Mary Jane Ansell

February 10, 2018 by Laura Gomez


Based in the UK Mary Jane exhibits internationally, with group and solo exhibitions in London, New York, Singapore and LA.

She’s currently working towards her next show, to be held in August 2018 at RJD Gallery in Sag Harbour New York. She has featured a number of times in the BP Portrait Award (2004, 2009, 2010 and 2012) Royal Society of Portrait Painters and The Threadneedle Prize.

Mary Jane‘s work also features on the covers of American Art Collector Magazine, International Artist and a number of recent novels, including The Gilly Salt Sisters by New York Times bestselling author Tiffany Baker and on the recently released album: Adam Ant is The BlueBlack Hussar In Marrying The Gunners Daughter.

Her works feature in private collections world wide and in public collections including the National Portrait Gallery and Brighton and Hove Museums.

With a love of intriguing narratives and in catching a contained but dramatic moment Mary Jane‘s work draws influences from a multitude of inspirations, from classical portraiture to the world of haute couture and with an appreciation for a refined technique that invokes the past but with a resolutely modern viewpoint.

Artist lnterview:

Name: Mary Jane Ansell

Age: Born 1972

Birthday: 17th May

College: University of Brighton

Colour: Varies all the time! Today it would be Verdigris.

Book: The Master and Margarite – Bulgakov

Movie: Too many to mention! Recently I loved Arrival, Miss Sloane, Baby Driver and Nocturnal Animals ( I think Tom Ford is an extraordinary director) but anything by Luc Besson, Wes Anderson, Sofia Coppola or featuring Grace Kelly, Ava Gardner or James Stewart, especially Rear Window…

Food: Thai and Italian food are passions of mine!

Quote: Follow your bliss.

For how long have been in art? How did you start? I remember recognising in Primary school (aged around 6 I think) that I seemed to take more pleasure and had more patience and diligence in drawing or crafting than others around me.

How would you define yourself as an artist? I tend to think definitions are for others to apply. I don’t think it’s necessarily useful for the artist to limit themselves in that way.

Would you tell us some things about yourself? Please include a few little known facts about you as well. I originally studied Illustration at Brighton University where I’ve been living and working for 26 years, my partner who is a musician and I recently moved to the border of North Wales – very close to the mountains of Snowdonia. It’s a very beautiful area, very isolated and peaceful… J.R.Tolkien lived nearby and the landscape was his inspiration for the rolling hills of the Shires and the peaks of Mordor when the mists roll across the valleys you can see why. It’s magical.
I grew up with a piano in my family home, though no one in my family could play it I always wanted to learn, but never took lessons until now. I’m learning slowly but I love it!

Where do you find inspiration? Everywhere! Walking down the street I’lll often see someone whose face jumps out to me and I have to approach them,especially if I’m looking for a specific model for a idea and there they are… and of course great paintings – I spend as much time as I can visiting museums, and galleries of all kinds, I’ll look at photography, illustration, design, fashion, music and film, something will always throw fuel on the fire to work… as does reading, images will often come to me fully formed while I’m reading something particular inspiring… I dream paintings, and the practice of working creates it’s own momentum too – I tend to work diligently and in long stretches and paintings will often lead to other paintings like stepping stones on a path.

What are you trying to communicate with your art? There are themes, both personal and political that recur in my work, over time the works are really an inner dialogue that can transcend language.

What art do you most identify with I’m drawn to everything from the minimalist reliefs of Ben Nicholson to the Baroque of Caravaggio but it is most often figurative paintings that move me most.

Why do you do … what you do? I have to.

What does “being creative” mean to you? To always be developing, improving and challenging myself.

Any shows, galleries, or publications where our readers can find your work? You can find my work and more information about shows on my website on and at instagram/maryjaneansell where I often post work in progress shots from the studio.

I’m represented by Fairfax Gallery in the UK, Corey Helford Gallery in Los Angeles and RJD Gallery in Sag Harbour New York.

How do you cultivate a collector base? Through exhibitions in the UK, US and beyond and in the last 5 to 10 years online and through social media.

Which is your most cherished piece? I’ve kept all the paintings I’ve had exhibited as part of the BP Portrait Award. Each of them are very special to me especially the portrait of my father.

If you had an exclusive collective exhibition with other artists work, who would you choose? I’ve been lucky enough to show with a great many of my favourite painters in various group shows and in August 2018 I’m going to be exhibiting alongside Kris Lewis whose work I love, at RJD Gallery in Sag Harbour New York.

