An interview with Simon Dorrell

Figaro Garden

Figaro Garden by Simon Dorrell

You first began your affiliation with Glyndebourne 20 years. Can you remember what drawings or paintings you produced and what drew you to work with Glyndebourne?

The first pieces I produced for Glyndebourne were ink and gouache studies, on paper, of productions of Death In Venice, and Manon Lescaut. I was very lucky in being able to attend the production of Death In Venice during the final season of the old opera house... and was immediately enchanted. Uncharacteristically, I took a deep breath and telephoned the next day, enquiring if I could exhibit studies of productions together with paintings (in oil) of the downland landscape. The answer was in the affirmative.

You share a tradition with many people connected to Glyndebourne of a love of gardens alongside your art. What is it that intrinsically links landscapes with creative disciplines?

Landscape, for me, is all-pervasive. As a farmer's son, it defines who I am. I'm not a species of tumble-weed. I'm tap-rooted. I was born less than ten miles from where my family were cultivating the land in the eleventh century. For me, the earth between my fingers, the lie of the land, offer endless creative possibilities... in the development of my own garden, in the designing of gardens and landscapes for clients, and in the representation of them in paintings and drawings. The natural environment is an extraordinarily complex, endlessly rewarding, and exceptionally beautiful place to be. Through my work I hope to remind people who are forever tumbling of that fact.

Ten years ago you were commissioned to produce a painting to mark the tenth anniversary of the new opera house alongside other artists such as David Hockney and Mary Fedden. With Glyndebourne’s 80th anniversary, and the 20th of the new house, next year do you have any plans to capture something special to record this important year in 2014?

I would be honoured to contribute to the 80th anniversary celebrations, if asked! Glyndebourne is changing at quite a pace so perhaps a virtuoso drawing of the old juxtaposed with the new might be appropriate? Though I would like to exhibit oils again at Glyndebourne.

Many of your designs and illustrations have been reproduced in a number of interesting ways from enamel boxes to ceramics. As an artist does this factor in your mind when creating a drawing or painting or do you let the work evolve naturally and worry about how it fit the shape of a box or plate later?

Although I spend most of my time painting landscapes in oils or designing extensive gardens and landscapes, I studied illustration at art school and as illustrator and Art Editor of the quarterly journal Hortus for almost twenty-five years I have retained the discipline and facility required to produce work for a specific commission. My work for Glyndebourne over the past fifteen years has always been commission-led...  luckily, I find it stimulating to work within exacting parameters.

With your consulting work in landscape design does this leave much time to create your art or do you have to make time?

Sadly, I have to make time. Working on multi-million pound design projects is more physically demanding, and more intellectually exhausting. Drawing and painting is my refuge, and almost certainly my salvation... it's the real me.

What’s your favourite corner of the Glyndebourne grounds to capture and in what medium?

Currently, my favoured place is the Figaro Garden. As a designer, I would love to introduce some water into the space but the tree-planting is inspired and I would enjoy trying to capture the play of light and shadow in pastel in the future.

To find out more about Simon and to see his work visit the Shop

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