Fletcher Sibthorp

Danae by Fletcher Sibthorp
Born in Hertfordshire in 1967, Fletcher Sibthorp now lives and works in London and is best known amongst the contemporary art community, the industry and its collectors for his oil paint-derived large scale manifestations of dramatically captured figures in various stages and forms of dance. Sibthorp elegantly and succinctly encapsulates the visually-expletive ebb and flow of those taking part in contemporary dance as much as those inflicting a classical ballet or flamenco swathe on his canvases. The UK and Japan remain Sibthorp’s most important markets (for both private and corporate collection) and as a much sought-after artist within his genre he’s taken the exact likeness of an enviable selection of some of the dance world’s biggest names over the years, including Royal Ballet principles Darcey Bussell, Sarah Lamb, Miyako Yoshida and Alina Cojocaru, alongside of the high profile flamenco performers, Joaquín Cortés, Eva Yerbabuena and Sara Baras.

Sibthorp chose to study Illustration at Kingston University, leaving with an honours degree in 1989, and admits that it was whilst he was there that he developed his interest in exploring the concept of movement and the effect that it placed on the human form. Those who were mooted to have been his greatest influences during this period were some of the most iconic names in art over the last couple of centuries, including Gustav Klimt, Edgar Degas and British painters, Francis Bacon and Frank Auerbach. Despite being acknowledged for his sizeable compositions, book jacket designs, magazine features and corporate brochure artwork were amongst the first creative briefs that Sibthorp was commissioned to complete. Away from his bread and butter art work so to speak, and behind the scenes, Sibthorp was making personal artistic gains with his larger scale, bespoke figurative creations, the majority of which were inspired by sport and the exploration of athletes’ bodies when they were placed in the thick of the sporting action.

Sibthorp’s experimentation in this scope, development and evolvement of those initial visual originations led to his first solo show. Held at the Stable Gallery situated in Wandsworth, London, Sibthorp’s ‘In Motion’ series showcased the artist’s understanding and prowess in the measured and creatively considered presentation of both gymnasts and athletes. These five unique, large scaled studies were almost immediately snapped up by an unnamed private sports club located in the city of London for their permanent collection. This was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg for Sibthorp, as his reputation grew, leading to an array of diverse magazine and glossy periodical cover and content feature artwork commissions, including The Evening Standard newspaper (who invited Sibthorp to illustrate their Wimbledon Tennis Championship-themed lifestyle magazine cover) as well as globally-renown corporate powerhouses (and their in-house publications) such as BP (British Petroleum) and BT (British Telecom).

What had just gone before and moreover what was to follow, cemented Sibthorp’s place in the contemporary figurative art world order. Over the proceeding year or so Sibthorp was awarded several Certificates of Excellence by the magazine, Communication Arts (and appeared in three of their CA Illustration Annuals, starting in 1997) one of which was in acknowledgment of a commissioned image he’d completed for the Royal Shakespeare Company for their (then) production of Othello, whilst another was in direct response to the portrait of Bertrand Russell that appeared on the book jacket of his biography around this same time. Having witnessed Sibthorp’s work in relation to these two awards and more, the artist was shortly afterwards approached by a New York advertising agency to contribute to one of their high profile client’s latest commercial campaigns. Sibthorp was requested – along with 3 other artists – to paint in a ‘live’ environment for the Kirin beer campaign, which resulted in all four participants exhibiting their signature works of art at the Kirin Art Space in central Tokyo, Japan.

Next on Sibthorp’s agenda – and continue rise to prominence – saw the artist take something of a creative departure from what had gone before, in as much as sport-derived studies would take a back seat to another area of expertise. And one which Sibthorp was equally comfortable and successful operating within. A couple of years prior, in 1995, Sibthorp had been propositioned by the esteemed Sadler’s Wells Theatre with a view to originating a series of paintings of the flamenco troupe assembled by Paco Peria; which from Sibthorp’s vantage point served as his starting point for his interest and fascination with all forms of dance that has since characterised him as an artist. Unfortunately his piece wasn’t chosen on that previous occasion, however having been invited to the press performance of the show itself, he’d come away and been suitably inspired by what he observed to create his first flamenco-based painting, ‘Flamenco Gold’; which had since been used on the cover of Jason Webster’s best selling book, ‘Duende: A Journey in Search of Flamenco’.

Fast forward a handful of years and one of those chance encounters that you read about was played out at the aforementioned Kirin show in Japan, which for Sibthorp brought about the opportunity to further his career in a new direction. Having seen his Flamenco Gold, Sibthorp was promptly invited to hold his first solo exhibition overseas, and right there in Tokyo. Entitled ‘Levenda’, Sibthorp included studies of Joaquin Cortes and other dancers and due to popular demand for more work led to a succession of annual shows highlighting his latest individual works and collections for an insatiable audience in the Far East. Indeed, Japanese collectors have wasted no time in grabbing various canvas slices of Sibthorp’s body of recent work, with particular excitement surrounding his flamenco compositions which the Japanese audience clamour for, thanks in no small part to the dance being hugely popular in the country with, allegedly, a larger fan base than even Spain. What’s more, there’s a raft of magazines dedicated to the subject, which also queued up to arrange interviews with the artist. Talk about being in the right place at the right time, as the old adage goes.

For 13 years Sibthorp satisfied the demand for his flamenco art in Japan, taking time out briefly in 2000 to complete a solo show called ‘Quiet Space’ at the bequest of the prestigious China Club in Hong Kong, which provided temporary respite from dance as the prominence was put more on a traditionally figurative movement rather than a specific and niche genre. Sibthorp returned to his native UK market in 2005, marking his arrival with a one-man show in London’s exhibition heartland, namely Cork Street in Mayfair. ‘Passion’ went down a storm, and combined a cross-section of his typical works, mixing flamenco and modern dance with portraiture and also coincided with his first book on the subject, going into print. This was also entitled, ‘Passion’.

Sibthorp’s stock was now really beginning to rise here in the UK, and he found himself very much on art collector’s radars, as well as gaining a host of plaudits and industry accolades. Among those were the Fine Art Trade Guild's poll as the most successful living British print artist of 2006, thus receiving the John Solomon Award in recognition of this achievement. It’s said that the Guild’s poll and awareness of the art that actually attracts the attentions of the general art-purchasing public reveals a sharp contrast between this and the status of the typical recipients of the much-questioned authenticity of the Turner Prize.

In most recent times, Sibthorp has worked closely with the Royal Ballet, and in conjunction with other blue chip galleries in and around Mayfair has held mixed exhibitions, none more so than his collaborations with the Medici Gallery in 2005 – and a feat that was repeated in 2007 – which saw a further shift in emphasis away from flamenco, with a degree of circumstantial visual evidence of Sibthorp’s involvement at close quarters with dress rehearsal and photocalls at the Royal Opera House. One of Sibthorp’s compositions from a Royal Ballet production sold for £25,000, elevating the artist into the ranks of the upper tier of British figurative artists.

As an indication of his dedication to capturing dance, The Royal Ballet School made him Artist in Residence in 2010, whilst Sibthorp continues to study in minute detail the human figure and the visual choreography of dance and its interpretation and translation onto canvases in all its forms to this day.

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