Observations, Thoughts and Reflections on 21st Century Life

Category: Life

The Red Hat


Sometimes I’m asked about the stories behind my paintings.  More often than not they’re personal to me and I prefer to leave the viewer to connect (or not) in their own way so that the image becomes meaningful to them.  However, this year I have been working on a collection inspired  by the World Wars in particular the First, the end of which in 1918 left a trail of fragmented families and shattered lives.

I’m not even sure that ‘inspired’ is the right word – how can you be inspired by such carnage, such ‘….guttering, choking, drowning ….’ as Wilfred Owen wrote?  I think it would be more correct to say I’m awed by the people who were there and those who were left behind, by their ability to ‘carry on’ in the face of extreme adversity.  It’s this ability of a human spirit to navigate the unknown, the uncertainty, the highs and the awful lows which speaks to me.  During those long endured years the highs were to be snatched and savoured, wherever and whenever possible, moments and memories created eagerly, providing new escape routes for an anxious mind.  Like buying a new hat.

A year ago I attended a talk by Magnum social photographer David Hurn.  Now in his eighties he was both fascinating and entertaining, not just for his wonderful images but for his personal and insightful stories.  He’d never considered becoming a photographer until one day he picked up a copy of ‘Picture Post’ and saw a photograph which changed the whole course of his life.  The image was of a Russian Army Officer buying his wife a hat in a Moscow department store.  It moved him to tears as it reminded him of how his own father, home on leave from the Second World War, had taken his mother to buy a hat.  In that moment he realised the power an image can have on it’s viewer and he was hooked.

This story only came into my mind as I was in the final stages of painting ‘The Red Hat’.  The woman wearing it is my maternal grandmother ‘nana’ – her husband I never knew even though I carry his genes.  As a career naval man he survived the First World War and despite being in his mid fifties was called up for the Second, which he did not.  I don’t know what to call him – grandfather or grandad implies a familiarity which we never enjoyed.  I’d never seen a photograph of him until last year and it was a powerful moment, to witness for the first time someone who I recognised despite never having met. It moved me to tears too.

This series of paintings called ‘Futility’ – a reference to Wilfred Owen’s poem of this name –  is my way of acknowledging his existence and contribution, of weaving some kind of relationship between grandparent and grandchild.  So the paintings are full of stories, not just mine but other people’s.  As for the hat, I don’t know whether it was red or not so I indulged in a little artistic licence!

‘The Red Hat’

Rebecca Pells Fine Art


The Lost Art of Letter Writing

Letter writing by hand is a lost art.

In an age of digital swiping, likes and emoji’s, putting pen to paper is considered so last century!  But I miss it – both the writing and especially the receiving.

There is something visceral about a hand written letter;  it requires the will to make the effort to sit and be still for a few minutes or more, to concentrate and compose, unaided by ‘Alexa’ or auto-correction.  It’s an ongoing conversation, into which we can ease ourselves,  share more of our feelings than we may be willing to risk face to face.  It’s the passing of a moment from the sender to the recipient, bearing not only a postmark but the hallmarks of our personality, our quirks and flaws scribed in ink.

During the First and Second World Wars letters were emotional lifelines, the only means of communication between family and friends.  They were precious, longed for and savoured, read and re-read, kissed and cried over.  The physical nature of the letter was as important as the words it conveyed, a small but tactile presence which was able to transcend the dividing miles, transporting the author into the private domain of the recipient.  Letters which were so precious they were often kept for years, the faded handwriting belying the central role they played in so many lives.

In today’s instant society where even greeting cards are sent digitally is there still a place for a hand written letter ?  We are once again embracing the audible richness and variety of vinyl and the depth and perception of photographic film both of which transcend the sterile perfection of digital.  I would love to think that for personal messages at least letter writing can enjoy a similar revival.


‘Letter Home’ mixed media original painting available from Rebecca Pells Fine Art


We live our life in layers. From the moment we are born until the day we die. Laid down with each and every turn of life, hiding and protecting from hurt and disappointment.


Winter arrives to cleanse the soul, to leaf through those layers in it’s own healing retreat.  Examine, observe, discard and put down the weights which held you back, inhibited, restrained, sapping your energy at every turn. Be tender as you discard and firm as you break the habitual patterns which no longer serve to enrich.  Wrap gently the folds of experience and wisdom the clothes of life to be carried with you on your onward journey.


Freeze out the remnants of a year lived, laying down the warp and weft of hope and expectation anew. Hide not your beauty but take the risk and allow the layers to melt away.  Search the depths, peel back the weather beaten layers one by one to uncover the long buried essence of your soul, exposed, vulnerable but revealed in all it’s unencumbered beauty.

‘Iced Rose’ Rebecca Pells Fine Art

Conscious Incompetence

Uncomfortable, frustrating, deflating and dispiriting all rolled into one.  This is the state of conscious incompetence.  And I am right bang in the middle of it.

The pleasure of learning a new skill has been replaced by the cold reality of daylight.  The thrill of finding I could produce a painting which was ‘presentable’ has, three years on, been sharply highlighted by a gaping lack of experience.  The short-term affirmation of social media approval and modest sales has been replaced by a cringing reluctance to stick my head above the public parapet.

There is so very much to learn, so much work to do, as a musician applies herself to scales so the painter must learn and practice the techniques and technicalities of their art.  Long hours in the studio, alone with your thoughts and insecurities accompanied only by the silent (and sometimes not so!) monologue of self criticism.

