In the world of art, there are artists who approach their craft with a unique perspective, transcending conventional norms and boundaries. Daphne Stephenson is one such artist, known for her distinctive Primitive Naïve Art. Her creations delve into the heart of nature, aiming to evoke a sense of balance and unity. Daphne Stephenson's art invites contemplation on tradition, values, and the fusion of cultures, celebrating the extraordinary found within the ordinary. It reminds us that we, too, can find inspiration and a deeper connection to the world around us through our own unique expressions. In this interview, we explore the intricate layers of Daphne's artistic journey, shaped by her childhood memories, international travels, and a strong commitment to preserving the fragile beauty of our planet.
Your artistic journey has led to considerable recognition in the art world as a Primitive Naive Artist. Can you tell us more about your passion for this kind of art and artist?
I love Primitive Naïve Art because it is self-taught, so it’s raw in form and comes straight from the heart. I love it’s cousins like Raw, Outsider Art, Peasant or Aboriginal Art because it’s all under the Primitive Naïve Umbrella. It normally depicts people and animals or nature and often tells a story. Even though many of these paintings come across as innocent, many naïve artists paint with incredible skill, thought and wisdom behind their work. Primitive Naïve Artists are a particular kind of breed. Very sensitive to their environment, sensitive to nature and down to earth, many have themselves quite a story to tell. My favourite Naïve Artists are Henri Rousseau, Alfred Wallis and Fleur Cowles who I knew well.
Art often serves as a medium for self-expression and storytelling. Can you tell us about any personal narratives or messages you aim to convey through your art?
I’m almost always painting nature in my naïve art way, because we can learn so much from it; it’s seasons colours animals, creatures and breathtaking beauty. My paintings often depict Leopards and Tigers in the Jungle that are living in harmony, balance and unity because these are such important factors that we all live and strive for. I used to find great solace and peace when I painted as a teenager to escape from any pain and madness around me and still find the same contentment to this day. Art is the guarantee of my Sanity.
It’s my desire to bring that transformative peace and tranquility into people's homes and lives through my Art. I am also acutely aware of our dwindling wildlife due to poaching, deforestation and global warming with ever increasing forest fires and the real threat of our wildlife becoming extinct in 80 years from now. What a terrible thought they might become dinosaurs of our past so we all need to do our part and this is my part. Supporting charities like Extinction Rebellion
and The Rainforest Trust
are well worth while. We all need to give back to our fragile earth somehow in whatever way we can.
Your artwork often combines vibrant colours and intricate patterns. Could you share your artistic influences and the significance of these elements in your work?
I spent a lot of time in nature as a child when I lived in Pakistan for 6 years. I would spend hours playing in the garden amongst the flowers and banana trees. Listening to the gentle rustling of leaves in the breeze and capturing the afternoon light and shades.
Exotic tropical scenes, lush vegetation, and elements like palm trees, leopards, and birds of paradise play a significant role in your work. How do your early experiences in Pakistan, Kashmir, and your travels through India and Africa influence and shape these artistic themes?
I was most influenced by childhood memories of our holidays on houseboats in Kashmir where I will never forget the noises and atmosphere. Gliding along the still waters with the mist arising from the heat just above it, to the hustle and bustle of the birds and parrots squawking, to the monkeys swinging through the tropical jungle trees along side us. It was absolutely mesmerising you can imagine. Some of these memories can be found in my work particularly my Blue Jungle River series.
Your recent inspirations from Bermuda, Bahamas, Seychelles, and Jamaica reflect a blending of different cultures and backgrounds. How do you seamlessly incorporate these diverse influences into your art while maintaining a sense of charm, wit, and sophistication?
Bermuda, Bahamas and Barbados ooze sophistication and charm in some of the older generations, as seen in their old colonial homes with magnificent gardens. Likewise you will find that old sophistication and charm in some of the magnificent buildings and tropical parks and gardens with exotic palm trees and plants. These memories have inspired me hugely.
The dignity and respect, mercy and forgiveness, understanding and compassion of the many Caribbean Islands I have visited continuously inspire me. I am married to a Jamaican and I have always loved the richness and diversity of different cultures and backgrounds. We have so much to learn from one another. These diverse influences just naturally unfold in my paintings. It's in my DNA because of my extensive travels and having lived abroad for the first 10 years of my life.
