Since gaining her degree in Illustration from Brighton University, Rue Asher has gone on to receive national recognition for exhibiting at the Royal Watercolour Society and The Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours, and being shortlisted in 2015 for The Sunday Times Watercolour Competition. As a recent addition to Broth Art stable, we wanted to learn more about Rue's artistic practice and the inspiration behind her work.
Kim: What formed the preface to your style and way of working?
Rue: When I was younger I was quite unfocused, even at art college. I started to work much more consistently and seriously later on after my training as a therapist. I rediscovered painting via watercolour - oil and solvent fumes being impractical as I was living and working in a studio flat in Brighton at the time. I’ve moved on to other mediums since, but I still retain a love of watercolour. The technical side of painting I really learnt after I left art college. Embarking on a series of private art courses, I cherry-picked the best tutors I could find relating to the areas of weakness I found in my work. There are some great teachers out there who are generously sharing their practical knowledge of painting. This kind of practical teaching is very much alive, but you need to look for it as it's not always found in art institutions.
Kim: Who/what are your main influences?
Rue: So many, but ones that spring to mind - Hsiao-Mei Lin, Marlene Dumas, Rose Wylie, Cathie Pilkington, Barbara, and Fiona Rae. I realise they’re all women so to balance things out some male artists, Rembrandt, Goya, Turner, Vermeer, and Matisse. There are lots I haven't mentioned of course. Music is also a major influence, helping in a different way; giving rhythm to the marks and setting the painting's mood. In the past, I have listened to loud emotive music, - I’m a big fan of Nick Cave - but recently I’ve surprised myself by moving on to more Icelandic contemporary composers such as Anna Thorvaldsdottir and Hildur Guonadottir, who composed some of the music to Chernobyl - very melancholic but beautiful!
Kim: As a practicing therapist, psychology is present in a lot of your work. Have you always been interested in expressing human consciousness?
Rue: I used to think I compartmentalised my painting from my work as a therapist, however, I have noticed that ‘psychology’ or the unconscious life of the mind is more prevalent in my painting than I'd realised. I guess it's always been there, under the surface. All artists bring their own psychological story to their work, we can’t help it, the hand being the servant of the mind.
Kim: Can you talk us through what you're working on currently?
Rue: I’ve recently been working on a self-initiated project based on the historic area where I live called The Pells. We’re having its Centenary next year and producing a book that I’m hoping to be in. An area given to the people of Lewes a hundred years ago, The Pells includes the oldest freshwater lido in the UK and some historic wetland and marshes. Over the summer I went down there early in the morning to sit and take it all in. I did some drawings but also began to write to help me tune in to the sensations of being there in the moment. I’m no poet but have developed an onomatopoeic shorthand in order to slide back into the experience in my studio, to give rhythm and form to the marks and process of whatever I’m painting - sense memory if you like.
Kim: What is your preferred medium?
Rue: I love the immediacy of ink and acrylic as I prefer to work quite quickly, but I’ve been solely focusing on oil for the last couple of years. It’s like learning a new language which is very exciting. I’m now allowing myself to combine the two, underpainting in acrylic and adding oil later. Oil colour adds a great richness, depth, and subtilty, which you can’t always achieve with acrylic.
Kim: Can you talk us through your process?
Rue: It's ever-changing and sometimes I feel like I’m starting at the beginning with every painting or drawing, which isn’t actually true of course. Over the years, I have developed my ability to stand back, assess each stage of a painting. There’s always that little niggly voice chipping in, but I’ve managed to balance this by cultivating a more dispassionate critical voice, especially when I’m stuck- which is most of the time! Someone observed recently that I’m more of a doer rather than a thinker and I think that's true. I can’t wait to dive into a painting, to take action, however, I’ve realised the importance of initial studies, the process and thought, which gives the work the ‘armature’ it needs to make it successfully to the end.