New York 1908 - Sussex 2009
The artist, socialite, writer, diplomat and fashion editor Fleur Cowles lived a long and fascinating life in New York, London and Sussex, and was perhaps best known as a magazine editor and publisher. She was the founder of the short-lived magazine Flair in 1950, known for its bold design, lavish production, keyhole covers and expensive stock. A friend of Georges Braque and Salvador Dali, Cowles was also an astute judge of younger artistic talent, championing the work of Peter Blake and Lucian Freud early in their careers. She also collected the paintings of so-called ‘naïve’ or untrained artists from around the world, whose work was to have a profound influence on her own art. After giving up her career as an editor at Look magazine following her move to England after her second marriage, Cowles began to paint seriously in the late 1950’s, encouraged and instructed by a young Italian painter, Domenico Gnoli. Painting richly colourful works that harmoniously combine wild animals (often leopards and tigers), birds and flowers in a kind of romantic dream world, Cowles had her first solo exhibition in London in 1959. She continued to exhibit her work in galleries in several cities in America, as well as in England, Italy, France, Greece, Germany, Holland and Japan, with over sixty one-man shows. Several of her paintings were used as inspiration for, and served to illustrate, a number of books by the writer and poet Robert Vavra, notably Tiger Flower, published in 1968.
Of her working method, Cowles has written that, ‘There are probably few painters (other than the Chinese who paint their scrolls on a flat surface) who use no easel, use no palette and have no studio. The absence of all three describes in a very few words how I paint. My lap replaces the easel; the tubes of paint are in themselves my palette (I paint directly from them); my library couch in Sussex is my studio. I paint with either tubes or jars of acrylic paint gathered up by my brush as a bow would the strings of a violin. My studio is a windowed, dark-chocolate brown room where light comes inside in differing ways and amounts during the day. When the sun does give up, an angle-light is put on a little table just behind the couch at my left shoulder. Sunlight or not, this is how I continue to paint into the night except for meals…I never think about or compose a painting in advance (in my mind or on paper). I never draw. I never use a model or copy a thing. I paint what has been packed away in my computer-memory, those animals, flowers and scenes which wait for my brush to give them life.’
As the artist herself has noted, ‘My paintings seem to make people happy, They represent my private world, a peaceful one that rejects the unpleasant, the ugly and the frightening, and dredges up no horrible dreams.’