Derbyshire woman's painting of Crich Tramway Village is shown in Royal Society of British Artists exhibition

An artist who has only displayed her paintings in a Derbyshire village has had her favourite work accepted for a prestigious exhibition in London

Monday, 12th April 2021, 7:15 pm
Denise Cliffen's painting entitled Yellow Silo depicts industry and landscape on the High Peak Trail.
Denise Cliffen's painting entitled Yellow Silo depicts industry and landscape on the High Peak Trail.

Denise Cliffen’s evocative painting of Crich Tramway Village will be showcased in the Royal Society of British Artists exhibition in the Mall Galleries.

The 58-year-old Whatstandwell artist said: "I was completely overwhelmed and honestly in total shock when I received the news. I have only this far proudly exhibited my paintings with my local art group Artstand in Crich."

"I had also entered the same painting to the Society of Fine Artists and it was also accepted by them for exhibition in July, but I cannot now enter, due to it already being displayed at the Mall Galleries.

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Artist Denise Cliffen lives in Whatstandwell.

"I am delighted that there will be a physically open exhibition at the Mall Galleries from April 15 to 24. The exhibition is also currently online."

Denise has also learned that another of her artworks, Ruby Chard Frost, is a semi-finalist in the Seasons Art Competition at the Kings Gallery in Stratford upon Avon.

She paints at her home, where she also runs small workshops, and will be exhibiting her work at Erewash Museum's Lally Gallery in February next year.

The painting of the tramway museum was the most challenging work she has ever undertaken. Denise said: "It started when Christine Shawcross attended my art classes and told me how her late husband had dedicated a large proportion of his life to the Crich Tramway Museum and he had sadly passed away unexpectedly whilst working there. Even though the Tramway Museum is just a mile away, I had not visited; I became a member and Christine introduced me to the volunteers and arranged for me to have two separate tours of the workshop and grounds. I was overwhelmed, I was able to get a feel for the atmosphere, passion and dedication to the history and preservation of this majestic form of transport. I was drawn to the mood, reflective light and especially the camaraderie of the volunteers. I wanted to capture this moment in history and pay respects to volunteers past and present."

Denise Cliffen's painting of Crich Tramway Village will be showcased in the Royal Society of British Artists exhibition this month.

Working on the painting over six months, Denise finished the canvas as the end of last year. She said: "I am driven by detail and colour and my vision of perfection. Working in acrylics, I worked on building layers upon layers of colour (glazes) to achieve the finished piece. Technically I knew it needed to be as perfect as possible especially for the tram enthusiasts."

While Crich Tramway Village is her favourite painting, Denise says Thames Barge Deck comes a close second. She has painted Derbyshire landscapes, portraits, industrial and marine art over the years.

As a child, Denise always loved to draw. She said: "If it wasn't for my Mum, I don't know whether I would be where I am today. She's always encouraged me to draw, but at the same time was always honestly critical, which sometimes hurt as a little girl - "that's wrong and I think you could do better" - but I was always drawing and desperately wanted to please my Mum. My Nan used to provide me with lovely drawing paper where I could copy Disney characters in poster paint and I created my own book illustrations too. I Iater experimented with other things like bone china painting and sculpture."

At school, art was one of three subjects that Denise did well in alongside French and needlework. She went to college where she took an art foundation course, achieved two A-levels and applied to three universities to study graphics but was turned away.

Thames Barge Deck is Denise Cliffen's second favourite painting.

Denise was married for a decade and had two children before she and her husband divorced in 1996. She said: "One day, collecting my children from school a mum asked in the playground if anyone knew somebody who could paint a mural in their son's bedroom . . . I volunteered and after painting murals in two children's rooms and a trompe l'oeil (trick of the eye) in their conservatory I decided to follow my dream of painting for a living as a muralist. I had no experience, but I learned on the hoof.

"The majority of murals were for children's bedrooms for private clients. I always tried to include an element of trompe l'oeil illusion where the painting you are viewing is real."

Her favourite commissions as a muralist included Tarrantino restaurant in Brentwood, Essex, where she painted trompe l'oeil scenes of Venice. Denise said: "Great commission, painting whilst restaurant open and eating delicious food for lunch every day and used as background filming for The Only Way Is Essex!"

Other favourites included a private swimming pool trompe l'oeil of scenes of the Amalfi coast and a private commission for a mural of the Massai Mara.

Denise has lived in Whatstandwell for three years, in Crich for a year before then and is formerly from Maldon in Essex. She said: "My partner enticed me to move to his home county of Debryhsire as my children had grown up and left home and I was ready for a new chapter in my life. It has been one of the best things I have ever done. I think Derbyshire is the most stunningly beautiful county in the UK. Furthermore the community is so kind and friendly and I have met and made lifelong friends here at my workshops.

"My son, Matthew is 30, he lives in Kent with my daughter in law Taj and my grandson Daniel. My daughter, Anna is 29 and with the delight of fate, met her partner Nic when she was visiting us from Essex and now lives in Chesterfield."