We knocked on Sally’s door, a bit cold, a bit unsure whether we were at the right place. Within a few seconds the door was opened and we were entered into what can only be described as the house of dreams. The style, the decór, the ART - but of course, it made sense because Sally Coulden is an artist. Her eye for colour, her palpable talent, it didn't just show up on the walls, it showed up everywhere. Plus she gave us tea and homemade flapjacks.
Read the interview to hear a story about art, travelling, and living life for today.
Tell us a bit about your work?
So, I’m a painter. I guess you’d describe it as abstract expressionism with a focus on the landscape. I’m very interested in capturing the essence of physical space in my work. I work mainly on canvas but I have also experimented with painting on perspex as well. That’s huge fun as I paint backwards with the colour palette so the front of the painting ends up looking completely different to the back by the time you have finished. I’m also still into experimenting with new painting techniques and mixed media. I like to work big, I don’t do little.
Why did you pick Bristol?
I made a decision 4 years ago to leave the corporate world and go to Art school. I was living in France, and I thought to myself ‘right, where am I going to put down my roots?’. Having lived in Bristol once before when I was a midwife a few decades previously, I knew I loved it here. It’s creative, it’s vibrant, it’s got lots of energy, lots of young people, big art scene, and it’s accessible. It just made sense that I’d end up living here.
What have you got up to in your past careers?
I trained as a nurse in Cambridge but very quickly decided to move to Bristol and train as a midwife. After that I moved to Australia where I entered into the world of Clinical Research and trained in Sexology. On returning to the UK I joined a top 4 Pharmaceutical company. Following that, I then secured a job as a Clinical Scientist working in the developing world, so mostly Central and South America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. A lot of travelling basically. I moved around within the organisation working in different areas, including 2 years with the R&D board. I was later headhunted by PricewaterhouseCoopers to work and help build their Pharmaceutical consulting practise, living and working across the globe. For the two years prior to starting Art School, I was living in Switzerland, commuting each week from Bristol. My gut has always told me that eventually I will do something creative but I never really knew what it was until I stopped to catch a breath and went to art school. Painting is just what I love.
What does it mean to you to be creative?
It gives me a sense of freedom actually. Working in all of these different careers, especially in the corporate world, I found it very intense and all consuming. The work environment doesn’t give your brain very much space for creativity. Painting gives me a real sense of space and freedom. One of the things I’m trying to do, and I’m still searching for how to do it, is to ‘frame infinity’ in my work . It’s part of the reason I’ve been experimenting with ‘tiltbrush’ painting in outer space in the VR world. It’s amazing. I have to say though, on my first go I did it for an hour and a half which is quite a long time to do it and then I got on my bike... I couldn’t see a thing. *laughing*. Not advisable.
So, what message does your work convey? Is it about freedom?
I guess the interpretation of being free and feeling a sense of space is different to everyone. My personal style is abstract and quite loose. The best thing that can happen when someone looks at my paintings is just for them to experience some sort of emotional response. If somebody walked passed a piece of my work and said ‘wow’ or even if they commented that they really didn’t like it, I’d still think that I’d achieved what I set out to do.
Interesting. Is there something you do day-to-day that helps you stay creative?
I’m a pretty busy person and I love doing lots of different things, I do love a challenge! I take a lot of photographs to help me develop my concept boards before starting work on the canvas. I also love to go to seminars and talks about, and by, other artists. I get to as many exhibitions as I can and read as much as I can as well. It really does make me so excited and I feel very lucky to have started my journey into the art world. It’s a new career and the challenge for me is working out how I can make a living from it. Crikey though, it’s really not straight forward! When I work out the magic formula I’ll let you know. *laughs*
And is there something you know you do differently than most people?
I love a challenge, I love change, I like achieving things and doing things and generally just getting things done. I’m looking for ways to be current and exciting, to be contemporary and really start to build on my personal style so that one day someone will look at my painting and instantly say ‘Oh that must be a Coulden!!’. *laughs*
Who is the most influential person in your life?
Crikey, I would say my Father. Sadly he passed away 3 years ago but he’s still around in spirit. He was a super talented potter and sculptor, working out of our home in Norfolk. He was always so encouraging and was super excited when I decided to go out of corporate life! I’m probably a little more gung-ho than he was but he taught me a huge amount. He really believed that ‘anything is possible’. I liked that.
When you’re feeling down, what’s your best way up?
Thankfully, it’s not that often but when I do feel fed up I exercise. I get outside and go and meet some friends. I just go do something.
And what are your favourite things to go do?
I row, I cycle and I love cooking. I love anything that involves getting some fresh air so walking and sailing as well. Plus, living in Bristol, I love to row down in the Floating Harbour. I’m a member of the City of Bristol Rowing Club and I get a lot of inspiration for my work from being on the water. As an example, when I’m rowing through Temple Back and through the ‘tunnels’, I row through the bright lights of the office blocks adorning the waterfront and then I row into the dark tunnels and through the other side into a dark, industrial, slightly gritty world. It’s edgy but extremely beautiful.
Is that your favourite place to be? Or is there another place?
My happy place is on a Norfolk beach. A large sandy beach, usually mile deep sand dunes, massive sky, and no one else there. With a dog.
If you could get any famous person’s face painted on your ceiling, who would it be?
Einstein. I love his mad hair. He was very clever but witty. It's the black and white image with his hair all over the place. It just makes me smile. I've met a lot of very inspiring people though. I was very lucky, for example when I was nursing I looked after Stephen Hawking and Henry Moore, the sculptor. Henry died very shortly after I finished looking after him, clearly heartbroken that I left…*laughs*.
So... what was nursing Stephen Hawking like?
He was amazing. Despite his disability, he had such a fantastic sense of humour. He was very funny. I remember when he first used his voice activation to speak. He had never spoken using it before, it was such a memorable moment.
We're guessing after having read this, you now love Sally as much as we do so to find out more about the lovely lady and her absolutely stunning work then click HERE.