetia took enormous delight in becoming for a while a part of the contemporary life – and absorbing the fascinating history – of girls-only North London Collegiate School, which was started in 1850 by educationalist Frances Mary Buss in her family home in Camden Town.

Miss Buss went on to become an outstanding figure in British education. Her family had dedicated themselves to the school including her brother Septimus and her father RW Buss, who drew illustrations for the novels of Dickens. Miss Buss was headmistress of her establishment – said to be the first such school in the UK to offer girls the same educational opportunities as boys – for 44 years and helped found many other schools.

Stock 1. Pen and ink drawing, for exhibition at National Trust's FentonHouse. By Venetia Norris. Image courtesy of the artist.

Stock 1. Pen and ink drawing, for exhibition at National Trust’s Fenton
House. By Venetia Norris. Image courtesy of the artist.

(Welcoming girls from the ages of four to 18, the school has twice been named the leading Independent Secondary School of the Year. It says that it “is proud of its tradition of producing independent, often pioneering, young women with the drive and confidence to make the most of opportunities and a difference in the world.”)

Venetia described the site and facilities of the school – it has been located at Canons Park, Edgware, since 1940 following earlier moves to accommodate growth – as perfect for stimulating new work. The school has an enviable setting in the former country estate of the Duke of Chandos, who built a palace there in 1714. The palace was demolished after the second Duke sold the house and lands to pay off debts, and the original colonnade now stands in front of the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square.

What can be seen today on the site, with sensitive alteration and additions, is the “modest villa” built by cabinet maker William Hallett in 1760. Thomas Gainsborough was commissioned to paint Mr and Mrs Hallett in the grounds and The Morning Walk is in the National Gallery.

Handel became between 1717 and 1720 composer-in-residence at the palace, where he wrote theChandos Anthems. His opera Acis and Galatea was first performed in the gardens.

3)Venetia Norris Layered drawing 2  Mixed Media-  pencil rubbings, graphite, paint and wire on paper, artwork, 31x22cm, 2015 (image courtesy of the artist)

Layered drawing 2.Mixed media: pencil rubbings, graphite, paint and wire on
paper. By Venetia Norris. Drawing to be shown in forthcoming London
exhibition. Image courtesy of the artist.

Canons Park, a registered Grade II historic landscape, gets its name from the canons or monks of the Augustinian priory of St Bartholomew in Smithfield, who owned the manor of Stanmore before the Reformation.

Venetia praised the school’s excellent art department which she said has talented, practising artists as teachers. For her residency, she was allocated space by the entrance, which meant she could engage in frequent conversations with the students.

“I usually prefer to create work alone in my studio, ” she wrote in her blog. It was challenging to work in this “completely different environment and I enjoyed a new perspective of sharing work in progress. There is an energy and vibrancy in the art department that encouraged me to have a lighter approach.”

She said that she used “ brighter colours than I normally would –because of the buzz of the school, hundreds of girls rushing to their next class, peals of laughter and talk followed by silence during classes. “

Venetia found huge inspiration from exploring the grounds and the buildings – “the place is definitely not a museum” – leading her to create layered drawings that, she says, “echo a sense of new and old. I wanted to produce work that had a real and tangible connection to the physical architecture.”

7) Venetia Norris, Movement 15,  Mixed Media-  pencil, ink & gouache on paper, artwork 17.5x13.5cm, 2014 (image courtesy of the artist)

Movement 15. Mixed media: pencil, ink and gouache on paper. Drawing by
Venetia Norris while on Fellowship in Country Mayo, Ireland. Image courtesy
of the artist.

It was springtime, with anemone and other flowers in full bloom and framing the buildings. She took rubbings with “a beautiful graphite” of architectural details of the old building and gardens, and on top of them drew blossom and plants to create “a conversation in lines.”

Juxtaposed with the drawings, the rubbings made all the difference. They contributed an important “essence of the place, together with the flowers that represent energy and life.”

Another ingenious device was to be employed. As she walked through the grounds taking in the different colours and textures and wanting to integrate them more into her work, she noticed the wire in the fence, “and I thought that is what I need to add a sculptural element.  I really enjoy how the wire creates a shadow in two and three dimensions.”

