Sonia Villiers: Looking for the human element in art
Sonia Villiers is a widely-known and well-established artist who, among other things, paints scenes of Cambridgeshire and Essex using acrylic, oil, watercolour and collage.
Last year, Sonia, who originally hails from Bristol, won the Mayor’s Choice Award at the inaugural Invitational Cambridge Art Awards. She has staged more than 100 exhibitions across East Anglia and her work can be seen in more than 25 galleries and shops across the UK.
Sonia tells the Cambridge Independent that she has had “a lot more commissions this year than normal” adding: “I don’t know if it’s to do with Covid, but I normally get about four or five a year and this year I’ve had more than 20. I’m just trying to work my way through all these commissions, which is great.”
The resident of Hadstock – nine miles from Cambridge – says that a lot of people have been asking for “house portraits”, as well as scenic pictures of nearby Linton and Saffron Walden.
In March last year, making use of her educational background, Sonia helped to make scrubs for the NHS. “I did a degree in fashion design at Middlesex,” she says, “and was a fashion designer for 10 years. I had my own shop in Bloomsbury making wedding dresses and ball gowns, and one of my friends from art college was making scrubs in Haslemere.”
Inspired to do the same, Sonia put together a team of “about 30 local women who like sewing” and received around £1,700 in donations to buy the material. They then distributed the the scrubs to Royal Papworth, the Rosie, Addenbrooke’s, the NHS trust, local care homes, Saffron Walden Community Hospital and also to individual doctors and nurses.
“That was a major operation – it was great fun,” says Sonia. “It kept me very busy.”
Sonia is a regular contributor to Cambridge Open Studios – and is also on the committee for it – and took part in last year’s incarnation: Cambridge Open Windows. She set up a marquee in her garden and displayed some of her work.
“We’ve had an overwhelming response of participants,” says Sonia of this year’s Open Studios. “We’ve got 291 participants, which is extremely good considering... We have around 500 members so 291 is a good number.”
The organisers are not sure exactly what form this year’s event will take, although social distancing will be observed. “I’ll be exhibiting in Linton village hall with five other artists,” says Sonia, who notes that when it comes to painting, she’s more drawn to the “human element”.
Cambridge Open Studios is scheduled to take place on the first four weekends of July, from 11am to 6pm. The five other artists with whom Sonia will be exhibiting are Justine Jarman, Hannah Rae, Donna Goymer, Georgina Burton and Denise Brandreth.
Sonia also teaches art to adults, children and young professionals (at the moment she’s doing it via Zoom), and currently has work on display at the Cambridge Drawing Society’s first ever online exhibition which started on Monday, April 12 and runs until May 23.
Another project with which she has been involved is the painting of a bollard in Saffron Walden. “Saffron Walden Tourist Information Centre asked me to paint the first bollard in the Market Square, which I did in August 2020,” says Sonia.
“Museum Street in March is a painting I did about 10 years ago. I dedicated it to Richard Pennington who bought the original painting. He lived in Saffron Walden and died from Covid-19 last spring.”
Sonia notes that the Cambridge art community is quite close knit. “We may be busy working away on our own,” she says, “but we all know each other.”