Purdey Fitzherbert [ 1987 - Present ]


Purdey Fitzherbert (b.1987) followed her foundational studies at Wimbledon College of Art with an Honours Fine Art degree from Newcastle University, where she also worked with senior Psychology lecturer Dr Gabriele Jordan to enhance her knowledge on human experience of colour.
Since 2011, Purdey has exhibited in group shows with Hus Gallery in Monaco, Gstaad, Switzerland, New York, LA, Miami, Venice, London, SP-Arte, Sao Paulo International Art Fair and at the Dallas Art Fair. Purdey’s work has been collected by Dallas Museum of Art.

Purdey Fitzherbert’s lives and works in London, her works are a unique blend of classical Western training, and Japanese aesthetical values. For Purdey the process of creation is paramount. She stresses the importance and the innate beauty of traditional crafts techniques. The artist embraces the full journey in her works, starting with hand ground pigments all the way to relinquishing her dominant role as a maker and trusting the natural processes to carry through her artistic vision and to release the creative force behind it. Purdey herself views her painting practice it as a process of ‘discovery and mystery, some of which will always be unknown’. The courage of letting the beauty be revealed ‘from within the darkness of matter’ without interventions and impositions is the vital aspect of Purdey’s nature as an artist.


Artist Q&A with Purdey Fitzherbert
by Dr Claudia Milburn


Q. What has been your background / training and how influential has that subsequently been/ What first inspired your practice?
A.  My journey as an artist was deeply influenced by my family background and personal experiences. Growing up, my family dealt with a lot of illness, and I struggled with chronic insomnia. This constant state of fragility and uncertainty shaped my perspective on life and inspired me to explore alternative forms of healing and spiritual practices.

In my upbringing, I was surrounded by energy healers, Acupuncturists, Reiki practitioners, psychics, and holistic individuals who worked with ley lines, crystals, and alternative medicine people. This environment fostered a deep fascination with the subtle body and a gentle connection with the Earth. I immersed myself in learning about Ayurveda, dinacharya (daily routines), massage and other alternative medicine practices. I and explored Kundalini practices, and Eastern energy fields, seeking to understand how we can shift and transmit energy within ourselves and others.

Witnessing the profound healing properties of walking in nature, natural medicine, meditation, and plants, I became intrigued by experiences that were on the edges of ordinary perception. I realised that these experiences could transform our understanding of reality and evoke deeper emotions within us. Through periods of deep insomnia and intensive dynamic meditation methods, I entered what I can only be describe as other realms of consciousness.

The book “Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees” by Robert Irwin became a significant inspiration for me. It offered insights into translating these experiences into artworks. I began to explore the boundaries of perception, the deprivation of senses, and how limitations could be transcended. My interests extended to seeing the unseen and delving into the usually inaccessible or overlooked aspects of existence. Through dynamic meditations, deep insomnia, exhaustion, and sensory deprivation, I became attuned to subtle energy fields and sought to incorporate these experiences into my artistic expression.

Q. Tell me more about your subject matter for your work?
I’m drawn things that live only in feelings, memory and the traces that are left behind.

My large-scale paper works explore notions of destruction, erosion, impermanence and fragility. The processes and materials I use reference life’s transience and the melancholic beauty of the aging process, forging a connection between humans and nature. Life’s laws dictate growth and creation, but they also bring forth continual cycles of death, deterioration and destruction. Impermanence is a constant presence in life, permeating everything: Nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.

I recognise that everything operates within cycles that we cannot control or halt. One of the key aspects of my work is to work in harmony with the invisible energies that surround us. I feel constantly drawn to the cyclical nature of existence, where the passage of time brings about constant change and transformation.

Painting becomes my primary tool for harmonising my inner and outer worlds. I observe cycles of transformation within myself and the external world and landscapes finding inspiration in the ever-changing natural forces.

