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Top Gloucestershire museum announces special exhibition

Exhibitions at Nature in Art

Secrets of the Studio - A Special Exhibition at Nature in Art

Elizabeth Gray, who also used the name Ben Venuto had a long association with Nature in Art. The very first item to be accessioned into the Nature in Art collection was by Elizabeth, a watercolour entitled ‘Trouble Overhead’, depicting grouse cowering on the moors as an eagle flies above. Elizabeth died just before her 94th birthday in March last year and since then we have been given access to her studio. This has resulted in a fascinating display of work highlighting the unique diversity of her output, from paintings in many styles and media to printmaking, decoupage, books, ceramics, drawings, digital works and more.

This exhibition has confirmed her reputation as a prolific, adventurous artist constantly experimenting and pushing the boundaries. Such an artistic legacy is all the more remarkable when one considers that she had no formal art training.

Inevitably, we cannot be certain where some of the pieces precisely fit into her artistic journey. Many are unsigned, untitled and very probably because of that, unfinished. Yet they are a fascinating insight into the creative process and show how all aspects of nature were of precious inspiration to her.

Secrets of the Studio then, is almost exclusively works that have never been previously shown anywhere. This is a genuinely unique collection that includes many aspects of her output in an inspiring and varied display.

The exhibition explores five main areas of Elizabeth’s creative output.
    1    Watercolours of wildlife, particularly birds in a landscape, for which she became especially well known in the 1970’s and 80’s, exhibiting in the UK with the likes of Peter Scott and David Shepherd and in the USA with the likes of Robert Bateman.
    2    Botanical Illustrations (and still life compositions) - these were painted as botanically correct images, requiring real discipline and accurate observation. Looking closely at the pictures it is clear that none of them have been drawn first. She has simply painted directly onto the paper - an unusual feat.
    3    Rocks - a particular area of fascination for Elizabeth. Amongst the items we found were detailed paintings of pebbles to larger abstract pieces inspired by geological formations, produced in a wide variety of media (very often mixed).
    4    Prints - to which she dedicated much time to later in her career. She was particularly interested in reduction printing, sometimes referred to by artists as ‘suicide printing’ because, rather than having a separate block for each colour, just one block was used. In her case some of the blocks were almost 1m in height and, having no printing press, all had to printed by rubbing with a wooden spoon on the back of the paper.
    5    Digital work and handmade books, which were partly a spin-off from that process. Digital media required a different way of thinking, but once grasped she produced, self-taught as ever, some varied work, exploiting the potential of this new way of working. She was not one for standing still.
Accompanying the main exhibits will be examples of experimentation, tests, stencils and other elements that give an idea of the processes used and her desire to always try something new. In a book of her work published in 2015, a quote from Pablo Picasso (1881 - 1973) was used, which seemed very apt for her approach to art - ‘I am always trying that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it’.

  • Date: April 18th – May 21st 2023
  • Time: 10am – 5pm, Tuesday - Sunday
  • Location: Nature in Art
  • Address: Nature in Art, Wallsworth Hall, Sandhurst Lane, Sandhurst, Gloucester, GL2 9PA
  • Tickets: Included in the admission price of the museum. See website for prices.


Explore Gloucestershire
30 March 2023


Image credit: Elizabeth Gray / Secrets of the Studio

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