Nathan rings sounding very happy. They have spent time every day exploring the area or picnic-ing on the beach or in the little Victorian shelter at the end of their road. There is also a theatre and he tells us about seeing men working on an enormous barge in the harbour which is going to be an art centre and how it reminded him of the Stanley Spence paintings of shipbuilders on the Clyde from the early 40s. An amazing memory as they were in an exhibition I took him and Henrietta to see in 1980, a Spencer retrospective at the RA when they were very young. He also remembered the delivery of a painting which will have been to the Portal Gallery and I think it was on that occasion that Eric Lister invited them both to do a painting of a pig for their Christmas exhibition.
Beautiful tulips arrive from Tammy and Sandra.
Today is Good Friday and I remember how it felt painting the crucifixion in the form of a Rood for St Michael and All Angels.
Working intensely on the commission.
I’m looking at what is another commission - for Bishops Cleeve Parish Council as their gift to Councillor Perry who I have known since we were children I used to go to tea at their house after school before we went to St Johns Ambulance Brigade and then afterwards whilst waiting for my bus, home to Stoke Orchard. Val has worked valiantly in the community, cooking Friday lunches at St Michael’s Hall for senior citizens and making endless preserves to sell on the church’s behalf. As a councillor she set up a youth council and a young persons’ award, was responsible for the new tall stone cross on the war memorial and the delightful planters scattered around the village She is going to move to Wales to be near her daughter. They have offered to pay me for creating a work especially for her and I have said that I would like the payment to be divided in two halves between the National Star College and LINC.
Exquisite hand-drawn and coloured card of a glass bowl full of spring flowers from Henrietta. A bit later a knock at the door when a magnificent hand-tied bouquet arrives. It’s from Tom and Linda Fowler in California. I am most touched.
In the afternoon I decide to start on the kingfisher having mulled over the idea for a week or two. Again I’m being bold, working spontaneously with a large hogs hair brush. I’m doing this in the downstairs studio/workshop which Richard so valiantly cleared and reorganised earlier this year. It’s a nice space to work in and he needs to be kept separate from the paintings. When Richard returns from the studio over the road he comments that he thinks the idea works well.
Stay up rather late putting the finishing touches on the painting in memory of Jarig for Marion. He was a professor at Erasmus University in Rotterdam and Chief Economist at the Authority for Consumer and Markets when he retired in 2019. Before that he had all kinds of functions with the central government. He was very much involved in the economic debate in the Netherlands but also on a European level. But he was a great music enthusiast too so I have tried to reflect all this in the painting.
Whilst I’m again working on the kingfisher, Richard comes into the studio to say that Marion has just written in reply to the photograph; she writes “…what a beautiful painting. I am really touched by it - beautiful colours too…” So I feel very happy.
In the evening after our walk, Henrietta Kev and the boys Facetime us as we are judging their decorated egg competition. I’m so pleased she is still managing to do that with them though think she has to offer a handsome prize. They have often been here for Easter Sunday so it is a treat we would have missed out on though they are coming next Sunday on their way down to Devon for some al fresco dining.
Continue working on the atmospheric smaller painting that I had started before recommencing on the commission.
Working out ideas for the painting to celebrate the achievements of Councillor Val Perry. I struggle about making starts on two smaller panels and frames but I don’t feel that either of them would be quite right for her although Richard thinks that both ideas would make good small paintings. So early evening make a new start on a slightly bigger frame and vertical. I’m being bold again and going in a different direction; it feels more comfortable and I know I’m just going to have to trust that my instinct and intuition will help the rest of it fall into place. I guess it’s third time lucky as 1 have I think made a good start with the composition beginning to emerge. So I’m feeling much happier.
Continue on Val’s painting as well as some finishing off on the sides top and bottom of Marion’s commission
Most of the news today is focussed on the life of Prince Philip who sadly died this morning. He and the Queen were married for seventy three years. there has been a great outpouring of affection for him which I’m sure would have pleased him as he often seemed to get into trouble for his wry sense of humour which was perhaps not always politically correct but rather endearing.
I make good progress on the kingfisher and about 10pm I start a new painting for the exhibition. I love doing the works for charity but it does make it harder to get exhibitions together and they can be rather limiting as of course I probably wouldn’t have chosen to be working on a large fibreglass bird. But I’m particularly pleased to do so as both the National Star and Art Shape have groups of students working on the even larger version and this was my proviso for undertaking one myself - it is so important to enable charities to have new public projects.
