Kerry Darlington has risen to prominence as the leading British artist of a generation; winner of the coveted Best-Selling Published Artist award presented by the Fine Art Trade Guild twice, in 2012 and 2014. Gaining representation with Wyecliffe Galleries in 2006, the bond between gallery and artist in their developing years has been intrinsic to the enduring success of both.
Thanks to my Mother, stories were part of my life long before I was able to pick up a pencil. The magic of words held in stories of myth and legend lies deep within the ancient, unchangeable part of me.
The Early Years
Born in Rhyl, North Wales in 1974, Darlington’s childhood was steeped in magical fantasy; having read the entire catalogue of Enid Blyton novels by the age of 10 as well as the iconic Tales of Narnia by C.S Lewis, a deep rooted captivation with the fairy-tale realms of imagination had begun.
Creative as a child, illustration was a natural choice for her degree. Inspired by the intricate pen and ink work of Arthur Rackham - whose covers of early editions of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Victoriana faeries circa 1900 are still recognised today - Darlington’s first ambition was for a career in children’s book illustration. Years of dedicated research and technical refinement broadened her practice, discovering the Pre-Raphaelite and Art Nouveau movements. The encounter with the haunting secretive work of British brotherhood and lustrous Viennese belle époque proved to be career-changing.
In the years that followed, the artist was encouraged by the words of John Ruskin who urged fellow painters of the Pre-Raphaelite era to “go to nature” presenting thoughtful jewel-like original pieces, crafted with a fusion of crushed tissue paper and gold foil. Following the creative path from pen illustration to wall hanging fine art, The Wyecliffe Galleries saw these early works with enormous interest feeling they possessed the potential they had been looking for.
The Original Resin Artist
Experimental in character, the artist quickly broadened her ambition keen to make her works as tactile and engaging to the viewer as possible. Three dimensional elements were added and the now synonymous resin was introduced, sealing her stories in glaze which has been likened to tiled ceramics or glass. Painting upon layers of resin, Darlington builds and intensifies the background colours, painting over pastels to give a gentle translucent aesthetic. Upon the top layer of resin, the artist adds the finer details of the piece, introducing small white highlights and the finished image is archival-varnished to preserve against ageing.
The allegorical symbolist work of Gustav Klimt has had an enduring and profound influence on Darlington; a motif she has frequently returned to over the last decade, the infamous ‘Tree of Life’ has punctuated her collections presenting the 19th Century idea afresh with new relevancy to a contemporary audience. Decorative and with origins in the realms of avant-garde, it was not long before Kerry Darlington won an extraordinary and dedicated collector base. Evolving the series as her confidence grew, the warmth of the autumnal Tree of Life collection gave way to intensified naivety of primary colour in the Tree of Tranquillity works and introduction of hanging objects from the branches, before drawing to a crescendo with the candy tones of the Tree of Harmony pieces in which oversized toadstools and owls reigned. It was natural development therefore when Darlington issued a statement of intent to produce visual fairy tales.
Alice in Wonderland Unique Editions
Transitioning elegantly from a market of original works, assured themed collections of unique limited editions enabled the artist to paint more complex intricate compositions exploring themes of myth and legend, poetry and stories. The first and perhaps most beloved of these is Alice in Wonderland; a brave hearted Darlington took on the immense responsibility of re-imagining a novel so interwoven in popular culture that phrases such as ‘grinning like a Cheshire cat’ and ‘follow the white rabbit’ require no further explanation. Mad Hatters Tea Party was received with a short pause of appreciation before acquisitions from excited collectors rapidly followed. Chapter by chapter, Darlington bought the characters back to life through Happy Un-Birthday To You starring Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, Alice Meets The Caterpillar can almost be heard exclaiming “Whhhhooo are Yooooou?’ to an indignant Alice. Alice Down the Rabbit Hole was sold out before it was officially hung on gallery walls such is the success of the series.
Peter Pan Unique Editions
Closely followed was the revered Peter Pan series. First met with delight is the moonlit rooftop scene of Come Away, Come Away; featuring the boy who never grew up alongside companions Wendy, Michael, John and Tinkerbell – a spellbinding homage to everlasting childhood. The children reached Never Never Land in the fantastical Pirate Ship, in which Hooks vessel is enveloped in Steampunk inspired cogs, floating atop of a mermaid inhabited sea. With more works besides, the series was brought to a heavyhearted close in early 2016 with final work Peter Pan in Neverland.
Over the Rainbow
Outside of focused collection, the artist produced one off pieces such as The Journey to Emerald City, a wondrous homage to the novel of 1900 illustrated by W.W. Denslow and made infamous by iconic 1939 motion picture The Wizard of Oz staring Judy Garland. In 2013 she was given special permission to paint her childhood favourite - The Magic Faraway Tree by The Enid Blyton Foundation fulfilling a childhood ambition. Drawing long forgotten memories from the minds of those who peer upon her works, Darlington reminds of what it is like to discover your favourite story, poem or song for the first time, again.
Fairytales and Beyond
Pre-Raphaelite figures intersperse the collections; single masterpieces taking hundreds of hours to execute, Darlington is compelled to visit figures from mythical legend and historical story. The famed works of John Everett Millais and John William Waterhouse hold national treasure status, and proved to be the catalyst to encourage the artist to portray the mystical characters of Shakespeare, and Tennyson. Her first foray into her beloved figurative painting produced Ophelia, the seminal image which receives extraordinary continued interest on the secondary market. A remarkable painting borne of the deepest earth browns and cosmic teals, the original work sold by Wyecliffe Galleries achieved over £100,000 and established her practice at the forefront of British contemporary art.
Indeed, from the collection both Sakura (Cherry Blossom) and The Lady of Shallot have been featured in Channel 4 documentary series Posh Pawn valued for the secondary market by Gallery Director Ben Fry, senior appraiser Lawrence Pickett and owner of Prestige Pawnbrokers James Constantinou. Each confirmed the market value of the original works from Darlington’s Pre-Raphaelite collection at post £100,000. All released as unique limited editions, in a small run of deluxe sizes to reflect the awesome scale of the original paintings as well as more compact versions most works have all but sold out.
Of Celtic origin, the artist has long been drawn to folklore passed down through time and generation, word of mouth whispered between the druids. Faeries hold a special place in her portfolio, frequently appearing in the earliest of works such as The Midnight Garden, Enchanted Forest, Fairy Lights and Fairy Lanterns. Working from her studio in Prestatyn, the artist has only moved several miles away from her hometown. The Welsh heritage and landscape remains the foundation of her natural woodland scenes; following a morning walk which takes her along the coastline, past a derelict lighthouse and into the forest the artist uses the time to sketch new ideas and contemplate existing ones. Creative Brand Manager at Wyecliffe Galleries, Anthony Lewis often makes the journey from Weybridge to Wales to document the artist at work, trailing her as she takes in the landscape and observing in her studio as she paints. The recording of such development by Lewis over the course of the last decade has resulted in unparalleled access to witness the early stages of a concept forming in Darlington’s mind to the final brush stroke, realising her ambition.