I try and work within the tension that lies between permanence and ephemeralness, strength and fragility, lightness and density, resilience and vulnerability, expressing them in the abstract visual language I create using textures, colour and patterns inspired by the earth. Through my practice, I hope to provoke contemplation of our own transient nature, acting as a mirror to the constant cycle of growth and decay that surrounds us, and I aim to invite introspection and contemplation, urging viewers to reflect on and embrace their own impermanence

Q. Why has paper become the principal medium for your practice?
Utilising a medium derived from the earth, papers direct connection to the natural evokes a deep resonance within me, fostering a sense of unity and harmony with the world that surrounds me.

Handmade Japanese paper, in particular, has become the principal medium for my practice.  I am drawn to papers modest simplicity. This simplicity aligns harmoniously with the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, which celebrates the imperfect, transient nature of materials and embraces the beauty found in their aging and deterioration. Through my work, I am influenced by Buddhist practices, which emphasise the constant cycle of decay and rebirth that surrounds us. Handmade paper, with its inherent fragility and ephemeral nature, embodies this philosophy, reminding me of the impermanence of all things.

Paper, in its untouched state, holds a beauty and purity that is unparalleled. However, it also possesses the remarkable ability to be transformed into something entirely different, resembling something closer to leather, bark, metal, or even velvet. It can take on the appearance of smooth frosted glass, exuding an ethereal luminosity. Conversely, it can become rough, heavy, or when left exposed to the elements, wrinkled and brittle.

I have found paper has such versatility, a surface that can be used to freeze moments in time. Different papers have their own character and its own reactive properties. I perceive certain papers to have a kind of soul, a living quality. The traces of the creative process are revealed and concealed within its tactile surface. Paper becomes a vessel for capturing and preserving fragments of swirling Colours and shapes etched deep onto its surface, suspending them in a permanent state of existence inviting viewers to contemplate the essence of those fleeting moments.

Q. Tell me about the processes involved in making your work.
The processes involved in making my work are deeply rooted in my fascination with materials and transformation. From a young age, I have been captivated by salvaging discarded objects and turning them into sculptures and artworks. This interest in alchemy and the ability to transform ordinary materials into something extraordinary has shaped my artistic journey.

Walking plays a significant role in my practice, serving as a meditative process that reconnects me with the infinite natural world. It allows me to transcend overthinking and tap into a realm of feeling. Exploring back streets and spaces where nature reclaims forgotten urban capes, I forage for salvaged man-made and natural fragments to make into pigments and dyes or hang in the works. I take rubbings and photographs to map my surroundings and record my responses to the urban landscape.

Traces from my surroundings, travels, and the serendipitous chaotic nature of my studio find their way into my work. Tears from bird pecking, folds etched by the wind, sea salt encrustations, stains, scratches, corrosion from rust and footprints become integral parts of the artwork.

I believe that the process of creation is paramount, and I emphasise the rituals surrounding traditional craft techniques. By combining deliberateness and purpose with the unexpected chemistry of my painting process, I strive to create tactile and captivating surfaces.

The interactions between different pigments, dyes, plants, metals, ground stones, fire, water, and ice drive the compositions of my artwork. Through rigorous alchemical processes, my artwork undergoes transformation, flux, and decay.

In my work, I utilise and combine vibrant synthetic dyes, as well as natural inks and pigments imbued with history. Natural colours derived from rocks, earth, plants, and mollusks contain their own stories and journeys. Exploring colours made from natural inks and dyes transports us into a deeper realm of experience.

The use of natural plant dyes and grinding mineral pigments adds a sensory dimension to my work. Smells and rituals associated with the past and ancient colour-making techniques are intertwined with my creative process. Ground earth such as ochre and chalk stone collected on walks, as well as found objects like rusted World War I bullets, cement, bricks, and even burned yams, all contribute to the creation of unique inks and pigments. Rust, in particular, plays a significant role in my work, symbolizing time, instability, decay, and the acceptance of life’s fragility.

My practice requires a slow and thoughtful process that appreciates beauty in all its forms. I aim to challenge and transcend traditional notions of beauty, recognising that everything in life is multifaceted and ephemeral. For me a work of art must contain contradictions, embodying both hope and sadness, and exploring the relationship between the two. It is through these contradictions that true beauty emerges.