What do you see as the strengths of your pieces, visually or conceptually? I’m never satisfied with my work. There’s always something to improve in the next piece, I might still enjoy certain aspects of a piece.. but that changes over time as my goals progress in my work and the next hoped for destination is revealed. But you can never reach the horizon, nor should you, that’s exactly what keeps you motivated! If you were satisfied you would stop striving to improve!

What aspect of your work do you pay particular attention to? I have a vision of how I want the work to look of course, and I’m happy that the natural process of my technique, which is made up of multiple layers, using both opaque and transparent glazes brings about a certain “handwriting” to the work… I remember an old college lecturer had a favourite saying that: “Style is a product of your limitations” and in a sense that’s undoubtedly true, but I always found that rather unnecessarily negative – your work evolves by way of a series of solutions on your way to achieving your desired outcome and it is this that leads to the unique qualities that I’m trying to achieve and certainly enjoy seeing in other artists work. I think it’s paramount to aim for uniqueness in some part of your work which is why I’ve personally been happy to be principally self-taught as a painter.

What Role does the artist have in society? Art has a vital and multifaceted role – to reflect society, to document, challenge, inspire, stimulate, provoke, comfort or provide beauty but I don’t believe the artist has any responsibility to anyone but themselves in terms of what they choose to do with their work.

What is your most treasured memory? In terms of my work… walking away from the gallery having just finish hanging my first solo show, I hadn’t slept for two days but I walked into a gloriously sunny morning with a deep sense of knowing I had, at that point, given every ounce of energy I had and felt I had worked to the best of my ability then.

What for you is the most enjoyable part of your art? To consistently make an improvement whether that be in technique or idea, to push myself to be better each painting, each show… to feel excitement about each piece and what I might be able to do next!

What famous artists have influenced you, and how? There are too many to mention and influence comes from everywhere. Some of my earliest memories of visiting galleries involved Ingres, Caravaggio and Vermeer – they were the artist who literally moved me to tears infront of their paintings… it shocked me at the time – that paintings could do that, so that of course became something I wanted to aim for with my own work.

What other interests do you have outside of art? Not many! I don’t like to spend that much time away from the studio… travelling, especially to Italy, winding down with music, wine, film! When I need to escape the studio I’ll take a long walk or drive to spend time at the coast, there’s something about the quality of light there that re-energises me, as does live music, and I love to cook!

Some short questions now:

more colours: I am drawn to more tonal values – and often may adjust skin tones to work best according to the feel of the work, taking into account any props, costume, particular light etc… preferring to avoid a homogenised brown-ish skin tone – the best painters I admire really observe the subtle variations in life-like skin tone.

Textures: Fabrics, feathers and skin.

Define your art: I’ve always thought that to an extent what you are drawn to paint, your subject matter actually chooses you. By virtue of it being that thing you find endlessly fascinating enough to sit for hours repeatedly studying and trying to capture. Portraits – or paintings where the figure predominates were, if you’ll excuse the expression, head and shoulders above any other subject for me

Describe your style: “Define yourself”… Usually I just introduce myself as a painter…

Prizes: Selected 4 times for the BP Portrait Award (2004, 2009, 2010 and 2012) as well as the Royal Society of Portrait Painters exhibition and The Threadneedle Prize.

Art Fairs: LA Art Show, Contect Art Miami, London Art Fair, Affordable Art Fairs in London, Singapore, New York.

Museums: Works are in the collection of National Portrait Gallery, UK – Portrait of Sir Stelios Haji-Iannou Brighton and Hove Museums UK – Portrait of Henry Allingham The Lewis Collection

You seem to be very aware of the history of works. Where do you see films, photo exhibitions, art perfomances today?
I was surrounded by culture in Brighton and within easy reach of London so would regularly visit whatever exhibition, gig or play we fancied… it’s more difficult now we are more isolated but I’ll seek out some visual research every day online – there are fantastic resources making works previously not on public display or not easily accessible viewable – like an archive of 200,000 paintings in the public collection… and google arts project which offers a virtual visit to many of the worlds great museums, but there is no comparison to seeing paintings in the flesh and I’ll regularly visit galleries in London, Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham as well as regional galleries, private collections like those held within National Trust properties… and arts festivals Brighton and Manchester are particular. Whenever I travel internationally the trip is generally centered on exploring museums and galleries!

