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Let the colours work their own magic

Brian Viner meets an artist who uses tissue and paint to make us see buildings with fresh eyes

Juli-Anne Coward grew up in one of the loveliest parts of Britain, in the village of Staveley between Kendal and Windermere, an area which for centuries has inspired artists to commit hills and lakes, sheep and trees, to canvas. So what did Coward, now aged 42, do with such an abundance of glorious countryside? She started painting buildings.

A shimmering tarn or dingly dell is not her cup of tea at all, not when there’s a house or church or even a factory to paint, and her distinctively bold style is rapidly acquiring a wide following.

She dates her passion for the perpendicular back to a homework project at the age of seven. Eschewing all the natural beauty of the Lake District, she chose to paint the rooftops visible from her parents’ bedroom window. "It was the lines that attracted me," she says now, and lines have been attracting her ever since, although her paintings owe as much to the imagination as to photographic precision. Her trademark, apart from her subject matter, is her dramatic use of colour. A building that appears overwhelmingly brown to the rest of us, is in Coward’s eyes full of reds, blues, pinks, purples. Her skies are never blue, or grey, but kaleidoscopic, to striking effect. "I let the colours bleed into one another," she explains. "I let them work their own magic."

2Last year, her painting of Bristol Cathedral was used to illustrate the cathedral’s official Christmas card, and new commissions fill her diary. Is there any kind of building that she refuses to paint, either because she cannot or will not? "I haven't yet been asked to do a nuclear power station," she says. "And if I were I’d probably say no."

She lives now in Herefordshire, another county full of natural beauty, yet in artistic terms she only has eyes for the man-made. Even when she starts out trying to paint something else, the lines tend to lead her back to her first love. "I recently tried to paint some antique furniture," she says, "but it ended up as a medieval Spanish tenement."

Juli-Anne Coward can be contacted on juli-annecoward@sky.com. Commissions start from around £300