But something drives me on, the glimpse of an idea captured on canvas, crossing the threshold of nebulous to form laying down a moment in time, an outward incarnation of an inner life.  There is something calling out, bigger than and beyond me, enticing and playing with my heart a I struggle and strive; it at once elates and then strips me bare.  Cleansing, simplifying, purifying and humbling perhaps one day it will enlighten also as to the core nature of this oily world in which I find myself immersed.

Top: ‘Poetry with Pomegranate and Plum’   Above: ‘Trio of Plums with Blue Jug’

Rebecca Pells Artist

Thresholds and Threads

Everywhere you look there are thresholds. And I am drawn to them as a moth to light.  They have become the premiere focus of my painting and writing.   There are obvious thresholds like stepping from the kitchen into the garden or crossing a border from one country to another; tactile thresholds – holding hands, exchanging a kiss, lovemaking . . . and emotional thresholds as we shuttle on the vine of life from enjoyment to sadness and back again.

Some thresholds we have no choice but to cross as in birth and death.  Others are imposed against our wishes like redundancy or the end of a relationship.  And yet so often it is within the tangled web of ensuing chaos that growth and wisdom are woven.  What we resist is actually the very thing which will take us forward if we find the courage to make the step; if we cease wondering what life would be like, cross the threshold and allow ourselves to experience it.

Windows, doors, gateways, pillars and paths – all fascinate and pull me, like an invisible thread tugging, weaving it’s way between the weft of the physical and the emotional warp, between the real and the imagined.  A tangled knot of thresholds, examined from all angles, picked, pulled and tightened by thoughts spinning beyond control.  Only then it seems, in frustrated desperation am I  ready to spool words forth or paint, carding the thoughts from entwined mass, teasing onto canvas until an image – and a way forward – begins to reveal itself.

And thus another threshold has been crossed.

‘The Bread Oven’  watercolour

To see more of my paintings click here

Yesterday’s Gone

I waited. Two score years then ten.

Boredom reigned as time strode past.

You flirted and waved, your sunlight cast

Till the treadmill called to shackle again.

I carried the promise, I cradled belief

That one morning I would wake

My passion before me there to take.

No longer a dream you were every relief.

And now we dance, the rhythm of life

 Intimate moments yet strangers remain

Master and slave passion’s loss and gain

 As I strive to please frustration is rife.

Just like a moth I’m drawn to the light

Of creation’s promise, each hue I fashion

 I seek the sweet moment of artist’s passion

As I step away to see that all has come right.

‘Yesterday’s Gone’ by Rebecca Pells Fine Art

Letting Go


 Yesterday, I  set out to paint a small abstract as a loosening up exercise.  The aim was to let go of  anything representational but within minutes of starting I began to see a landscape emerge – trees, a shoreline, however vague and probably not what someone else would have seen at all.  At this point I started to follow the direction I thought the painting was leading me, believing it was supposed to be this way.  As a result, I forced the image to materialise into something vaguely resembling an alpine lake landscape and in so doing, deprived it of it’s true potential as an abstract painting.

We are surrounded by a world full of names, categories, labels, titles and tags.  We love to name – it helps us to locate, formulate and store information.  It helps us to feel in control of an increasingly complex environment.  We have become so adept at this method of ordering, that we do it unconsciously, habitually and whilst it is of great assistance in a technical world it can have the opposite effect when used in situations which need to evolve naturally.

Naming of a person or situation leads to unrealistic expectations – whole scenarios can be played out in our minds which bear little resemblance to reality.  We become disillusioned, angry and blame others for not fulfilling our dreams.  We can never know early on in our work, friendship or relationship what kind of experience we will have together.  If we name a romance too early we demand reciprocation, we force a reward – like fruit grown out of season it lacks longevity  – we deny the relationship the chance to flourish and bear fruit as a natural progression.

By naming too soon we close off possibilities of something finding it’s own level, we reject it’s true potential, it’s own representation and deny ourselves of the gift it may have to offer.  If we can be brave enough to let go of the confining boundaries of naming, then by so doing just maybe we will experiencing something beautiful.

My Mirror Gently Weeps


Are you future or laden past,

joy anew or shadow cast?

Reflections glimpsed as midnight creeps

for which my mirror gently weeps?


My Mirror Gently Weeps’

Oil on canvas 50×50 cms


The Bridge


You wake one morning and sense a change, a slight shifting of the sand,

a murmured whisper, the faintest touch upon your hand.

Was it the waking from a dream or the mourning of a death,

was it joy anew of passion found or the drawing of first breath?

Was it the void of emptiness or vast realm of possibility,

was it the final release or acceptance of futility?

With a backward glance I view the bridge where yesterday I stalled

until the night stepped forth and accepting as it called

I gave surrender as it carried me across.


Still Life – a Personal Heritage


001‘Silver Jug with Lime’ 2016

Many of us seek an identity – or perhaps seek to escape from ourselves – through the things with which we choose to clutter our lives. Most are transient, outliving their usefulness, unable to keep up with our changing desires as the years pass by.  Few linger long after we have gone, travelling in time in a way which is closed to us.

There is a comfort in the familiar, in the multilayered existence of inheritance; a stabilizing, grounding sense of belonging which comes from things with which we grew up, the landmarks by which we navigated our early years. They are the threshold between our history and the present, between what has been, what is and what is yet to come. A kind of immortality we ourselves cannot achieve.

Such objects become integrated and entwined in our personal history handed down from generation to generation.

A familial wave passing through our lives.

001‘Silver Spoon with Lime’ 2016


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