After graduating from the Polytechnic of Central London, Ffiona Lewis qualified as an architect in 1990. However, a growing dissatisfaction with this career choice led her to take a series of courses at Central St Martins, before finding work in the props department at the National Theatre. Once she had made the decision to become an artist, Lewis met John Wells, who introduced her to the luminaries of St Ives, including Patrick Heron and Terry Frost. In 1996, her work was featured alongside Sandra Blow, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham and Martin Lanyon, among others, as part of Marion Whybrow's Another View: Art in St Ives. In 1999, Lewis had her first exhibition at the Redfern Gallery, where she has shown regularly ever since. Lewis' paintings have also been selected for several important open exhibitions, such as the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, The Sunday Times Watercolour Competition, and the Discerning Eye, held at the Mall Galleries. At the 2011 staging of the latter, a landscape was selected by Brian Sewell, and her painting of an empty pot was awarded the East Anglia regional prize.
Her pictures often take inspiration from the coasts of Suffolk and Cornwall, with scenes that are stripped of people but nonetheless allude to a human presence. The art critic Andrew Lambirth has said of her work that “Lewis has tended to paint the evidence that people leave behind, or their trace in the landscape rather than the people themselves”. Her paintings are typical for their bold, dynamic strokes, with Lewis using a palette knife to both add and remove layers of paint. The boards on which she paints, and the scarification of their surfaces, are distinctly personal touches that avoid the fussiness and prettiness that could detract from the painting itself. As such, Lewis prefers to paint on timber panels, which are subjected to a lengthy layering treatment using gesso, primers, grounds and textured mediums. Her work is painstaking - having seen her subject once, it is then refined through sketchbook drawings, mock-ups and what she calls ‘contact sheets’ (sometimes using embroidered patterns as a trial), until it becomes concentrated into one final piece. Her years as an architect can be seen in the geometric designs that seem to almost unconsciously underpin her work, an element that is softened by the blur of colour across the image, dragged across in scratched indentations. Much of her work achieves a fine balance between figuration and abstraction. Lewis has said of her practice that “smallness, localness, emptiness is what I love”, and this is reflected in her paintings, particularly of barren coastlines, punctuated only by a breaking wave, or a lighthouse, or the flight of a lone bird. A series of paintings of such scenes, completed in 2011, are in the Parliamentary Art Collection. Her work has been included in a number of museum exhibitions, such as Capture the Castle at Southampton City Art Gallery (2017), and The Art of the Tree, at St Barbe Museum & Art Gallery (2016). Most recently, a solo exhibition was staged at Snape Maltings in 2018, funded by Arts Council England.
Ffiona Lewis is represented by the Redfern Gallery