A Date with Magic

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Into a Land of Pure Magic 

Exhibition and online auction of Paintings and Drawings by Nell Gifford 

20th – 27th February 2020

 ‘....you and I, we come from the imagination.  And this is like magic.  Because if our luck runs out, we can draw something we need and in some way, our dreams will come true.’ 

Imagining Pierrot.  Giffords Circus, The First Ten Years by Nell Gifford

Nell Gifford, co-founder and celebrated grande dame of Giffords Circus, is producing a show in a brand new format – an exhibition of her own paintings and drawings.  A collection of 60 works completed by Nell over one year will be shown at her first ever major exhibition in London in February 2020.

In 2020 Giffords Circus celebrates 20 years since its nerve-wracking start in Ross-on-Wye, borrowing chairs from a village hall and giving away free tickets in the pub.  The circus is now a resounding success with a devoted national (or country-wide?) following. Nell Gifford’s motto ‘practise every day’, essential to successful circus performances is now also pertinent to her art.  She says ‘if I don’t create something every day, I feel panicky.’

Nell follows in the footsteps of the Impressionists: the dynamism and drama of the 19th century circus was captured by painters such as Seurat, Degas, Toulouse Lautrec, and Picasso during the Golden Age of the fashionable and inventive French circus.  The Golden Age created by Nell’s circus in 21st century Britain is expressed with the boldness of a creative innovator; one that knows and loves her subject. 


Nell’s raw talent sings through the works, her natural ease with ink and watercolour, marks her out as an ‘emerging artist’, one to watch.  There is a magnetic immediacy to Nell’s watercolours of circus scenes; explosions of paint, scattered spots and specks and glowing luminous pools of coloured light immerse her nimbly depicted horses and performers. It is as though the viewer were watching a live performance.

Ink drawings of balletic stills of acrobats on horses pay homage to their balance and nerve, and silent thoughtful scenes of a figure on a horse conjure up the pre-performance steadying of nerves.  

Nell writes about her feelings on many of the works, exposing her emotional ties to the circus which has sustained her throughout the challenges of her third and fourth cycles of chemotherapy.  The direct and moving ‘Be brave’ and ‘from this day forward we face the light’ express her resilience.  ‘Keep the circus going, inside you, keep it going, don’t take anything too seriously, it’ll all work out in the end’ has an almost unbearable poignancy.

A painting with an excerpt from Dante’s Divine Comedy, and another with the title of St Augustine’s Theory of Knowledge ‘The Light of the Mind’ reflects Nell’s literary upbringing and her own love of the subject which she studied at Oxford.

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Joe Avery, an artist and illustrator who worked with Damien Hirst for seven years, has mentored Nell, encouraging her experiments with ink, watercolour and water itself, resulting in variety of figurative and abstract mark making.  Amanda Lay, an art consultant and family friend, organised Nell’s first informal show in a tent at the circus in the summer of 2018 after seeing her potential.  It was a sell-out.

The exhibition ‘Into a Land of Pure Magic’ opens on 20th February at Olympia Auctions 2020.  The online auction will open for bids one week before and close at the end of the exhibition.  Other events during the exhibition, including a charity evening 'In Conversation with Nell Gifford', will be announced in due course.

For further information about the show and if you would like to be put on the mailing list, please email puremagic@olympiaauctions.com

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