Artist Imogen Hawgood immortalises the nostalgic glow of British festival lighting in her new series of comforting paintings. The best part? You don’t even need to get muddy to enjoy them.

What is it that makes the lighting at festivals, funfairs and carnivals so special? Is it because they evoke fun memories of braving the rides, or do they tap into broader experiences of growing up? Either way, their unique magic is captured in the latest series of paintings by County Durham-based artist Imogen Hawgood.

It’s perhaps no surprise that Imogen has gravitated towards painting festival lights. As a child, she would frequently go to the WOMAD festival, and she has many fond memories of making weird and wonderful props in the craft tent. Curiously, though, she didn’t always consider art to be a serious career path. It wasn’t until her art foundation course that the possibility of pursuing her creativity opened up to her.

“From there, I went on to do a degree in illustration at Norwich University of the Arts, which is when I started working with paint and leaning more towards the fine art direction I am taking now,” she tells Creative Boom.

The British festivals in Imogen’s latest series of paintings are an evolution and a departure from her previous work, which saw her focus on movie theatres and iconic locations in Los Angeles. “While the muddy fields of British festivals and the wide streets of Hollywood are certainly worlds apart, my interest in both is largely to do with how they are lit,” she explains.

“Neon lettering and huge advertising signs can be found on both the Sunset Strip and at festival food markets. I love how locations change when the sun sets, and the lights flick on, and I enjoy translating this to paint.”

Festivals are a source of endless fascination for Imogen because they tie into her love of dramatic contrasts between light and dark. And to her surprise, she’s found that festivals are a great place to see this juxtaposition in action. “I didn’t intend to start painting a festival series, but after painting the first one, it became a new fascination,” she says.

“I tend to be the sort of person who becomes very fixated and interested in one thing intensely and quickly. The interest in painting festivals is no exception. After painting one, I immediately started on the next, leaving other works in progress to focus on my new fascination.”

This interest in festival lighting also dovetailed nicely into another of Imogen’s obsessions. “I’m a huge fan of Ridley Scott’s neo-noir Blade Runner, which is defined by its perpetual darkness, rain, and glowing neon-lit streets,” she reveals. “I think my love of this film has certainly impacted my choices to paint night scenes lit by neon and dramatic advertising signage.”

A childhood spent visiting festivals, funfairs and carnivals all over the country imbues these paintings with nostalgia for Imogen. And she reasons that it’s a common feeling. Surely everyone can feel comforted by the glow of funfair lighting and practically feel the reassuring warmth of the coffee whenever they see them? It’s a sensation that is somewhat uniquely British.

“I haven’t been to festivals elsewhere in the world, but in my experiences at British festivals, I think there’s a sense that regardless of the weather, which is always a gamble, people still intend to have an incredible time no matter what,” Imogen adds. “Even if your tent did flood or your wellies did fill with mud, there’s always a cup of coffee or a cold beer around the corner and a band about to play.”

Thanks to her fond memories of WOMAD, the painting from this festival has a special place in Imogen’s heart. However, last year, she went to the Latitude Festival and made a series of paintings based on the photos she took there. These are a close second in her affections and tie into her overall growth as an artist.

“My work has evolved a lot in recent years,” she says. “Most of my first paintings were of locations I had never actually seen. I would create compositions from gathered photographic references and Google Street View.

“While I love these pieces, as I think they were important in building my painting skills, I much prefer the work I do now, which is based on my real experiences and my own photos and memories. I think these pieces are richer as a result and hopefully capture a bit more authenticity.”

It’s not just her art that has evolved. Imogen has noticed how her confidence in herself has grown alongside her development as a painter. “I might not be making a full-time living as an artist yet, but I fully intend to give it my best shot,” she concludes.

“Throw in a pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis, and it’s not been easy to stay motivated. But over the last year, I’ve taken time to focus on myself, and I think this is starting to be reflected in the work I’m producing – or at least I think it is, and that’s the most important thing.”