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Heaven and Hell: Artist Zheni Warner

PUBLISHED: 07:00 31 October 2020

Norwich based artist Zheni Warner with some of her work. Picture: Tony Warner

Norwich based artist Zheni Warner with some of her work. Picture: Tony Warner

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We meet Zheni Warner, who creates illuminated works of art.

Zheni Warner's painting, which is Lot 92 in the Ed Sheeran: Made in Suffolk Legacy Auction. Picture: Douglas AtfieldZheni Warner's painting, which is Lot 92 in the Ed Sheeran: Made in Suffolk Legacy Auction. Picture: Douglas Atfield

Artist Zheni Warner was born in Bulgaria. She studied at Norwich School of Art and currently lives and works in Norwich, where she has lived since 1975. Her practice brings together rich gestural painting alongside modern technology, including illuminated wire, lightboxes and neon. Zheni’s work has been exhibited at numerous international galleries and art fairs and is held in private collections in the UK, Europe, USA, South Africa and Australia. English critics have variously described them as “a concerto in colour”, “aqueous jewels” and “fluorescent, floating entablatures of scintillating colour”. Here she talks to Gina Long

What is your connection to East Anglia?

We arrived in Norwich on December 23 1975, with the baby in a carry-cot on my lap. 
It was cold, raining and the streets were deserted; and we got lost. I thought we had made a huge mistake. Next day we went for a walk by the river and it was wonderful. We have lived 
here ever since.

What is your East Anglian heaven?

The light.

What is your East Anglian hell?

The strength of the biting north-east wind in winter.

What’s your favourite East Anglian restaurant?

French’s chippie in Wells. My husband’s from Grimsby and could eat fish every day. French’s looks out over the seafront to that wonderful view of the harbour and the salt flats beyond.

What’s your favourite way to spend an East Anglian evening?

A tasty meal at the table by candle-light with Art Pepper playing in the background and a nice glass of French wine in front of me.

What’s your favourite East Anglian landmark?

The war memorial outside Elveden on the A11. When we see that, we know we are home.

What’s the best thing that happens in East Anglia every year?

I’m going to cheat on this one and choose two. One is the Norwich and Norfolk Festival, which over the years has expanded from classical music to embrace music of all sorts, visual arts and theatre. So much choice you want to go to everything. The other is the Hostry Festival at the cathedral. On a much smaller scale, but I have wonderful memories of Branford Marsalis playing solo saxophone in this beautiful space.

What your specialist Mastermind subject?

I’m a generalist; there’s nothing about which I know everything.

What is always in your fridge?

Yoghurt, of course. The basis for so much Bulgarian cuisine. I’d be lost without it. And feta (preferably from Bulgaria).

What’s your simple philosophy of life?

Be kind to everyone and everything.

What’s your favourite film?

And God Created Woman, Bardot at her sexiest best.

What was your first job?

Before I could apply to the art academy in Sofia I had to work for a year. My father found me a job with the local authority’s hygiene department translating technical documents from German into Bulgarian. The industrial estate was ugly and run-down. I was indescribably unhappy.

What is your most treasured possession?

My contact lenses. Without them, I can’t paint.

Who do you admire most?

My lovely husband, the author Tony Warner.

What is your biggest indulgence?

Gardening. It sustains me.

What do you like about yourself most?

The ability to get on with everybody.

What’s your worst character trait?

Stressing over anything and everything so easily.

Where is your favourite holiday destination?

Collioure, on the French/Spanish border, where Henri Matisse created his greatest paintings. It sits round a small bay, with the church tower lapped by the sea. That sea, which is a thousand colours and the light changes every minute. C’est une rêve!

Best day of your life?

When Tony planted the first kiss on my lips.

What’s your favourite breakfast?

Home-baked multi-grain bread, with home-made butter and honey from our own bees.

What’s your favourite tipple?

Puligny-Montrachet. Completely orgasmic.

What’s your hidden talent?

Classical drawing. No-one expects this of an abstract painter. My mother was an excellent exponent and passed her skills on to me.

When were you most embarrassed?

Having to ask Lord Norman Foster to give our son a job. I wouldn’t have done it for myself, but you do anything for your children. (And he gave him one!)

What’s your earliest memory?

Sitting at my grandmother’s table, making pretty patterns from her immense collection of old buttons.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

‘Me, Myself, I’ by Billie Holliday. Good to have a love song at a funeral to cheer everybody up and tell them how good love and life can be.

Tell us something people don’t know about you?

How insecure I am.

What’s the worst thing anyone has ever said to you?

When I was told at art school, that as a wife and mother I would never succeed as a professional artist. They got it all completely wrong!

Tell us why you live here and nowhere else.

East Anglia is about space, movement and light. It all goes into my work.

What do you want to tell our readers about most?

How happy I’ve been with my family, which has given me a rock-solid base, allowing me to paint and express myself in so many ways and as much as I had ever wished. Without my family, I feel I would no longer exist. I have also proudly donated a painting to Ed Sheeran: Made in Suffolk Legacy Auction (Lot 92). The work that this vision depicts is twofold: ‘Seeking and Seeing’ and is oils and mixed media with Plexiglas dome, please visit: www.edsheeranmadeinsuffolklegacyauction.com 
For further details contact www.zheni.co.uk/

If you are living in Suffolk or Norfolk and have an interesting story to tell please email 
gina@hallfarmfornham.com 
or follow Twitter: @geewizzgee1 
Instagram: ginageelong


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