Working on the kingfisher as tomorrow when Henrietta, Kev and the boys arrive we’ll stand it on the table in our socially distanced eating space to get their reaction.
Richard has done a brilliant job reorganising the store rooms in my studio across the lane so that one is able to have a bed in it for the boys. He’s managed to make it look great hanging the walls with paintings or artworks that had been taking up floor space etc. He’s otherwise busily engaged with producing some baroque interiors for a film that Nathan is the production designer on . Today Henrietta Kev Samuel and Jai are going to visit Nathan and Clémentine in their new beautiful Victorian house in Ramsgate. They enjoy a delightful lunch there before all going for a walk along the coast ad into Ramsgate.
I’m just coming back from the studio having put just a few finishing touches to the bedrooms etc as I cross the Lane I can hear voices and there standing before me as I enter the gate are Isaac and Samuel who’ve both grown considerably in the six months since we last saw them. They both smile when I comment on this and say how handsome they look, giving me a beautiful bunch of tulips. They are really pleased with the new room and Samuel comes back from the studio with Henrietta and tells Isaac “We’ve got a proper bed!” as last time they’d stayed there we had put a mattress on the floor in one of the downstairs rooms which although it sufficed wasn’t ideal. They are both taken with the old wooden armchair over which we have put a black furry throw and a black and white Habitat cushion with a pug dog’s head (called Willis) on in which they both sat in individually as they entered the room. It’s all in black and white, the duvet, the rug and the little metal table again from Habitat.
Before the meal there’s an Easter Egg Hunt for the boys in the garden. I think they find every one which is great fun.
Richard cooks on the barbecue; tuna steaks for us and Henrietta and steak Portuguese for Isaac and Kev and fish cakes for Samuel all with a delicious fresh salsa and small jacket potatoes.
The boys are teasing Henrietta and asking what she has learned new during lockdown and she demonstrates beautifully two yoga positions one standing on one leg and the other called the crow where she balances on her hands and lifts both legs in the air which of course neither of them can do!
After Henrietta and Kev have been for a run we have brunch then it’s time for them to set off for Devon where Kev’s parents have booked them a caravan on the same site as Kev’s sister and her family will be staying. They themselves have had to book a cottage as they have been told they can’t use their holiday apartment there because it has communal areas. We wave them goodbye at one.
Later in the afternoon UPS come to collect the commission to go to Holland. I spend the rest of the day working on the kingfisher whilst Richard is drawing in pen and ink on the baroque interior for a film set.
Thomas and Jaye come to repair the broken fence post and cut back the ivy from the top of the gable end of the house. They have done a really good job and managed to squash all the ivy into two of the large green garden bags.
Today I’m working on the newest of the smaller works for my exhibition and the large octagonal seascape also for the show.
I hear a truck pull up outside and then voices shortly before Richard comes up whilst I’m doing my exercises. It’s the small painting I’ve recently bought back at auction - one of the two first paintings the Portal Gallery exhibited and sold and the first where I had continued the painting over the frame.
Richard cycles over the Racecourse into Cheltenham. It’s a nice sunny morning so he enjoys the ride and of course is very pleased to have his second Pfiizer jab. Interestingly he brings home a little flyer that was on his seat at the Fire Station a Cheltenham Rotary vaccine appeal which says “we are so lucky to be receiving our Covid-19 vaccines in record time free of charge and in a safe and secure location. But of course most of the people of the world are not so fortunate. Please consider donating the cost of your vaccine. This project will support GAVI/COVAX in providing Covid-19 vaccines to countries where cost is an issue. £6 pays for two Astra Zenica vaccines £15 will pay for one Pfizer vaccine and 30 pays for 10 A/Z or two Pfizer or an amount of your choice. For information and donate option on www.cheltenhamrotary.org.uk or send a cheque payable to Cheltenham Rotary Club 57 Albert Road Cheltenham GL52 2RV
Concentrate on one of the large paintings for the exhibition today.
I’m working on the side of the frame of the almost 6 foot square canvas. It’s surprising how much area this involves. Also on a wider framed smaller painting.
Postcards arrive from the RWA that they made of two of my paintings in the current exhibition that has just opened to the public for pre booking only though its run will be relatively short as they close on 9th May
Continuing on the other side of the 6 foot frame today, adding painted objects to the front of the smaller wider frame. Richard’s been cutting back the last of the old wisteria.
