Trio of artists fly the flag for Camden in Columbia Threadneedle Prize show

Nikki Stevens entry for Columbia Threadneedle prize

Nikki Stevens entry for Columbia Threadneedle prize - Credit: Archant

Myths, parks and belle epoque form the inspiration for Sophie Levi, Carla Groppi and newcomer Nikki Stevens, writes Alison Oldham.

Lauderdale House by Sophie Levi

Lauderdale House by Sophie Levi - Credit: Archant

At £20,000 the Columbia Threadneedle Prize for representational art is the UK’s most valuable award for a single work. So it’s no surprise that the related exhibition, now in its eighth edition, attracted nearly 4,000 entries by some 2,000 artists from 29 countries.

This year the prize went to Lewis Hazelwood-Horner but Camden residents in the exhibition, Figurative Art Today at Mall Galleries near Trafalgar Square, include previous participants Sophie Levi and Carla Groppi and newcomer Nikki Stevens.

Levi’s exhibit depicts the formal garden at Lauderdale House in Highgate. She likes the way the design balances absorbing detail with space for rest and contemplation. “There is a selected, condensed diversity of colour and forms which conform and diverge from regular patterns in not entirely predictable and evolving ways,” she says. “You could almost say it is like painting.”

She is drawn to landscapes with man-made and natural elements: “I love the challenge of, and the surprise of what results from trying to create a dynamic unity from an ever-changing experience of a landscape.” She thinks the circular format of her pictures has an affinity with natural forms and reflects how we experience looking, with the turn and tilt of the head.

Specialising in portraiture and landscape, Levi works in oils and pastel from life, in her studio and outside in London and coastal areas. “My paintings evolve over many hours rooted to one spot through slow looking and fast painting.”

Groppi’s recent large scale drawings in charcoal and pastel are inspired by the French photographer Eugène Atget who photographed Paris and its surrounds in the 1900s. The photograph that inspired the drawing selected for this exhibition is from the only print of this untitled nude man whose eyes, nose and mouth were scratched out on the negative, probably to conceal his identity.

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Taking the small black and white photographs of Belle Epocque Paris and translating them into large, vivid and contemporary drawings, her intention is to interpret and decode rather than merely represent the work of Atget. He never discussed his photography and left no artistic statements, whereas Groppi, a West Hampstead resident, explains her work well. “I am fascinated by the shifts and variations from one drawing to another as I repeatedly re-draw from the same photograph, or from previous drawings or a combination of both, sometimes using details.”

For new drawings she uses different monochromatic colours, so each drawing develops and morphs, taking parts from its predecessor while capturing its own unique character. An Atget- inspired drawing won her the prestigious Hugh Casson Drawing Prize at the Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition last year.

Stevens lives in Belsize Park and specialises in watercolour and has said that she paints anything with a skeleton that has a myth, legend or superstition attached to it but she does not consider herself a wildlife artist. “I paint the natural world through unnatural eyes,” she says of her often dramatic works, which aim to highlight our obsession with data and its collection.

She frequently combines wild animals, birds and insects with “algebraic skulduggery”, as she terms her use of mathematical equations and scientific graphs. An example of the latter features in her selected painting, Phoenix Rising, a meticulous study of a cormorant’s wing.

Until February 20 at Mall Galleries SW1, daily 10am to 5pm. All three artists are eligible for the £10,000 Visitors’ Choice Award determined by votes cast during the exhibition.