I’m realising more and more how big the altarpiece is and how much time it needs. I’m still adding to the three main figures. The surface is actually very thirsty, not dissimilar to a wall in its flatness and stability, unlike canvas which gives to each brushstroke. Then of course there will the images I need to paint on the reverse of the two side panels for when it’s closed during Lent. Not to mention the large predella with its many front facets so that there could be four different scenarios one for each of the seasons.
Good long day in the studio thanks to Richard who has driven up to meet the boys from school so that Henrietta and Kev could attend the funeral service of Kev’s aunt Avril, his Mum’s sister, who sadly died last week. He’s taken my Mum with him so that she can see the boys and Henrietta and Kev briefly on their return.
Walk round to my Mum’s whilst Richard drives her, to see the decorators who have now completed the work they were doing and pay them. Interestingly its a mother and daughter team who for part of the time had a third person too.
We do some deeper research into the saints particularly looking at attributions as of course the painting needs to look pictorially good but everything within it really needs to hold a meaning too, both in its own right and in relationship to the whole composition. Richard comes over with me in the early hours to discuss and on our return to the house we see the most exquisite large white moth which alights on R’s cream coloured linen jacket. Hard as we try to stop it, it makes its way into the porch. I think it might appear in the altarpiece. I don’t know what its called but I felt it should be angel moth.
Good day and evening in the studio where I’m still working in silence apart from the occasional noises that drift in from outside - at night sometimes the movements of a fox.
Today painted in two new elements, a skull sitting on a book. The light’s good so doesn’t need any help from my fluorescents until later.
My Mum goes back home in the afternoon after we have sat in the garden together for an hour or so.
We were at twoﾠseparate Cheltenham Music Festival events, one at the other side of the county at Owlpen's exquisite little church Holy Cross organised by a lovely friend Sir Nicky Mander with Bruno Procopio the Brazilian harpsichordist and Jennifer Morsches who is an American piccolo cello player. They were celebrating the anniversary of CPE Bach b 1714 and Rameau d 1764. It was aﾠdelightful recital in the most beautiful little churchﾠwhich is in the grounds of Owlpen Manor so we wereﾠinvited for drinks by Karin (Lady Mander) who later took us on a tour of the house as Bruno had said to her that he could not sleep in the four poster bed inﾠthe room that they had given him as the bed was too hard which Karin thought was a little rude until he explained that he had seen the ghost of a little girl who is one of three who haunt the Manor. But he didn't get thatﾠsensation in any of the other rooms that weﾠwent into and are thought to be haunted.
This made us rather late for supper with Graham and Eileen Lockwood.They invited us to that and then a recital by the brilliant young classical guitarist Milos Karadaglic as a thank you for the leaflet/guide Richard illustrated for the Holst Museum and the seven small paintings I made for them that are currently on exhibition there and will be auctioned in aid of the Holst Birthplace Museum.ﾠWhen we arrive I think they have just finished their two course meal but Graham says we have ten minutes to catch up before we leave. So Richard serves me some mackerel, salmon and coleslaw and I add a few cherry tomatoes which I had no sooner finished than R brought a bowl with fresh strawberries. After this very quick catch up we all set out for the Pump Rooms which is just across the road in Pittville Park. We had seen Milos here the year before last and have watched his meteoric rise - even presenting the BBC Young Musician of the Year. The Pump Room is packed and one can feel the anticipation when Milos, who was only born in ’83, dressed all in black walks through the auditorium onto the stage. As Richard points out, as soon as he begins to play, one can tell that he is hugely gifted. It’s a brilliant performance and wonderful evening spent in the company of Graham, Eileen and their party which included drinks under the portico at the interval and meeting Milos afterwards. Edward, who is now chairman of the Music Festival also joins us in the bar.
Back in the studio with the altarpiece. Today I’m doing much taking away or eradicating in the centre panel to simplify the composition and see where it leads.
Lovely e mail from Michael Greenwald in Pennsylvania.
Add three tiny figures on horseback in the far distance through the right hand door on the central panel. I’ve also painted a completely different scenario in the far background through the arch on the centre panel. These sort of changes always happen when I’m creating a new piece which is why I would find it impossible to predict exactly what was going to happen before I commence making it. Things nag away at me if they’re not right until I change them. Sometimes its a rapid response and I wipe the paint back off but other times I need to let it linger there to see how it fits in with furthering the whole composition. Work until 2am.
