It would be difficult to find work that replicates the unique blend of wholesomeness and lovable, intelligence and simplicity that is found in the work of rural Northampton-based illustrator and maker Rosie May; whose journey to where she is now is not what you’d expect. “I sort of got into illustration by accident really,” Rosie remarks. “I had every intention of pursuing the graphic design pathway of my bachelor’s course because that was the only media I had prior experience of.” However, once she got the measure of what the discipline entails, she swiftly changed her mind. “I realised that wasn’t where I saw my future at all, and that illustration looked like it’d be a lot more fun,” she explains, “even if I didn’t know what I was doing and had barely drawn before.”
This instinctive attraction comes as no surprise following Rosie’s relationship to books, and her prolific history of reading, telling us “I was enticed by the possibility that I could channel the two and learn to tell stories of my own.” It’s a sentiment that becomes abundantly clear throughout her work, producing charismatic scenes that have a familiarity and an ambiguity, where we find ourselves both within the paintings and interpreting them. Rosie’s skills lie in her ability to create utterly joyful bucolic scenes and charming tableaus of the prosaic and the commonplace. In doing so, Rosie enlivens them with a kindred and jubilant spirit resulting in a wholly original combination of kindness, observation and frivolity.
“It’s easy to believe that you’re bored or get complacent with living,” Rosie comments in discussing her study of the everyday. “I think forcing myself to find a fascination in the everyday feels like a preventative measure against allowing myself to just exist as opposed to really live.” Furthermore, she finds herself semi-subliminally scouring for “sources of unassuming intrigue,” in an unintentional effort to feel like she’s never wasting her time – something which Rosie claims she is “borderline phobic” of. In her work, Rosie wants to challenge herself and the audience to recognise the seemingly mundane moments in life that in fact make up the majority of it. Moreover, through labelling herself as a documenter, Rosie explains “it sort of gives me carte blanche to make work about anything that strikes me; I don’t like feeling fenced in.”
Rosie’s commitment to painting was made concrete in her project Commonplace, forming a foundation of visual language Rosie routinely returns to. “The project focused on the commonplace joys of natural spaces,” Rosie explains, “and served to remind viewers of the beneficial contentment offered by spending time immersed in nature.” Finding the “[constant] hoarding a plethora of photos, videos, audio, sketches and thoughts of the most menial natural happenings” all-consuming, the project was an immensely intimate and challenging one which forced her to experience things more fully. “I’m convinced there’s more than meets the eye,” Rosie tells us, expressing this sentiment towards her environment through vivid colour and dynamic but elegant mark-making.
In keeping with the everyday in her own technical practice, Rosie utilises a fairly household medium in her preference for acrylic paints. In working in a primarily analogue fashion, she includes an obvious human involvement in the work – noting that “maintaining a human touch in my imagery is important to me, making marks that are indicative of my process.”
Rosie cultivates a “curiosity-driven” practice that with each piece of work furthers her inquiry of personal and professional growth in tandem to one another. Along the way Rosie has established, in her own words, a “somewhat abrasively graphic colour palette,” whose contrast to the “childlike awe” she distills into her work results in something innately human; demonstrative of both our sincerity and our silliness.
Now more comfortable in the work she produces, Rosie tells us that she has “finally managed to develop the beginnings of a shorthand that authentically shares not just how I see the world but how I feel it.” Without any formal training in painting, Rosie remarks that she has often somewhat felt an imposter in her own practice, whilst at the same time “entirely liberated in equal measure,” adding “if I’m doing it ‘wrong’ I’m none the wiser.”
Perhaps this is where the sense of legitimate and original naivety in Rosie’s work is found, feeling autobiographical at times. “I sometimes feel guilty,” Rosie explains, “because it can feel like such a self-indulgent way to work,” wondering whether it prevents a further connection between her work and the audience. “A lot of the time it’s because I want more than a memory of something,” she tells us. “I’m hopelessly nostalgic and through painting I can make a fleeting occurrence or an emotion into something tangible that lives limitlessly.”
After moving back home after graduating from Winchester School of Art, Rosie explains that she never expected to stay, yet mentions to us “a year later, here I am.” She adds however, “it’s been a blessing over the past few months though, the ability to escape into green space... I do a lot of my thinking when I’m walking.”
Currently organising her first workshop, Rosie hopes to foster a more socially engaged practice in order to find approaches which see culture supporting and enhancing community. “I love what I do, but I’m keen to balance creating for pleasure and purpose in equal measure,” she explains, “I’ve also had in my mind for a while that I’d love to do a series of portraits – getting under the skin and setting new eyes on familiar people in the same way I’ve done with familiar place.”
Rosie May: Picnic Pals (Copyright © Rosie May, 2020)
About the Author
After graduating from Winchester School of Art, studying graphic arts, Harry worked as a graphic designer before joining It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in March 2020. He nows works as a freelance writer and designer, and is one half of Studio Ground Floor.