It’s such a joy sitting out in the sunshine to have my brunch surrounded by all the beautiful tulips that Richard planted last autumn,. It’s fascinating to see the varieties, the deep plums, pinks and yellows of the more traditional tulips then there are a multitude of beautiful bright red that open up in the sunshine to reveal their vibrant yellow centres. The Bergenia (Elephants ears) that originally came from my Mum’s garden are still in bloom and have been for several weeks and exciting clumps of rhubarb beginning to look quite sculptural amongst the forget-me-nots. and even my potted wallflowers of three years ago are giving a very generous splash of colour.
Giving talk today particularly about ‘Death by Plastic’ to visually impaired visitors to the Royal West of England Academy. The work was created out of my anxiety for the plight of the Planet and in particular the oceans with regard to the thousands of tons of plastic that are found in it each year to the detriment of all the living creatures and micro organisms within it. Fish and seabirds are often found asfixiated by this toxic matter. Not only the more obvious larger plastic items like straws and carrier bags and packaging etc but the nano particles that are used in many of the substances we use in cosmetics and toiletries. So the compunction to make this work had been in my mind for many years during which time I have been accumulating plastic ephemera such as toys from Christmas crackers, kinder eggs and similar; pieces of plastic string and other material from packaging etc. The main structure of the crucifix is made out of old plastic drain piping, the narrower length being inserted for the arms through the vertical which is fitted (stands) into an upturned plastic bucket. Then a gradual build up using torn carrier bags, squashed plastic flower pots, layer over layer ready to accommodate the myriad of tiny toys and plastic ephemera, my accumulation of years. What seemed amazing to me was the detail and colour in these really rather exquisite little objects, each wound on by thin plastic threads. It also included slightly large objects like sunglasses, plastic tops from containers. For me it formed a plastic poetry fascinating to look at but lethal to ingest. Then came the addition of some of the now defunct sea life that is at risk. These often quite ancient pieces of taxidermy sometimes made redundant by museums or collectors like the carp on the front, the trigger fish at the top and the flying fish that is spread eagled like a crucifixion across the arms in the centre. It ends up being a gloriously covered object that I hope will entice children and others to identify the tiny objects like Winnie the Pooh and Piglet, various little cars, minute skateboards and other plastic trivia. It is a dilemma of our age that plastic, this miraculously versatile material that appears everywhere from operating theatres to kitchen utensils is perhaps brilliant for us but can be disastrous for wildlife.
A lovely group, really perceptive questions and observations. It’s such a privilege to get their insights. The challenge is to try to describe something well enough for them to be able to conjure up a picture in their minds. A real joy to speak to them and encouraging to get feedback on this particular piece.
Today concentrate intently on the commission for the Parish Council which seems to be fortuetus as, whilst Richard is painting one of the tall painted trellis gates that he made to the front of the house, one of the councillors delivers a flyer lobbying for the forthcoming local elections in May and he mentions the painting to Richard and says how they are all looking forward to seeing it. So it is very good that he is able to say that I am working on it at this moment.
Nice e mail from Niki Whitfield the Art Co-ordinator for Cheltenham Open Studios asking if I might, as their Patron, be able to give a speech at their launch at Chapel Arts on 23rd September. Also if I might have anything to exhibit with them there and a smaller (30 x 30 cm) work in their COS exhibition at the Gardens Gallery in June. It’s so good that there is some hope now that events might take place. Over 33 million people have now had a Covid-19 vaccination and many of these will have had their second too which is brilliant.
Feeling rather disappointed that UPS have still not delivered the commission that arrived in Holland over a week ago and for a second time are asking for a commercial invoice which is rather inept as we enclosed three copies in with the document wallet on top of the box and also sent another via e mail at their request last week. I’ve got a horrible feeling that this is somehow to do with Brexit as the same thing happened with the painting that went to Estonia earlier this year
As we sit in the garden writing this Richard points out where he has planted Cosmos seeds between the tulips - many others are germinating in trays by the french windows in my studio. He tells me he is about to germinate the aquilegia seeds which will go into the fridge in their trays for three weeks. He has also been popping in and out to kneed the loaf and prove it, finally putting it in the oven. The alarm on his phone will go off shortly to let us know it will be cooked. I watch the pale ring collared dove fly from the bird bath to a branch on the Bramley just above my head. I’m out here absorbing vitamin D while I eat my brunch.
