Interview with Lisa Ballard

Ballard (1981) is a fine artist, primarily known for her emotive paintings of landscapes. Since graduating in 2003, she has received many prestigious awards, including the President’s Prize at the Royal Ulster Academy and the Kilkenny Art Gallery Prize. Her work is held in many private and public collections, including by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and the Irish Office of Public Works.

We spoke to Lisa, who recently exhibited works as part of the group show celebrating the newly-restored Victorian plant house in the Botanical Gardens, Belfast, ‘Plants of the Tropical Ravine’. Her solo show ‘Aura’ took place at ArtisAnn, where her work is available to view all year-round.

I try not to be too limited by the reality of what is in front of me in my work, but rather use it to inspire the painting and to try to achieve a feeling of the place, experimenting with placement of colours and shadows and shapes.

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OA: Hi Lisa. Tell us about your connection to the Tropical Ravine, and how you came to work on this subject.

LB: “I have always loved visiting the Tropical Ravine, with its amazing plants and warm climate, it feels like another world when you step inside.

I believe it is the only example of a Victorian sunken ravine left and after becoming run down it was closed for nearly three years of much-needed restoration work so I was very excited to see inside again when it reopened this year.

I approached the people at the Tropical Ravine and ask about the possibility of working within the ravine, the amazing events coordinator Cailín Lynn suggested doing a project to celebrate the reopening, which evolved into the exhibition ‘Plants of the Tropical Ravine’.”

OA: Your father was also exhibiting, and you both led painting and drawing sessions inside the Ravine. What was it like, working together in this way?

LB: “It was very warm! It was great to get the opportunity to work together in this way, and to be able to hold workshops inside the Ravine was exciting and a very unique environment to work in. We were really happy with how the show came together and along with the workshops we both brought our own style to the table which I hope people enjoyed.”

OA: You have said that you are “obsessed with colour…in particular the juxtaposition of colours, how colours affect and influence one another”, how did you approach colour for this subject?

LB: “As you walk into the Ravine you are met with a wall of intense green, which was quite overwhelming to me as an artist. It was a challenge trying to represent the tropical plants in this way, I spent time picking out elements of the plants and playing with contrasting colours to highlight their lushness, to show the patterns and shapes in the amazing foliage, but at the same time trying and convey the sense of being in this environment.

I try not to be too limited by the reality of what is in front of me in my work, but rather use it to inspire the painting and to try to achieve a feeling of the place, experimenting with placement of colours and shadows and shapes.”

OA: What was the audience response to the exhibition?

LB: “The audience response has been very positive. The people I had a chance to speak with seemed to enjoy the great mix of work, from Stuart Robinson’s beautiful photography documenting the whole process of the restoration, botanical drawings by Diana Oxlade and the portraits of the Gardeners by Brian Ballard, sitting amongst my paintings of the plants they had looked after so well.”

OA: The tropical aesthetic is so popular, totems like palm trees account for millions of posts on Instagram (there are 8.9million posts using the hashtag #Tropical). Why do you think we are so attracted to tropical aesthetics?

LB: “I have no idea how these trends evolve, but perhaps it reminds people of good times on holidays, bringing them a bit of escapism. I just know that for me I paint what I am instinctively drawn to, which has always been nature in some form.

Recently I had been working with images of cacti and tropical plants from my travels, making this project brilliantly suited to my work. It was amazing having this opportunity to work so closely with the plants and the people of the Tropical Ravine, getting right in amongst the tropical plants and learning about them from the gardeners.”

OA: You’ve worked with video in the past, what role can video play for artists?

LB: “I have used video in the past as a means of documenting my travels, and have also worked with videographer Peter Adam producing videos to document my process, giving people an insight into my working methods and studio life. Mostly I use photography to capture the essence of a place to work with on return to my studio in Belfast.”

OA: What’s next for you?

LB: “I will be continuing to exhibit my work with the ArtisAnn gallery in Belfast and also have a 2 person exhibition with my Dad in Sligo at the Hamilton Gallery, in September, which I am looking forward to. After that, I am hoping to plan a trip, possibly to India or back to the American desert for new inspiration for my work. I am excited to see what environment and colours I might find, travel is invaluable to my process and I love it! Apart from that, I plan to just to keep painting.”

You can find Lisa’s work in the ArtisAnn permanent collection.