You've had a multifaceted career, working with established companies, designing scarves, ties, and even serving as an In-House Designer for Halcyon Days. Can you share a particularly memorable or fulfilling project from your time in the industry?
Yes I remember my very first job as a Silk Scarf and Tie Designer for Victor Sumner and Co.in Beak Street way back when I was 21. It was an advert I saw in The Times Newspaper looking for a Designer with a full portfolio, minimum age 23 and lots of experience. I had none but applied anyway. They couldn’t believe it when I turned up at the interview but I persuaded them to take me on for 2 weeks for free and the rest was history. I became their favourite inhouse designer. I also had the privilege of being commissioned to paint miniature enamel paintings on bespoke Halcyon Day boxes for a member of the Royal Family in England and in Holland.
Alongside your professional endeavours, you've had your own small enterprises, including designing belts, hand-painted shoe trees, and more. Could you tell us about the creative process and inspiration behind these unique ventures? What work do you most enjoy doing?
During the Punk era I had this brain wave whilst travelling through Africa to produce hosepipe belts with beautiful gold turtle and lizard clasps. I then had a change of thought. I decided to use transparent hosepipes with hydrolock fittings as clasps..You may wonder why? Because I had moving water inside them with glitter and other miniature objects like sweets that were able to glide around. These hosepipes went around your waistline twice and caused a storm in popularity with orders from Jenners Department Stores in Edinburgh to other established outlets. Unfortunately I couldn’t keep up with the orders.
The enterprise I most enjoyed working on a number of years ago was a series of lamps made with stacked lost and found vintage collectibles. I designed each unique exotic Lampshade to match and they can be seen on Daphne Lorenzo Lamps
on my Instagram
page there. I will be returning to them one of these days, when I have a huge studio or workshop that can cater for all that I want to do. I just love anything unique and different with an unusual twist. Collecting and mixing old style vintage objects from tin, wood and glass to designing the most ornate flamboyant lampshades is utterly exciting. I adore fabulous Interiors with a difference.
Serving as the Chairman of the Association of British Naives for over nine years is an impressive accomplishment. How did this role impact your own artistic journey and the community of naive artists in the UK?
Serving as Chairman to the Association of British Naïve Artists was an honour at the time. It even took me to living in Cornwall in a place called Gulval near Penzance for a number of years where I had a studio in Marazion. A lot of British Naïve Artists live around there. I wanted to raise the standard as I saw too many chocolate boxy styles of Naïve Art that I didn’t like. So along with Judy Joel who is still secretary of ABNA we published a simple book to upgrade and raise the profile of British Naïve Artists. We we’re getting some of the best artists who were turning up from out of nowhere. After 9 years though I thought it was time to hand over the reins to someone else back in 2012. Since then it is not what it used to be and many of the best have slipped away.
Your artwork has graced the walls of prestigious venues, such as The Royal Academy Piccadilly and ING Bank City London. Can you share a memorable moment from one of your exhibitions that stands out in your mind?
When ING Bank organised for me to exhibit with them in their headquarters in the City, I was taken back by having to exhibit besides masterpieces like Matisse, Alfred Wallis and Renoir. I thought What hope do I have?
As for The Royal Academy, the painting they chose of mine called ‘Adam & Eve before the fall without Shame sold as a postcard in their shop for two years. Apparently this has rarely if ever happened. It was a big seller I’m pleased to say.
Many of your designs have a strong cultural and artistic resonance. How do you balance tradition and modernity in your work?
Talking traditions and values, I like to reflect traditions, good values and moral standards and principles. I love mixing sophisticated high end tastes with earthy traditions and mix it all up. So for instance I’m known to mix a bit of an old Mexican, African or Caribbean theme with a European twist. I do it instinctively without really thinking about it but it attracts the seasoned travellers and many different nationalities can relate to and have bought my work. I have always loved mixing different cultures and backgrounds.
Daphne Stephenson has developed an exclusive capsule collection crafted from 100% silk twill. Discover the range here.