From Barbados she takes back to England her first taste of sweet mango, the smell of the pink and white frangipani flowers, the shapes of palm fronds and newfound hues of waterfall blues, ocean floor greens, yellows and lipstick reds. The lush and imaginative vision inspired by childhood holidays in the Caribbean is key, if not the sole source of everything that follows in the work of this English artist.
Orlanda Broom’s paintings are intense, full of vitality and at times feel fantastical, even ethereal. Not surprisingly, over the last decade she’s spent her time recording her memories of Caribbean landscapes on canvas—big, lively abstract floral dreamscapes that seem to simultaneously capture sunset shadows cast in the late afternoon, the transformation of flora and vines entwined in the undergrowth turned ominous by the cloak of nightfall. You are left feeling a little lonely, a little uneasy about the silence, but at the same time the subtle presence of dissolving daylight is evident and reachable.
“Coming back to London having lived in Portugal—a sombre place really,” explains Broom. “The lifestyle was great and I think missing that made me want to go off in my paintings and paint exotic places and bright colours and bring that light back somehow.”
Concordia on the island of Tobago is home to Broom’s in-laws, and the setting that most influences her recent body of work. Calabash and Breadfruit, Hummingbird Tea Shop, Zinziber Trace, Mount Irvine and Swan Road to Blue Water—titles of paintings, borrowed keepsakes from her holidays in Tobago.
“Memory plays quite an important part in my paintings, because I try and think back to a place, that’s the point that I start from. Something will trigger a memory and I’ll look through a little book I have on flowers and the flower will become a feature and that will start a series and that flower will become a motif. Mark’s (her husband) parents have a lovely friend who we usually do a rainforest walk with and I just soak it all up, and take loads of photos of the flowers. It’s really the atmosphere and the ambience that I’m looking for.”
Broom’s Tobago is vivid. There’s no question. You experience her paintings fast. A visual rush. Full of energy, like the sensation you feel when you’re caught in a sudden tropical downpour. She captures our two seasons all at once, botanical scenes ringing loud with intensity. Take Rum’s Yard, painted for Rosemary, (nickname Rum) her mother-in-law, or at least inspired by her Tobago garden.
It’s a piece that shows off Broom’s painterly competence. You can characterise her marks, drips and dynamic strokes—agile, quick-witted, uninhibited, intuitive—as a perfect blend of abstract expressionism, reality exaggerated and romanticised and on the other end “raw traditional landscape painting.’’ What makes Broom’s paintings distinctive, a joy to behold, is certainly her big band use of colour, but more than that, you sense she had a bloody good time creating them, in spite of the physical location of her studio space.
“I have a studio above a drive-through carwash in Acton, West London,” she says, laughing,“ It’s a brilliant studio really; it’s the top floor of a warehouse. It’s incredibly hot in the summer when the sun’s out, but very cold in the winter, and about three months of the year when it’s just at a perfect temperature. Basically, it’s like working in a tin can.”
In any weather, Broom’s preferred method begins of course with a lot of colour.
“The way it starts really is, I throw down a lot of paint, a mess really and make marks. And then I try and find something in that, to draw out the composition. The way I paint is usually with a series, so I have between four and six paintings—working on them at the same time, so I kind of move them around and because I use acrylic paint it dries quite quickly, so I can change paintings quickly and work on one for a couple of hours and move that one and start another one. So that’s how the body of six paintings tends to work and I’m doing the same thing in my head at the same time.”
One of 22 artists signed to the Stephanie Hoppen Gallery in London, Orlanda Broom has raised her profile at her annual solo show and the various art fairs and exhibitions, although she admits, she sometimes finds it difficult to part with her work.
“It’s very fulfilling to sell work because it means that somebody wants to part with their hard earned cash to buy one of my paintings, so yes there are paintings that I want to keep, in fact most of them….But it’s just lovely to sell work. I did a private commission for a friend of mine recently and she cried when I delivered her painting, and that was just really amazing, really moving.”
Orlanda Broom has the sunniest of dispositions, and traces of it linger all over her work; if there’s creative angst in this great drama, you’ll find it in the shadows sulking behind the fat blossoms of hibiscus or ixora because she exclusively reserves the foreground for light.
“I’m always trying to tease out the light. I use resin on my paintings, it’s like a very high gloss varnish and it creates this glass-like effect and I build up those layers—they have an almost 3D effect, it’s very smooth, almost like painting on glass and that’s where I get those finger rub marks in the work, and the brush marks are very defined because of the surface.”
Look at Broom’s paintings closely, push your nose up against the canvas, run your fingers over the surface of flowers. Stand back now and look. You’ll find horizons, gold and glimmering dawns, cool breezes, birdsong, and the ceremony of dusk. You’ll find the indelible memories of her Tobago there.