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Tony at work in the Devon countryside
Impressions of the Devon landscape
By Kevin Heathorn
An award-winning Devon artist has taken inspiration from one of the darkest moments in the county's recent history - the 2001 foot-and-mouth crisis. Tony Williams is using graphic images to re-interpret the Devon landscape.
At 62 years of age, Tony Williams has realised a lifelong ambition by finding success as a landscape artist.
He takes his inspiration from the rural countryside of North Devon, where he runs a B&B with his wife Liz, their two retired guide dogs and a bunch of rescued battery hens.
Tony's paintings, which he describes as contemporary impressionist, show an apparently idyllic way of life in the heart of Devon's farming community.
Yet it was the biggest rural crisis for a generation that spurred him to pick up his brushes and start to paint.
Tony in his gallery
The 2001 foot-and-mouth epidemic brought much of Devon to a standstill - causing anguish and financial hardship. For Tony, the despair was a source of inspiration.
"I always had this longing to be a painter, but was afraid of it because all my family were artists and some of them were very good," explained Tony.
"I thought if they do it well, what's the point in trying to compete with them. Foot-and-mouth, that's the thing that kicked it into action.
"We started up a B&B, having renovated this property and just got it all started when we were hit by foot-and-mouth disease in 2001.
"It was a very depressing time and we felt very threatened, we'd used all the money to renovate the house.
"I don't know why I thought that painting would be the way out, but once I started I couldn't stop.
"I've got to the stage where I really feel what I'm doing now is starting over, I feel as though my life is just starting."
Tony's work depicts the fields and estuaries of North Devon and the people who work there. Many of his paintings feature the animals grazing close to his home at Kings Nympton.
Stooks by Tony Williams
"Devon is totally central to my work. It's an honest landscape where people earn their living through sheer hard work.
"It just presents me with a lot of beautiful images and a lot of opportunities like the threshing machines and the stooks in the field.
"If I've seen something I like, I think I must go back there and see if I can capture that again."
Tony began to attract attention in 2005 when his painting 'An Inquiring Mind 1' won the major prize at South West Academy of Fine and Applied Arts Exhibition.
Since then he has exhibited at the Steam Gallery in Beer and featured in The Great British Landscape Exhibition at RHS Rosemoor.
"An old artist friend cajoled me into putting in for the South West Academy exhibition.
"I won the major prize with a painting of bullocks in a field - and that was a turning point. I really didn't look back from then."
Tony has been developing his style over the past seven years and has begun to experiment with a more graphic interpretation of his subjects - drawing on his training in graphic design.
Bullocks by Tony Williams
"I went to Sutton Art School and started out in a design studio, then went on to become the creative director of a provincial advertising agency," he said.
"With some of my paintings I've started pushing limits of turning them into graphic images. This is the way it seems to be going.
"I don't set out to try and describe every detail of something, but to create an impression of atmosphere and design.
"The great tradition of impressionism was the starting point for my painting. I like to think that I'm a contemporary impressionist, people seem to think my work has a contemporary feel.
"My paintings seem to sit equally well in a minimalist modern environment or a traditional one, so that does broaden the appeal."
Tony is currently creating a gallery for his work in an out-house behind his home in Kings Nympton and plans to offer painting courses to people who want to take up landscape art.
last updated: 28/04/2008 at 09:40