A Magical Night at the Private View of Fabulous Beasts

On Friday, Janec and I hosted a Private View/Party at Powderham Castle to celebrate our Fabulous Beasts exhibition. It was a magical, memorable night!

City Steam Jazz provided upbeat music to create a wonderful ambiance as people explored the castle at leisure, discovering the art work.  Of course there were drinks, and excellent party food, mainly created by Janec’s Mum (Sarah) who is also showing her work in the castle chapel. It was fantastic (and weird) to do something so wonderfully fun and normal, after 18 months of social distancing.

Janec wore an elaborate corsetted bridal outfit, 6 inch heels and, on his head, a stuffed magpie atop a white wig. (FAB-U-LOUS Darling!) His Mum also dressed up as the mother of the bride – the Van Veen family certainly know how to party!

Not to be outdone, I made a necklace of large plastic animals which made me feel slightly less conventional and boring!

A few photos from the night…

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Dante and More Problem-Solving!

The shipping of Dante to Italy proved rather a nightmare due to new Brexit rules and the need to classify every shipment by content, detailing all materials used. I could find no code which fitted my work and, with crossed fingers, labelled it ‘Personal Effects’.           The following morning, day of collection, I was contacted by the courier to say this description would not be acceptable. The man was exceedingly helpful and, having asked him to look at my work online, he went away to investigate for half an hour and came up with a suitable code for ‘Collages and other Decorative Plaques’ (which of course I can use in future shipments too.) Thank you Chandra!

Dante reached Florence safely and the client likes it – always a relief! I forgot to say in my last post that the work is going to be used as inspiration for a nationwide recycled art competition, for which I’ve been asked to be one of the judges. Different and exciting!

Now working on a new piece, once again I find myself struggling with the background (as happened with Marmite the dog.) This is another portrait commission (top secret at the moment!) for someone who loves quirky art and bright colours.

I had intended to use a kind of braid to make wallpaper (like on The Raj’s Emerald) but found nothing suitable in my supplies or anything I liked on eBay or Etsy. I’d painted the background gold to underlie the braid, but today I’ve just over-painted in a deep turquoise  and will wait to see if it works. Although I always start out with a clear idea in my head, things evolve as I’m working and very often don’t end up as I imagined at the outset!

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News of the Show, and a New Work

It’s been a hectic couple of weeks, trying to sort out a few last minute issues at the exhibition. The castle is packed with items of interest, each with its own audio description. Our work is dotted around the castle and we were advised by a PR friend that it needed to be held together with some ‘branding’ to join it all up.  Written information next to each work has now been added. Each has a deep yellow header which makes it clear that this is all one exhibition. (Janec’s work is so thoughtful and clever that you need to know the thinking behind each piece to fully appreciate it.) All done now and I have to say it looks wonderful!

I’ve also been working flat-out on a new piece to go to Florence with a tight deadline – just completed yesterday. It’s a portrait of Dante (b 1265, Florence) and considered to be the father of the Italian language. His Divine Comedy was the first work of literature to use vernacular Italian rather than Latin, and influenced English writes such as Chaucer.

Here is the original painting and my interpretation:








The work will be framed tomorrow for shipping on Monday. Phew!  It’s going for exhibition in a shopping mall, along with the touring set of prints.

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The Imaginative World of Janec van Veen

Here is the introduction to our audio-guide for Fabulous Beasts:

This castle is full of magical creatures. Look around and you will see them everywhere; on the arms of chairs, on fireplaces, on the feet of bookcases, on bannisters and on walls….

For this Fabulous Beasts exhibition, Janec and I have collaborated on the theme of all things animal, each in our own individual style. We hope the work will delight you, entertain you and intrigue you. Perhaps some will disturb you. Look closely and enter the world of our imaginations…

Janec’s wonderful work is like no other! Here are three examples with his audio notes to each piece:

Liobam (Ovis leo) is inspired by one of my favourite Margaret Atwood books; Oryx and Crake. In this book, set in a dystopian future, most of humankind have been wiped out, and the people that are left share the planet with strange genetically spliced hybrid animals, Liobam being one of them. Atwood writes:

“The lion-sheep splice was commissioned by the Lion Isaiahists in order to force the advent of the Peaceable Kingdom. They’d reasoned that the only way to fulfil the lion/lamb friendship prophecy without the first eating the second would be to meld the two of them together. But the result hadn’t been strictly vegetarian.”

I loved this image so much that I wanted to create a Liobam myself and this is the result. It is made from a Mouflon ram (thought to be the ancestor of all modern domesticated sheep) and a fabricated Lion’s jaw.

Liobam, in the castle hall, under a whip hanger

Playing God (Hippocampus marina)
This magical creature is creating his own creature to play with – Playing God in a way.
The phrase Playing God is attributed to the novel Frankenstein, in which the obsessed scientist digs up corpses in order to assemble a living being from body parts.

Some people say that I Play God when I splice creatures together and that it’s unnatural and disrespectful to the animals. But if an animal is dead already, how can I disrespect it?
You have to have a thick skin to be a taxidermist. Pun intended.