Apart from working on the PC commission, at about midnight I suddenly direct my energies to the side of the frame on the large ‘Captain’s Table’, deciding to paint a figure down the right edge with one hand and arm reaching out onto the canvas.
Richard is excited to show me that the Royal West of England Academy have used a photograph of my ‘Death by Plastic’ sculpture at the entrance to the main gallery which is now open to the public again. He also shows me an image of ‘La Prunelle de mes Yeux’ that they purchased in the 1990’s as one of the University of Bristol’s MA art history students has very subtly animated it. So gently that it’s almost as if they are breathing. Part of the curatorial course they do based on the permanent collection at the RWA. Because the students can’t organise a physical exhibition this year they are doing a project on Instagram.
I’d recently received a card from Anne Davis and family bearing the sad news that Jeremy her husband had had passed away earlier in April. It had a lovely photograph of them both on the front. I have strong memories of Jeremy sitting in the Gardens Gallery in 2006 when I hired it for a charity exhibition and auction in aid of the National Star College. Jeremy had come whilst Richard and I were hanging it, to get a good look at the works beforehand. It was a very pleasant experience as we chatted about each as we hung them and many wonderful artists had donated pieces including Anthony Gormley, Eileen Cooper, Quentin Blake, Ken Howard and many more. It was the Ken Howard that he ended up with and another work too. He and Anne have always been great supporters and have several of my paintings too. How fortunate we have been to have such lovely friends.
Today decide to work out the left hand side of the frame of ‘The Captain’s Table’ It’s surprising what large proportion of the painting is taken up with the frame. Have done this with another figure whose arm and hand go onto the canvas; it necessitates changes to the figure sitting at the table who is in close proximity to that arm. This is one of the reasons I work in tinted gesso so that I can work over parts of the painting I want to make changes to which is a normal part of te procedure for me. I also do more work to the sea on the large octagonal then after midnight transfer my energies to the small commission for the Parish Council which is nearly there but particularly need to work on the outer edges of the frame.
Calls from both Nathan and Henrietta today. Nathan and Clementine on their way back to London for work from Ramsgate where he went cold water swimming in the sea on Saturday and surfing this morning. They also had dinner in their garden last night using a wood burning stove. Then whilst we were on our walk a call from Henrietta. They have all had a lovely weekend too; Isaac has been out doing tricks on his scooter and did very well at school in is English exam, getting 90%. Samuel’s been very happy too and has played football every day. They are so pleased to be back at school although it does mean very early mornings as they catch a bus early and have to leave the house at not long after 7.
I spend my time working on ‘The Captain’s Table’ continuing the changes and adding but after dinner transferring to the small commission for the PC.
Richard has been busy in the garden today, digging and sowing seeds of larkspur and camomile
So relieved that Marion’s painting has at last been delivered to her in The Netherlands. Richard sends her a high resolution image of the painting in memory of Jarig as she is going to have it photo etched onto glass set into his gravestone.
Continue on ‘The Captain’s Table’ then transfer to the PC commission.
Richard’s very excited as his yellow courgette seeds have germinated and sprouted leaves and he thinks some of the purple carrots are coming through too which is all quite rapid.
R takes a call from James at Cotswold National Landscape re the Kingfisher which I need to have completed so it can be collected before he goes away on the 10th
Still sunny so able to have my brunch and vitamin D in the garden.
Then it’s back on the PC commission and the hexagonal Sea Shanty. I had hoped to do time on the kingfisher but that will have to be tomorrow now.
I e mail Councillor Andy to send him a photograph of the commission.bBack on ‘The Captain’s Table’ still on the two sides of the frame.
E mail from Councillor Andy who says thank you very much and how seeing the painting has made him realise how much they will miss councillor Val Perry when she moves to Wales.
Work into the feathers on the kingfisher as I need to finish and have it varnished by the 8th.
Towards the evening work standing on the small stool painting a row of heads across the frame of the six foot canvas as well as the smaller hexagonal Sea Shanty.
During the evening paint further into The Candle, one of the smaller painting for the exhibition.
Add two new elements to the kingfisher which suggested themselves to me today. This is why I can never predict what a work is going to look like beforehand as the canvas or subject often makes its own suggestions to me.
Then a little more work on The Foundling; it’s important to keep the excitement of each work going and not be too overshadowed by whatever currently seems to be taking centre stage.