Rosie Phillips is a North Norfolk based artist specialising in figurative paintings, currently doing a residency at the Crypt Gallery in Norwich. Ahead of an open studios Q&A and exhibition, the ‘rising artist’ explains why she’s setting her sights on a national portrait award this year
I’m a North Norfolk based artist specialising in figurative paintings, with a particular interest in storytelling and depicting scenes from everyday life. I also really enjoy exploring the dynamics between people and animals.
Are you North Norfolk born and raised?
Pretty much! Except the born bit. I was born in South Wales in 2001 (where my mum is from) where I lived for about a year, before my family moved to North Norfolk in 2002. I have been living here ever since. My dad grew up in Suffolk, so I have family there that aren’t quite so far away.
When did you realise you wanted to be an artist and what is your artistic background?
I seriously can’t remember a time where ‘Artist’ wasn’t my number one dream job (Vet was a close second, which may explain my affinity for representing animals). I have drawings and sketchbooks from very early on. In school I would pretty much have a book glued to my hand at all times, where I’d draw and write stories about all kinds of things. I was always going for local competitions, and I began posting my work online around 12, where I would take part in challenges and offer to draw my schoolmates for a few quid! From there, I would spend a lot of my time working on projects in and out of school, such as producing illustrations for a YA novel and taking part in my first exhibition in Holt Hall at 14. During college I came to know and learn from some truly amazing local artists and started to really think about building a career as a painter. It just felt like a no brainer. The following year I’d completed my first few commissions, and, to my utter shock, I also managed to sell a 4ft portrait of my grandad which was hanging in the art cafe I worked in at the time. This encouraged me to focus on creating original paintings, which resulted in a portrait of my dad and dog winning the emerging artist prize and being commended for the Sir John Hurt art prize at Holt Festival in 2021, which was followed by an exhibition at The Gallery Holt. I have continued to build a body of work since, including commissions from around the world, selling, exhibiting around London and Norfolk. In 2022, I was a contestant on Sky Arts’ Portrait Artist of the Year, where my portrait of Big Zuu was shortlisted by the judges. Last summer, my painting ‘Babs’ won the Jackson’s Painting Prize Animal Award, exhibiting at Affordable Art Fair Hampstead and Bankside Gallery.
How would you describe your work? What is it about portraiture that particularly appeals?
I would describe my figurative work as an observation of internal states and body language. Often, I am trying to represent a specific moment or feeling – they tend to be scenes from my own life, though I have found that many people have been able to relate to certain elements, which I find fascinating. I’ll rarely know what exactly I’m looking for in someone until I observe a particular stance or interaction that is entirely unique to them, which is something I really enjoy about working with portraiture. I try not to direct people too much during sittings; my influence tends to come out in finding strong, engaging compositions and emphasising textures or colours. It all feels quite instinctive.
What did it mean to be involved with Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year in 2022 and be named as a ‘rising artist’ last year?
Totally indescribable. I have been a fan of the show for years and would frequently discuss applying ‘one day’ with my grandad. When I got the phone call, I wasn’t able to tell anyone for months, so that was particularly bizarre. The whole day I spent on set felt like an out of body experience, and everything was pretty much exactly as it appears on TV. The presenters, judges and crew were so lovely, and I remember finding myself chatting about Game of Thrones with Stephen Mangan and Big Zuu in between takes, for example, which is crazy to think back to now. I feel so thankful to have such an amazing community of people supporting me and my art. ‘Rising artist’ is such an exciting point to be at in my career – I’ve never been more driven to create and go for new opportunities.
What is happening over the next month at The Crypt Gallery?
On the 10th of January, I began a residency at The Crypt Gallery, Norwich Cathedral Close, in collaboration with Norwich School and curators Contemporary and Country. The crypt will be my studio for the next month (it’s not actually as chilly as it sounds!) as I meet and conduct portrait sittings with staff and students, as well as learn more about the Cathedral Close’s history and folklore. The hope is to use my practice as a tool for preserving the stories, people and animals that make this place so special.
When can people come and see your work?
During my time at The Crypt Gallery, we will be running a series of open studio/Q&A events between the 5th and 8th of February (please note that there are limited spaces so you will need to book, please email firstname.lastname@example.org). The residency will finish with a public exhibition of work created during this period free to visit between the 10th and 15th February. Please visit contemporaryandcountry.com or cryptgallery.space for more information.
What are your hopes and dreams for 2024?
I try to keep my plans flexible as things have always unfolded in such unexpected ways, but I absolutely have a few. It would be great to take part in new exhibitions, one of which being the Herbert Smith Freehills Portrait Award (Formerly the BP portrait award) at The National Portrait Gallery – although I am cutting it a bit close to the deadline! Maybe I’ll start thinking about international exhibitions too? I am already loving my time at Norwich Cathedral and so would really love to complete a similar residency abroad this summer, I know there are some incredible scholarships around Europe, and I really thrive outside of my usual habitat. In terms of my practice, I would like to expand into larger, multi-subject figurative paintings, and draw more upon anecdotes and personal/local history. It would be great to collaborate on more projects. Last year I worked on an album cover with a friend and had so much fun. I’m excited to start considering commissions again too.
Featured image of Rosie Phillips by Will George