Working on the red robe in the right hand panel until its time to go up to the Star College. The art room looks wonderful with students’ work beautifully mounted, framed and presented. Based on Turkish tulips after their visit to Turkey, they are vibrant and exciting. I meet Dom, a lovely young man who had suffered a terrible brain injury and Paul tells me he had been “all over the place” in the rest of the College, unable to concentrate but when he worked in the art room he came out of his wheelchair and stood in the walking frame looking directly down onto the piece he was creating for an hour at a time. It is fabulous, a blue sponged background with the tulips in yellow and red. He has created a wonderful texture using a fork, capturing the quality of the tulips creating a striped almost 3D texture. Each student seems to have worked in a different way so that although the subject matter is the same, the end results are very different. One girl has used Turkish text as part of the overall composition; another boy Joss has printed his. They have also used the tulip theme on their ceramic pieces which are also very beautiful. The photography’s really good too, one in particular seems to have digitally incorporated different layers of imagery. There is also some exquisite felt work by the Art Factory which Paul tells me the visually impaired student love to pick up and feel the texture of.
We then make our way outside to watch the first part of the performances, a dance. Gill Henry tells me that these dancers will also be filmed live in the dance studio doing ariel dancing in harnesses which when we see it is amazing and as Gill describes, totally liberating for students who would not normally be able to move with such freedom.
we move into the theatre where I am sitting between Gill and Kate when Kathryn the principal comes up for a hug and to say hello, which is good as I’ve brought the envelope with the cheque for £1,000 with which I’m sponsoring her to dance in Strictly Come Dancing Gloucestershire for the national Star College. I ask her how she’s getting on and she tells me that she and her partner are going to be jiving in dark glasses and a hat so no one can see who she is. Kathryn is doing particularly well as she broke her ankle last year. I would like to have taken part when they invited me to earlier last year but I knew that with so many rehearsals it would not be possible with trying to get the altarpiece painted for St Michael & All Angels. But I did promise at the time that I would sponsor Kathryn who is a wonderful person earning an Outstanding from Ofsted not just for the College but personally too and was awarded an OBE in the New Year Honours.
Another of the films is based on the project they did with the Ramos Theatre Group where they made masks which they wear during the filming; its hilariously funny and would be worthy of a television series I think. A lot of the dancing is done with Gloucestershire Dance Company and a series of short films and a very witty film called the Last Post. The thing that really comes across is the sheer joy with which the students perform, its very infectious and really is always a highlight of my year. The finale is a play called Alice that was especially written for them working in conjunction with the Everyman Theatre. Again its fascinating, wonderfully humorous especially the student who plays the Cheshire Cat so brilliantly with a large orange tail poking up from the back of his wheelchair. The Queen of Hearts and the whole cast of players were students with Alice being the only professional actress.
After the performance chat to Xenon, a student who was very good and very funny acting in the Last Post and also is in the OrcheStar. He tells me that next year he will be living at the Foundation in Gloucester. A charming young man. Also Poppy a delightful student form Pembroke whose Mum tells me that she will be going to live at the Foundation in Gloucester too. A lovely woman with rainbow hair who is accompanied by a very nice man who is from the Council that allocated Poppy’s funding. He says that the National Star College really gives good value for money.
Then its back home for a prawn omelette before doing to another couple of hours in the studio.
Spend time catching up on diary. Its Daphne’s birthday so after doing a little more to St Michael we go into Cheltenham to the Spice Lodge to meet Daphne and Michael for the birthday celebration. Two of the guests have already arrived, Nick who we later find out had had a stroke but you wouldn’t have known it as he’d obviously responded well to the therapy although does tell us he gets much tireder as everything takes more effort than it used to, particularly with speaking and Andrea who is a carer. Interestingly Daphne says its also a thank you as all the people are connected to carers in some way. The other couple and their daughter came back from Australia to look after her father.
Manage to do another couple of hours in the studio after we’re back.
Have been adding colour to St Michael’s arms which has now extended to his wings, which helps to balance the composition and colour spectrum. Add more tonal detail on the little commission for Australia.
Work on the altarpiece in the afternoon adding colour to the angels’ sashes and wings, then more to the little shepherd in the evening.
Paint candles in a triangular alcoves, two in the central panel and one each to the two side panels and do some strengthening to the doors. Then more to the little shepherd.
