Beauty & Fashion

Fiona Pickles the artist having her first exhibition aged 60 — That’s Not My Age

Fiona Pickles: Belle & Beau Fine Art Photography

 

Over the last few months, mixed media artist and ‘ botanical alchemist’ Fiona Pickles has had two big reasons to celebrate: her 60th birthday and her first ever, solo exhibition. ‘Initially, I fluctuated – excited at the prospect but also wondering what the hell I was doing,’ she says of the From The Folde exhibition at Everbody Arts in Halifax, ‘and sometimes I felt like a rabbit in the headlights.’ As the show progressed, and the positive feedback rolled in, Fiona became more self-assured. ‘I definitely thought my work was a bit niche but it has been very well-received. Now I feel like I’m growing into it and I’m much more confident.’

 

Photo: Matt Radcliffe

 

A fellow graduate of Manchester Polytechnic in the 1980s, when we spoke we realised our paths have probably crossed several times over the years, ‘We have actually followed each other around. I feel like I’m talking to a long-lost friend!’ she laughed. As we chatted about the north, nature, and our love of stompy boots and whippets.

After stints working in the commercial printing industry, in London and Manchester, she settled in West Yorkshire with her husband and two rescue whippets. But the day-to-day started to feel a bit ‘ data-driven’ and Fiona longed to do something creative. Retraining as a florist on a four-week, Jane Packer course in London, she set up her own business Firenza Floral Design in 2005. Early to recognise the importance of locally grown flowers, she also refused to use the industry-standard, floral foam holder made from single-use plastic. As the floristry business took off, Fiona’s botanical installations and delicate sculptures were featured in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar and she moved into the mainstream, designing arrangements for weddings and the corporate world.

 

Castle Howard. Picture Credit Charlotte Graham

Fiona’s busiest year, ever, came in 2014. She ended up over-commissioning herself, and then her mum died. ‘It was a bonkers year – my mum died in May, I had two weddings the weekend after she died and another 40-odd (I think it was) between May and October. It was insane,’ Fiona continues, ‘They were all pre-booked and it was coincidental timing – it just made me retreat into the garden and say STOP!’ Once the wedding season ended, she felt completely burnt out. ‘That was the catalyst,’ explains Fiona, ‘I could’ve gone really commercial, really big, but it was then that I realised I wanted to do my own thing; spend more time in my garden and embrace my weirdness. So I stepped away from it all to go down the art route.’

 

Photo: Nicola Dixon

 

There’s definitely a sense of all the different parts of Fiona’s career coming together at the perfect moment, ‘I’ve never looked back and thought I wish I hadn’t spent 20 years working in the print industry, or 10 years in floristry. Everything I’ve done in the past has allowed me to do this. It’s absolutely coming from a place of knowledge and experience, and funnelling it down to a place of perfection – or imperfect perfection!’

Having previously suffered from Impostor Syndrome, she is now considering where next to take her practise and has started networking and contacting people in the gardening world. ‘I feel like my work is so intrinsically linked to the garden, I’d love to work somewhere really iconic, one of the Great British gardens, creating art from all the things they’ve cast-off. So, I’m compiling a list of contacts to help manifest that!’

Fiona is also experimenting with making paper from dandelion clocks and pernicious weeds. ‘That’s my bag – I’ve always had a love of paper; I’m bringing all the parts of my background together,’ she continues, ‘The exhibition has given me a whole new lease of life. I realise how privileged I am to carry on doing what I love into the future. What a joy to be utterly absorbed in everything you love and to be an emerging artist at the age of sixty! I shall keep reinventing myself for many years to come. It feels like a whole new lease of life, it literally feels like age is irrelevant.’

 

Photo: Nicola Dixon

 

Fiona Pickles’ exhibition From the Folde is on at Everybody Arts gallery, Halifax until 24 February 2024. She sells photographic prints of her work HERE.

 

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