The vivid world of Louis Turpin

  • A Line of Tulips - Louis Turpin
  • Red Bus Eaton Square - Louis Turpin
  • The Kitchen Garden - Louis Turpin

Louis Turpin is one of Britain's most distinguished horticultural artists. Since turning down a record deal in the sixties to pursue a career in art, he's enjoyed solo shows around the world. His paintings have been exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery, The Royal Academy and The Royal Society of Portrait Painters. Matt Dicks chats to him about this career and upcoming exhibition at Stow's Fosse Gallery

Longing for Spring? I’ve discovered a great remedy for those drab winter days.

Simply gaze into a Louis Turpin painting, and suddenly, you’re transported to a breath-taking garden, or some likewise gorgeous slice of countryside. The sight of his pictures immediately lifts the spirits: each painting seems imbued with a luscious profusion of colour.

How, exactly, does Mr Turpin do it? How does he shape those bright, inviting scenes, so expertly poised between reality and abstraction, between orderliness and wilderness? And just what does this very well-travelled gentleman make of our own splendid Cotswold gardens?

‘They’re very inspiring,’ Louis affirms. ‘I visited a few in 2017, including Painswick Rococo Gardens, the Rosemary Verey gardens at Barnsley House and the Owlpen Manor gardens - a fantastic place.’

At the time of talking (December 2017, just before the first snows), Louis hasn’t worked out exactly which Cotswold gardens will feature in his new Fosse Gallery show. ‘The exhibition will definitely feature some Cotswold works,’ he assures me, ‘but it’s a journey across the whole country, really - running from Edinburgh to Cornwall.’ Now at the end of his adventures, he’s enjoying being able to finally take stock, and reflect on all the places he’s visited.

Louis’ year of travelling has been his artistic inspiration. But one of those journeys was personal. Accompanied by his two sons, Louis drove into Andalucía, to bury his parents’ ashes in the mountain village where they had lived together for 16 years. ‘It seemed a nice closing of a circle to return them,’ Louis says.

During Louis’ childhood, the Turpins lived in post-war London. Louis’ father, Digby Turpin, created and animated informational films for the government; young Louis grew enamoured with the plantlife that pushed its way through the rubble in which he played. Later, his family moved to a Regency house with a ‘garden full of magic.’ The sixties proved nurturing soil for the teenage Louis, who a leading rock manager wanted to turn into the next music sensation. A tempting three-year contract was offered. Louis declined.

‘I decided not to take the offer. It seemed to me it was easier to be a painter who played music than a musician who painted.’ Nonetheless, music’s always remained a vital part of his life – more so jazz and blues than rock and roll.

‘As I’ve lived my life, I’ve always been able to play, but come into the studio the next morning…’ he says. Is it true, I ask, that you’ve played with Paul McCartney? ‘Oh, only in the front room. We were good friends.’

Eventually, he threw in city living for the more rural pleasures of East Sussex. During his early career, he was an abstract artist and filmmaker. But his new surroundings nudged him towards a new path.

‘I had a fantastic cottage in the middle of a farm. I would look from my studio window into a hop field. That field was like a trigger for my abstract painting - I would use the poles as starting points - but one day I decided to paint the field as it was, and sort of became a figurative painter. But the underlying structure of my paintings still have an abstraction to them.’

It wasn’t long before he discovered his affinity for representing Britain’s gardens. [The move] happened in an odd way, really. I was doing a portrait of a mother and daughter to replace a picture that they had lost in a fire. They were living in Great Dixter at the time, so I decided to paint them in Great Dixter gardens. Then, two years later, I discovered the fantastic garden ‘rooms’ at Sissinghurst. It forged a new direction for me.’

As first loves go, a budding horticultural artist could do much worse than Sissinghurst Castle Gardens. Created in the 1930s by poet/gardening writer Vita Sackville-West and her author/diplomat husband Harold Nicolson, the gardens were conceived as a series of rooms, each with a different theme. They’re especially interesting when viewed from above - it’s no wonder they appealed to Louis.

And it seems Louis’ affinity for abstraction provides the foundation for his current paintings. He tells me a little of his early working process:

‘Basically, there’s a primary stage which holds the design of the painting together,’ he explains, ‘and all its elements and structure. Right now in my studio, I have twenty canvases started, but not finished. Each of them has the story of the painting embedded within the abstract structure on the canvas.’

As it happens, he’s just this moment completed a canvas. But as soon as we’re finished, he assures me, ‘I'll be considering the next.’ He’s just as tireless and as dedicated as the visionary gardeners he so admires.

Travels Through Landscapes and Gardens, runs at Stow on the Wold’s Fosse Gallery from 4th - 24th March 2018. The show will include works inspired by the artist's visits to gardens from the Cotswolds, Cornwall and Edinburgh. Visit www.fossegallery.com for more details.