Intensifying the colour and composition.
spend the evening re-viewing all the entries for the Design a Star for the Star Awards. Its fascinating to see the different sorts of entries from different schools, from land art through to collage, drawing, ceramics, painting, stencilling and print. Its an incredibly difficult task as they range in age from nursery through infants, juniors, secondary and Star College and there are some wonderfully fascinating ideas and stories within them . Quite a lot of youngsters had incorporated poetic slogans and morals. The really exciting news is that they are all going to be exhibited in the Beechwood Arcade in September.
Hear from Lea Butcher the brilliant news that the Aston Project has won the Howard League’s award coming first in the Police Diversion young people’s category which was awarded by the Princess Royal. Lea went with their Patron Ruth Fitzjohn to collect the award.
Up early to get ready to go to the National Star College for its Awards Ceremony, a very moving occasion where the mainly leavers receive their awards. Watched by lots of parents too sharing the joy, pride and sometimes tears at leaving behind the friends they have made amongst their fellow students and the staff, who are so dedicated and caring. My photograph award has now turned into the newly titled ‘Capturing Art Award’ and this year I have the great pleasure of presenting it to a young man who when he started attending art sessions was shy and lacking in confidence and unable to maintain eye contact or express his feelings and needs. But over the two years that he has been attending the art department he has really opened up and is now able to make comment on his fellow students’ work, praising and supporting his peers. He’s also displayed a cheeky sense of humour and shown great focus and concentration wen learning new skills and techniques to apply to his work. Like his final piece exhibited in the Expressive Arts Week and the CAPA Showcase, which was based on Turkish tulips, he has really blossomed. His name is Joss Wheeler, and he has a further six months to go at the College.
Its a glorious occasion after which we go to their Sprint department so that I can sign the large giclee and smaller prints for the schools that have entered the Design a Star for the Star competition which was based upon the big star I made for them earlier this year.
Work intensely on the top facet of the predella and also on the little shepherd commission whilst Richard goes to collect Isaac and Samuel who are coming to stay for the weekend. They arrive back about 9pm. Its wonderful to see them both and we have a lively game of cricket in the garden. I’m amazed at how well they both hit the ball now.
There was another terrific storm through the night and its still raining in the morning with distant thunder and lightning. The boys insist on playing cricket in the pouring rain so are very wet when they come in and have to change. They have fun sitting on Nightmare and Daydream my two horses! in between other activities
Richard sets out with the boys at about 2.30 when I go back to the studio and work for an hour on the little shepherd and then summon up the courage to start on the predella front panel which R has taken out for me so that I can work on it at the easel. Spend the first couple of hours trying out different ideas for the Last Supper - whether to show back views with the disciples sitting both sides of the table but decide that because it is a wide panel that it looks more pleasing with them all sitting on the far side of the table apart from the two at either end of it. R gets back at about 8.
Lovely phone call from Nathan who’s been working with the Royal Shakespeare Company making a film that will be projected onto the stage during the performance of Webster’s The White Devil one of the goriest of the Jacobean Tragedies.
Work into the early hours on the front panel of the predella and Richard fixes on the small circular painting to the top of the centre apex.
Richard and I walk down to St Michael’s to meet Ross and Jacqui to advise them on how best to display a J Eadie Reid panel that is going to be removed from the pulpit and look at the other work that is being done in the chancel. It is all looking beautiful and Jacqui asks my advice on the two colours she has selected for the new visitors room/vestry. They then come back to have a look at the altarpiece and their reaction is very encouraging.
Text message from Revd Malc asking if he can phone me this afternoon to arrange coming to see to altarpiece, which he does and arrives at four with Tim the joiner and Nigel the churchwarden. I couldn’t have asked for a better reaction; Malc says ‘Wow’ and likes the fact that it is all inclusive.
Walk down to St Michael’s Hall to meet Jacqui to help choose the colour schemes of the paint. We then pop over to St Michael’s to see if Peter the architect is there but he isn’t. But take a look at the stained glass window where Nigel had said BV Mary is wearing a red robe and blue cloak. When we come out through the little priest’s door we bump into Anne Paul and another friend and they enquire about the altarpiece and are surprised when I tell them its well underway. Invite them to come and have a look. I’m really thrilled as again they say Wow! at which I’m most touched and delighted. Anne used to be churchwarden as did her lovely husband Robin who sadly died 24 years ago but was a stonemason by profession as is their son. She volunteers their lorry for transportation.