Colour is a separate substance in my artistic vocabulary. The relationships and interactions of colours hold a particular allure for me. I am fascinated by the thrill of producing vivid, glowing colours and the boundaries and edges that form when different colours collide and interact. Each colour carries a sensory experience, affecting us on a physiological, psychological, and emotional level. Colour has the power to trigger memories and evoke discomfort or nourishment. The delicate nature of colour becomes apparent when placed in different contexts, as one colour may appear vibrant next to another, while dull when juxtaposed with a different hue.

Q. How significant is the element of serendipity in your practice?
The element of serendipity is immensely significant in my artistic practice. It is through embracing the unexpected and allowing materials to interact independently that I am able to connect with the pure creative energy of nature.

I approach my work as a process painter, where the methods I employ generate unpredictable results. I am constantly responding to what I’ve created and intuitively determining the next steps. Often, the most beautiful outcomes emerge when I let go of control and allow the materials to guide me.

In my artistic journey, I grapple with the tension between trusting the process and desiring to dominate and govern the outcome. Can I ever truly relinquish control and accept the flow of the material? Nature’s mark-making can be rebellious, unpredictable, delicate, and sophisticated. By revealing this complexity, I aim to allow nature’s expression to emerge in all its wildness, infinite variations, and patterns.

The beauty of serendipity lies in its ability to introduce unexpected elements and influences into the creative process. I believe that there is a higher “Divine Force” at play, an intelligible energy that underlies all of creation. As painters and makers, our role is to connect with that creative essence and participate in it, rather than imposing a predetermined concept onto the surface of our work.

Imperfection and ephemera are concepts that resonate with me. I appreciate the idea that there is something bigger than us, energetic powers that act upon us. Serendipity keeps us engaged and excited in the creative process, reminding us of the unknown and the beauty that emerges from it. I consider my practice akin to tending a garden, nurturing, and providing elements and seeds, but ultimately surrendering to the unpredictable growth and transformation that occurs.

Nature’s patterns and chaos inspire me deeply. I observe how patterns emerge in the world around us without any conscious planning, reflecting the underlying mathematical relationships that shape the natural world. I seek to capture and celebrate these patterns in my work, acknowledging their healing effects and the sense of order they bring to the chaotic universe.

Ultimately, my artistic practice is a journey of revelation, allowing the hidden face of beauty within matter to come forth. It is an ongoing exploration and participation in the universal Creative Force. The process of painting, like sculpting, involves uncovering and revealing something that already exists, rather than imposing my will upon the canvas. I believe that by embracing serendipity and the uncontrollable nature of the creative process, I can tap into a deeper realm of creativity and connect with the essence of the natural world.

Q. What is the inspiration behind the specific works in the exhibition and how do they sit within the context of your work to date?
The works in this exhibition draw inspiration from the intersection of nature, urban spaces, and the passage of time. They embody my explorations of palimpsest, where reused and altered sculptural paper wall pieces bear visible traces of their earlier forms. These pieces evoke bird’s eye views, conjuring imaginary landscapes and weathered advertising boards, capturing the essence of the city itself. They embrace fragments of urban structures and imprints of everyday urban life.

I strive to capture the diverse shapes, textures, patterns, and hues found in both natural and urban environments. The aesthetic of my work incorporates topographic and mineralogical elements, creating layered surfaces that evoke the transience of life and the melancholic beauty of aging. Some materials used in these pieces are collected from the urban environment of London, where I live and create. Graffitied fly posters, scavenged wallpaper, and handmade papers and paints are carefully layered.

The city serves as a rich source of inspiration, containing hidden stories and traces of human presence and history. I’m fascinated by landscapes that simultaneously show both neglect and beauty and that bear the palimpsests of time, where conflicting impressions coexist. Walking plays a crucial role in my artistic process, allowing me to observe the strangeness and quietude of the world while discovering and recording these traces left behind.

Through the works palettes and compositions, I invite viewers to contemplate patterns, textures, and colours that bear witness to the passage of time, my aim is to inspire a sense of wonder and appreciation to the inherent beauty that resides in our everyday surrounds.