A residency in a different environment followed shortly afterwards. In June 2015, Venetia spent two weeks at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig, County Monaghan, which was “like stepping into a Constable painting.” The great theatre director Sir William Tyrone Guthrie (1900-1971) left the property to the Irish State to be used as a residential workplace for artists.

5) Venetia Norris, Hammersmith Bridge 3, Mixed media, Image size 31x22cm, Framed size 42.2x34.2cm, 2014 (image courtesy of the artist)

Hammersmith Bridge 3. Mixed media. By Venetia Norris. Image courtesy of the

Venetia spent most of her time at Annaghmakerrig outside in the garden, drawing and collecting plants, appreciating the light that was much purer than that of London, but where the weather changed so quickly that she often found herself holding an umbrella in one hand and pencil in the other. She was undaunted. “Drawing with rainwater that had got onto my paper in a torrential downpour was a happy accident that created a textured surface, ”

Of her appreciation of detail, Venetia says in her artist’s statement: “However small, everything struggles to become part of the whole. Trying to understand that journey is what interests me, how a plant or a flower grows into itself, how it composes itself, where it is found, the various stages of its journey, how it emerges into itself, and how that self is then seen.

“I am drawn to the smallest shape and curve: detail continuously intrigues me. Using just the tip of my pencil, graphite and ink I try to reveal the intricate layers, the sensuous interiors, the infinite variety and texture of a leaf, a stem, or a petal, to see beyond the initial distraction of beauty, gently but determinedly going behind the disguise of blossom or colour.”

Venetia comes from an artistic family. Her father, who was born in São Paulo, is a sculptor and her grandparents were architects. “I decided after school that there was no way I wanted to be an artist, ” she said, “so I went into theatre, and worked on costume, but that was not creative enough for me, so I went back to my first love, drawing, and realised I could not do anything in life but that.”

Venetia Norris_026

Venetia in her studio

Surprisingly, drawing is a skill neglected even at renowned art schools and colleges, and Venetia does her part to put that right, by teaching. Among such commitments was one at a City office. In 2012 she gave lunchtime drawing classes at the charity Nesta, an organisation which had begun life in 1998 as the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts. Venetia was impressed by the dynamism of the people at Nesta, which encourages collaboration between the arts, digital technology providers and researchers, and runs two open-submission exhibitions a year.  Nesta is chaired by Sir John Chisholm, who led the transformation of UK government defence research laboratories into the London-listed QinetiQ Group. He is a former chairman of the Medical Research Council and of the Institution of Engineering & Technology. Venetia’s drawing Orchid 2, Cymbidium, and Orchid 4, Cambria features in Nesta’s 2012-2013 annual report.

“What is being taught today at leading academies is quite different to the emphasis on drawing of years back, ” she says. “People come to me to learn specifically to draw.” Lack of drawing instruction, and neglect of historical context, are among the inadequacies in such education. Further, “I think it would be wonderful in art college if they taught you the business side, such as how to do your books.”

Venetia remarked: “What I have drawn over the years has changed. I was drawing flowers, and they had to be in perfect bloom. I would store the flowers at the end of the day in the deep freezer, give them soluble aspirin which they love, give them Coca Cola, which sometimes changed their colour. Last year I did what I normally do, which was bring plants into the studio.

“But Ireland was so wild that the beautiful weeds and flowers I picked lost all of their life indoors. So I drew them in the landscape, and I have really been understanding the sense of place, and how important that is to plants. Before, I was drawing to isolate the plants. It was a watershed. Taking yourself outside your normal situation encourages you to look at every aspect of your practice.”

She says: “I love everything about drawing, the process of drawing, leaving a mark, the sounds created by a pencil, how the pencil feels like an extension of my arm, and I have always been drawn to nature and plants. I feel that I do not really understand something unless I have drawn it.”

More details are at

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    1 Comment

  • Jeffrey Blum says:

    Dear James, thanks for your superb article, which I have already forwarded to friends and family, as we know North London Collegiate School rather well.
    Best regards

    Jeffrey Blum

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