A Girl About Town – Rosa Sepple’s sweet, saucy and sea-loving paintings
By James Brewer
“I love to see the people smile,” says Rosa Sepple. Her Ingenious paintings which weave fantasy into a distinctive and daring escapist style, have just that effect. Her latest collection is reaping plaudits – and smiles – aplenty, under the title A Girl About Town.
This is a new outing of more than 50 original paintings in an exhibition commanding the whole of the impressive new RWS Galleries, a couple of minutes stroll away from Trafalgar Square, at 3-5 Whitcomb Street, in association with Adrian Hill Fine Art.
Admirers quickly snapped up many of the paintings on display from Tuesday 12th to Saturday 23rd September 2023.
Rosa is renowned for her striking mixed-media paintings full of life, created in variations of luminous watercolour with some acrylic, gouache and ink and touches of fabric and jewelled collage endowing a richly variegated appearance.
At every opportunity, and always in control of the medium, her sense of fun and adventure leaps out from her naïve but keen-witted style.
Rosa has a flair for transmitting a spirit of playfulness to whatever the subjects she chooses for her quirky paintings. Many of these are of romantic scenes in which a cast of glammed-up young women and men yearn for and sometimes find their dreams have come true.
She portrays with gusto willowy young women who drape themselves expectantly beside the bars of nightclubs and sometimes in domestic settings including candle-lit bathrooms, occupying with aplomb a prominent and decisive place. Cats behold the proceedings with a knowing air. Backgrounds can be chequerboard flooring and tiles. Sometimes Venetian palazzos tumble at crazy angles as if bowing to the romantic episodes unfolding in their presence. The slender beauties are ‘ideally’ thin, and are always elegantly turned out, like in real life Rosa herself. The young women, sometimes shown naked when bathing or dressing — exchange confidences, flirt, and sigh for their beaux, real or imagined. Some are saucily turned out when the narrative – often based on the titles of popular songs – is steamier, but all are endearing. Some of the after-dark scenes would seem to be a visual embodiment of the zingy nights on the town Rosa missed because of her early marriage.
Rosa’s veteran fellow artist Colin Kent RI (member of the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours) has put it succinctly: “The paintings possess a rare combination of opposites; innocence and sophistication, reality and distortion, actuality and fantasy.”
In Rosa’s intriguing dreamlike world, when true love is in the air, it is exactly in the air where people float and fly, and it is thus no wonder that comparisons have been made with the concepts of Marc Chagall (1887-1985) for his soaring couples, while there seems to be a nod to Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) in the jewelled collage that helps the figures’ apparel and flowers sparkle. Be that as it may, all Rosa’s productions are brimming with her own brand of charm.
Rosa has a fondness for nautical scenes, favouring modest but thronged harbours, perhaps because although born in London to Italian/British parents, she grew up with her grandparents in Treviso. That Italian city is noted for its network of attractive canals, and within easy reach of Venice. While in northern Italy, she spent much time in the studio of her artist grandfather Salvatore Casagrande.
Adrian Hill, managing director of the company that bears his name, did a fine job in organising the immaculate hang of the Rosa Sepple show on the new gallery’s tranquil, neutral walls. Adrian, who runs galleries at Holt in Norfolk and Stamford in Lincolnshire, has written two books about Rosa’s art.
RWS Galleries was opened in June 2023 to complement the Royal Watercolour Society’s home of Bankside Gallery by the Thames and will host exhibitions and events to celebrate water-based media and other art. In fact, the society was located in Whitcomb Street around 200 years ago. The new gallery was designed by the late Chris Wilkinson, an honorary member. His design brought a new vibrancy to what were Victorian wine vaults, and the dilapidated ground floor. The society, founded in 1804, plans to transfer archival material to the new premises.
Remarkably, given her accomplishments, Rosa is a self-taught artist, starting her painting career in the late 1990s. Rosa had married photographer Ed Sepple and after raising two sons she was able to devote most of her time to painting. Just five years after she first picked up a paintbrush, she was elected in January 2017 the 15th president of the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours, the first time that accolade was given to a female member, and she served in the role until April 2022.
Meanwhile, those curious cats of Rosa continue to languidly observe the changing scene.
A Girl About Town: Rosa Sepple’s new collection of original paintings, is in association with Adrian Hill Fine Art Holt. It is at RWS Galleries, 3-5 Whitcomb Street, London WC2, until Saturday 23rd September, 11am – 6pm on Friday, but closing at 2pm on Saturday.