How would your life change if you were no longer allowed to create art? What a hellish world that would be! That’s not an option and I would absolutely find a way. Music is also a great love, my partner, and several extremely talented friends are musicians and the two disciplines have very marked creative parallels, the only other pastime I can imagine finding as much transcending all-consuming passion for would be as a musician and I’m finally getting time to learn to sight read and play piano.

What do you think about the art community and market? There are many spheres of the art market and many more of the art community – many totally unrelated and existing solely for reasons, for example financial speculation, that bear no correlation to the reasons I, and the painters I admire, make work. I feel constantly grateful that I have collectors, from both ends of the financial spectrum, who buy my work because it moves them and they have a genuine passion for it.

Should art be funded? Why? Absolutely! Art in public spaces, and the knock on effects of developing new platforms and spaces to view art has a proven benefit to the wider community. It can turn around the fortunes of cities, even lowering crime rates in depressed areas and has a tangible effect on the quality of peoples daily lives, lifting the mood and giving a moments pause to contemplate to everyone from commuters to hospital patients. A society is intrinsically defined by it’s artistic output and must encourage it’s production – artists will of course find ways to produce work but the cuts to the Arts Council in the UK during successive governments policies of austerity have seen the loss of multiple venues and reduced production in all areas of the arts which is an extraordinarily short sighted policy when you consider the revenue the Arts in this country brings back into the economy. Funding for the arts industry is not charity it’s an extremely profitable investment.

What else are you working on at the moment? Next projects?
Currently in progress in the studio I have a couple of portrait commissions and the early stages of a number of works for my next show at RJD Gallery in August 2018. As I’ve recently moved I’m working with a new group of models so as I’m developing works with them I find my way in with a series of small portraits and studies.

Define MEDIA NEWS ‘Klassik International’ for the audience? Amazing! An international social media influencers entity that actually listens to the artist. An International Social Media Strategy of Arts & Culture agency of contemporary art and culture. International culture and arts influencer.


National Portrait Gallery, UK – Portrait of Sir Stelios Haji-Iannou
Brighton and Hove Museums UK – Portrait of Henry Allingham
The Lewis Collection

Solo Exhibitions:

UPCOMING: 2018 – 12th – 19th March Fairfax Gallery at 8 Duke Street St James, London.

2017 – 10th June – 8th July Corey Helford Gallery – Los Angeles, CA 90033
2015 – 18th June – 10th July Arcadia Contemporary 51 Greene Street New York, New York 10013
2013 – 23rd – 28th September Fairfax Gallery Gallery 27 Cork Street London.
2010 – 30th September – 12 October Fairfax Gallery, 5 Park Walk, Chelsea, London SW10
2009 – 10th – 26th September Fairfax Gallery, 5 Park Walk, Chelsea, London SW10
2007 – 14th – 29th September Fairfax Gallery, 5 Park Walk, Chelsea, London SW10
2006 – 15th June – 1st July Fairfax Gallery, 5 Park Walk, Chelsea, London SW10

Prizes and Awards selections”

2014 – September 20 – November 30 – Contemporary Realism Biennial – Fort Wayne Museum of Art Indiana USA
2012 – 2013 – 3rd November to 27 January BP Portrait Award 2012 Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh
2013 – 9 February – 19 May 2013 Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter
2012 – BP Portrait Award. National Portrait Gallery (from 21 June – 23 September 2012)
2010 – BP Portrait Award. The National Portrait Gallery, London.
2009 – BP Portrait Award. The National Portrait Gallery, London.
2008 – Threadneedle Figurative Prize. Mall Galleries, Pall Mall, London.
2007 – Royal Society of Portrait Painters Exhibition. Mall Galleries, Pall Mall, London.
2005 – Royal Society of Portrait Painters Exhibition. Mall Galleries, Pall Mall, London.
2005 – 1st Prize – Sussex Open Award for Painting, Brighton and Hove Museum and Art Gallery
2005 – Shortlisted for The Art of Love prize, LondonArt, Oxo Wharf Gallery, London.
2004 – Selected for The Daily Mail Not the Turner Prize.
2004 – BP Portrait Award. The National Portrait Gallery, London.
2004 – Prize winner at The Art of Love exhibition, LondonArt, Arndean Gallery, London.