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An interview with Diana Armfield RA

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Diana Armfield RA, 98, creates and discusses art with incredible insight; her perception of the rhythms and geometry within nature leads to paintings which grasp the attention of viewers and encourage intensified appreciation of the beauty surrounding us.

The National Student sat down with Armfield to chat about her life and career.

“I started with textiles from about 1949,” she tells us. “I had a partnership with one of my fellow students at the Central School… from designing the wallpapers and fabrics to printing them and having exhibitions and sending them to the V&A and so on.

Diana Armfield RA. Photo: Camille Dupont.

“I had quite a career with that.”

From textiles to painting, her art career changed direction while teaching at the Byam Shaw School of Art: “And I never looked back.”

Having started her career in textiles and wallpaper, Armfield considers the approaches of designing for wallpapers and paintings to be noticeably different, particularly because of their roles within a room.

“When you design for a wallpaper, you want people to come into the room and feel, “oh, what a lovely room,” but be concentrating on the people… so you make all of the rhythms go outwards,” she says. “With a painting, on the contrary, you want people not to notice all the people around, but just to notice your painting and be lost in it and enjoy it.”

Armfield was married to Bernard Dunstan RA for about 70 years before he sadly passed away last year. Since losing her husband, Armfield describes painting as “the great lifeline”.

“I can’t [paint] unless I’m totally engrossed, and it takes over,” she says. “And this is a great help to me to get through without him.”

Diana Armfield RA with her painting, 'Harebells on the Bank, Llwynhir'. Photo: Camille Dupont.

Throughout much of Armfield’s art is an exploration of the geometry of nature.

“I think that the geometry of natural life is what we think of as beautiful,” says Armfield, describing moments of awe in natural landscapes. “I’m very, very interested in how the natural world falls into an equilibrium of balance for that moment.

And the flowers… their rhythms absolutely work, don’t they?” she continues. “In discovering them, which is lovely, I ended up painting flowers, and of course they’re terribly tricky because they don’t stay still.”

Capturing the movement of nature is one of the aspects of Armfield’s work which is particularly mesmerising. 

As a viewer of Armfield’s paintings, it is difficult to not get caught by them. And, similarly, she says, “The creative process, I think, is to be caught by your subject.”

Diana Armfield RA's studio. Photo: Camille Dupont.

Armfield describes drawing as “absolutely fundamental,” considering the practice of art making to be largely instinctive. With cave people depicting their world and behaviours in image form, drawing is a practice deeply ingrained in human development.

“If you give a toddler a pencil and chalk, they begin to scribble,” she says. “And I think there’s a reason for this: I think the reason is that this working of the eye, mind and hand is meant to be – that you should find this translation.

“You’ve got to find your way of turning this 3-dimensional world into two dimensions on the panel.”

Armfield is concerned that this artistic skill of translating the world into image form is at risk of getting lost. “It upsets me that in the art schools and in general… [some people] are not doing that. They’re working from digital things which have already done the job.”

When talking to Armfield, her love of painting is evident as she talks with warmth about her lifelong career in art.

“I try to make contact with everybody who buys my pictures… I want to know where they’re going,” she tells us, adding with a smile, “it’s unfashionable to say so, but I love my pictures.”

 

Diana Armfield's work will be on display in Salford at the FiLia conference, UK’s biggest feminist conference on October 20th - 21st. If you're interested in attending, find out more about FiLia here and FiLiart here.

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