Families in the Artists Open Houses – The Ruffells

Any story about Artists Open Houses wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the Ruffells.  Fran Slade, Colin Ruffell and their daughter, Shyama have been enthusiastic participants of both the Fiveways and now, Seven Dials trails for years.  Fran and Colin were one of five or six of Open Houses originals.  They were welcoming hosts for over 28 years at their home in Fiveways.   Eighteen years ago they gave Shyama a room to show her work and since then – every spring and most Christmas’, the Ruffells have been a highlight of the event.


Shyama says her parents would run the spring festival and she would take over Christmas. Shyama’s early childhood was spent in the country side before the family moved to Brighton.  Her parents had a shared studio and some of her earliest memories are of her as a small child, standing chin height at her Dad’s table watching him mixing colours.  “Probably a bit dangerous now that I think of it, because he used pigments.”  She laughs.  Her childhood was right out of the pages of Swallows and Amazons.  She and her brother were let outside to play and roam the countryside with friends.  She remembers endless summers playing in meadows and lying down and looking up at the flowers and trees above her. Memories that inform her work to this day.

Shyama’s house is full of art and collectibles; including some great mid-century pieces from her boyfriend’s shop,  Pop Cycle in Rottiningdean.  “My friend’s make fun of me because a lot of our things have price tags on them ready to go to the shop.  And there are odd pieces like this old Santa display piece and the French Coke sign.” Above one of these pieces (a teak sideboard) is one of Shyama’s butterflies.  A beautiful large one on a purple background.  Shyama points our a small original painting of her mother’s on the fireplace mantel:  a small butterfly.  – mother’s original piece carries ruffellwallon in her own work.  In the kitchen, above the cooker are two of her father’s works.  Are there any influences on each other’s work? “The art work is similar by nature of the fact that we all paint and use mostly the same format. For example, acrylic on canvas or board. But our subject matters are all different. The colours I use are more like the colours my Mum uses but if I do any abstract work the shapes look similar to my Dad’s.  Someone once commented that my work was a mixture of my parents work….Yes, I think we do influence each other.” Shyama would show with her parents at Artists Open Houses until they retired their house a few years ago.  They have not stopped creating, but she is now the host.  I likened it to the children taking on making Christmas dinner—- “I’m doing that too!” she laughs. Called “Across the Line”  Shyama alternates Open House host duties with Kate Strachan at 10 Highdown Rd just north of the rail line, thus the name.   They always get creative at Christmas time with art installations in the garden and fantastic window displays.  Last year presents were flying through the front window greeting visitors! Wandering through Shyama’s house you can see it’s filled with art and family.  A great gallery wall lines the upstairs with children’s’  work opposite Mum’s and Grandparents’ and friends’.  The wall going up is normally full of new works that Shyama ‘lives with for a while” until they are considered finished, but that wall is empty just now as the pieces are just now at Graham Hunter Gallery in London. Coming from having started in workabovestove copyher art life at her Dads’ work table, she now has a wonderful new studio in her garden and Shyama takes me to it proudly!  I am jealous.

Big windows, old doors, filled with paint and art and paper butterflies.  Her old work space was in the house where she overlooked the garden.  Now she is in it.  Rather like when she was a child lying in the meadows looking up at the wild-flowers.






instagram Shyama Ruffell

Post by Anne-Marie Olczak