Whenever I finish creating a fabulous beast I also give it a latin name – one that is comprised of a mix of Latin names of two of the species included in the sculpture.
This one is particularly pleasing as hippocampus means ‘a mythical sea monster on which the sea-gods rode’ and marina means ‘of the sea.’ It fits in perfectly with this marine- themed room.

It is also interesting to note that when people began to dissect brains they found this little part inside that looked a bit like a seahorse, and called it the hippocampus. As a result we all have a mythical sea monster inside our heads.

Flight of Fancy (Rattus ulysses)

The variety of forms and colours in nature never ceases to amaze me.
Like a balloon seller this rat offers his beautiful bouquet of butterflies, and anthropomorphically, questions the nature of desire.


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Fabulous Beasts Show – Opens Today (and almost ready!)

Well we’ve finally made it – art set up yesterday at Powderham Castle, ready to open today. Janec and I are very happy with how it all looks in the stunning castle surroundings – we agree it’s actually a far better outcome than if we’d used the planned exhibition space. This way, we are able to make connections between the art and items in the castle itself.

The castle opening dates have changed yet again (very hard to keep up!)


Here are a few photos from yesterday: (Sorry I’ve not been able to to place them in a logical order)

Work arriving at the castle

Sir Timothy Tortoise in place

Fallow in the Library

Pride in the Music Room

Final touches to Pride


The beautiful Rococo staircase, said to be the finest in the UK

The Servant’s Hall/Taxidermy room

The Diva (tiger) on the landing

Castle Manager Derry putting up Bourbon in the Entrance Hall

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Splashing the Cash for Sir Timothy

So … the show will go on at the castle in August! I’m so happy and relieved after all the time and money invested in it. 

The image left was taken at the recent photo shoot. I’m holding the unframed work in front of the antique portrait  behind. This is where Sir Timothy will hang; on the beautiful Rococo staircase full of ancestral portraits.



As befits Sir Timothy’s status in life, I’ve splashed out on a hand-moulded antique-style gold frame for him. (The image (right) was taken in my garden.)

Alec the framer tells me that the real antique frames were covered with gold leaf and are worth £1000s.

There are hundreds of framed portraits in the castle. Derry, (estate manager), confirmed that many of the frames are worth more than the paintings they hold!


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Fabulous Beasts Exhibition – Back On!

Hooray! Fabulous Beasts is back on, albeit in a different format but still at Powderham Castle.

The intended exhibition space cannot be renovated in time (and we now fully understand the dilemma faced by the castle) so Janec and I will now be showing our work at various points inside the castle itself.  We met Derry (Estate Manager) on Thursday and looked at possible sites to place the work.

Janec and I both needed time to process what happened and to rethink – and we are now feeling excited again about the project. We are working to create an art trail around the castle to find the works.

The show will run from August 8 – September 30 when the castle closes.

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Marmite Finally Finished!

I think I’ve struggled more with this picture than any for a long time – eventually reverting to a background of mixed green ‘stuff’ with an occasional hint of pink/purple to echo the tongue.  The right hand side of the face has been revised a few times and (finally) I am HAPPY with him!

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Plug pulled on Exhibition at Eleventh Hour

I am so sad as I write this post:

Three days ago, I received an email from the manager of Powderham Castle with the devastating news that the Fabulous Beasts exhibition will not go ahead this year.                  I am still in a state of shock!

“We have been hit by huge delays and financial burdens on the other projects that have been underway, and I am afraid that we do not have enough time or resource to get the spaces ready for the exhibition.”

The plug has been pulled soo late in the day – we were due to open on July 25 – and we are still reeling.

Janec and I also had to make the decision to pull out of Devon Open Studios – this bombshell came on the same day that the DOS brochure was being signed off to go to print.

As our exhibition was site-specific, we have decided to postpone the show to 2022, sincerely hoping that resources will be found to renovate the exhibition rooms as planned.

Thank you all for your support.

(PS Marmite still in progress!)


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Still No Decision!

Still undecided about Marmite – the paint will be so thick by the time I’ve finished! I added the crumpled tissue background and tried a pale icy blue colour, but wasn’t happy with it. Then reverted to green but it’s still not the result I’m looking for.







In the past, I overheard a comment that my purpose in making a tissue paper background is to ‘cut corners’. This isn’t the case – it’s purely about finding the right solution for the piece.  There is a texture to the tissue that adds interest. Sometimes a solid background of plastic ‘stuff’ overwhelms the picture. And with Marmite, there are fine hairs coming from the ears that would be lost against a busy background. But the hairs are grey and rather lost against the green anyway. (I’m just thinking aloud here!!)

The white colour of the middle of the 3 images is the most accurate. Right hand image – it’s the same as the middle image but looks darker: just experimenting with a few small circuit boards to add interest??? (Probably not!) Now I’m wondering if the original lighter green version (below) worked better (Aargh!) I think I’ll just live with the piece for a few days and await inspiration!




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