City Out Monaco Magazine Feature on John Dyer & Joanne Short. Capturing the Spirit of the South.

Published on 05/31/2010

John Dyer and Joanne Short are well known for their bestselling paintings inspired by their lives in Cornwall and on the Côte d'Azur. Jilly Bennett asked them what makes them tick. 

John Dyer and Joanne Short: Where to start? Our work comes from within us and also from our environment. It encompasses our life and records what we do: the landscape and environment, family, nature and colour. Our styles have very much evolved - we don't consider our work to have a 'style' but inevitably it does. It isn't however a prescribed style or even something consciously decided on - it is more like our handwriting. The way we naturally compose and apply our paint isn't a deliberate action but a natural response between hand and eye.

We thrive working outside when we can - just our paints and the subject, and the subject is dynamic, changing, living, breathing and something to engage with. Once you've spent time immersed in the landscape watching the world go by, you form a relationship and deep memory of the place - a moment in time. This painting and memory often fuels a larger series of works that are sometime completed in the studio, but we always like to start outside on location. 

CO: Where were you both born? Did you study painting and where?

JD: Joanne was born in Oxford and I was born in Taunton, but we were both raised in Cornwall. In fact funnily enough we've known each other since we were babies! Life brought us together in Cornwall and we have a shared memory of our childhood and similar experiences, which is fantastic as we have everything in common. We both attended the same schools and then Falmouth School of Art. After Falmouth Joanne studied Fine Art and Printmaking in Italy for her degree and I went to London to study Design. We both eventually returned to Cornwall as artists and set up our home and studio together in the early 90s. 

Cornwall has long enjoyed an international reputation for excellence in the arts. Joanne is an elected member of the Newlyn Society - one of the UK's oldest and most respected group of artists. 

CO: What brought you to the south of France?

JD and JS: Menton was on our radar because of the plants and gardens. As resident artist for the UK's - and probably the world's - most important ecogarden, The Eden Project, we've become increasingly interested in botanical situations. We first visited for a week and stayed at William Waterfield's garden, the Clos du Peyronnet, and were enchanted. We met with Carolyn Hanbury and viewed the Hanbury Gardens and she very kindly lent us a studio for a year - so we had to move to Menton to take up this kind offer. 

We've lived in Menton for three years now but we've also painted extensively in Brittany and Provence - our collections of Provençal works have been shown in Cork Street, London, and we had a show at the Eden Project for World Food Day, based on the major harvests of the Côte d'Azur and Provence. Eden commissioned contemporary creative writing to accompany each painting and the stories were 'performed' to a live audience.

CO: Do your children go to school in Menton or in the UK?

JD and JS: In Menton - our eldest daughter Martha-Lilly was given the option to 'home ed' or as we called it 'self ed' She loved this idea for 3 months and then she asked to go to a French school! She has never looked back and is now fluent in French. She also attends the amazing conservatoire of music and has developed a passion for music over the past three years. She has gone from a beginner to a grade 6 musician in 2.5 years - it has been wonderful to see her flourish and expand her horizons so far beyond her contemporaries back at home.
Our youngest daughter Wilamena is still only 3 so doesn't attend school just yet.
CO: Tell us perhaps what you like to do in your spare time? Where do you like to visit?  A favourite place - a restaurant?  Anything you particularly love or even dislike about life on the Cote d'Azur? 

JD and JS: We love the country side in Italy and have good friends who have an olive grove. Given the chance we head up there to eat outside - cook pasta and lace it with oil they have just pressed. The children do real play too - tree houses - ropes, dens, climb trees ride bikes and generally learn to risk take which is something so many children miss out on now. In my spare time we would choose to paint as so much of our time is consumed with raising the family. As regards restaurants we like to do very simple things and a family favouirte is to head for Apricale and have a super thick hot chocolate in the little bar there. It has the grumpiest bar man in the world - but the best hot chocolate !

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