Work a lot more into the little shepherd painting as well as some to the multitude on the triptych.
Diane comes down from London with her driver Graham. I am fascinated to hear over lunch that she owns the Marriage painting. She’s very nice and chats about the course she is doing with the V&A. We then go and look in the studio. She had travelled extensively in the Middle East and is very intiugued and interested in “Al’dy’dryhah”. She’s also very taken with the little shepherd painting but I explain that it was a commission and is going to Australia. She really likes the two corrugated works too.
After they leave I change into my painting clothes and do a little more on the triptych until Bob Sims arrives as I’d invited him specially to come and have a look at the altarpiece. His reaction is so moving and he’s perhaps more able that the other few who have seen it so far, to put in context with the rest of my work.
Today we are throwing a family party to celebrate my Mum’s 92nd birthday which was on Thursday. Richard’s been busy preparing a magnificent spread as well as a very beautiful birthday cake. My cousin Lyn and her husband Gerry and little grandson Connor arrive first (from Milton Keynes). I’m very touched when Connor asks if he can keep the kaleidoscope I’d shown him. My sister Gill arrives next (from near Bedford) bringing two huge bouquets, one for us and one for my Mum. We walk up the Lane to meet my Mum as she progresses along pushing her shopping trolly and wearing a new blouse that we had given her but not the pink trousers. She’s wonderful for 92. I’m just putting a cloth on the large circular table when two boys come bouncing up the path - its Isaac and Samuel who immediately bond with Connor who joins in all their games of cricket and football even though he’s two years younger than Samuel. Its lovely to see Henrietta and Kev who have driven all the way down from Greenwich, particularly as they had given a dinner party last night so hadn’t gone to bed until 3. And just as I’d greeted them my cousin Rita appeared. She and Raymond (who used to play the double bass in the Squadronaires) have come the furthest, all the way from Suffolk. It’s a beautiful afternoon with the boys all playing cricket or football whilst we all sit in the garden watching and eating. Kev& Henrietta also takes the three boys to the park. People start to leave at about 7 after a visit to the studio to see the altarpiece etc at Gerry’s request. Henrietta and Kev stay on for a while - he has a nap - while we all have some more of the delicious food that Richard has made. Henrietta particularly likes the bulgar wheat salad with pomegranate seeds, feta cheese, spring onions, mint and parsley. When the boys are in the pyjamas they depart too and I go into the studio and work a little more into the little shepherd painting.
Working in the studio - a little more to the little shepherd which I have entitled “On a Night Such as this” then back to the triptych in the evening I decide to start looking at the back of the two doors that will be shown through Lent when they close off the front. Start mixing up and trying out colours on Them. I want to make it darker and more sombre on the reverse which in turn throws up the problem of trying to make it compatible with the predella framework though the painted panel in the predella can be changed throughout the seasons.
Having tried out two particular colours on the reverse of the doors I decide against them and mix up a colour somewhere between burnt sienna, burnt umber and raw sienna, recalling those wonderful hues that we saw much of last year in Italy. I fairly quickly block in a large kneeling figure in the right hand panel and also try one just slightly smaller scale and higher up in the left hand panel. After some deliberation work further into the figure on the right where I am almost filling the space, certainly at the bottom, with the kneeling figure. its only once I start to paint this umberish colour around them that I decide to continue with him, so paint out the left hand figure and continue the colour across both doors. Then to the sky where I’m dipping my brush both into the deep turquoise I have mixed and a pale raw sienna. So by the time Richard comes to collect me at about quarter to two I have just managed by standing tip toe on my stool to reach the top point. I have to say that I feel rather pleased at now having covered the whole of the reverse side in its preliminary colour!
Now the real problem comes of how I’m going to situate three sleeping apostles out of the view of the large kneeling figure. I spend most of the day and all the evening trying to position and make convincing the three very much smaller figures, all asleep.
Unexpected visit by Tim the joiner who had brought the architect Peter Gilbert Scott who have both been working on the re-ordering of St Michael’s chancel; they had come to see the altarpiece in progress because Tim will be building a new altar in limed oak which will use architectural elements from the painting. After a little more work on The top sides and bottom of the frame of the Australian commission ‘On A Night Such As This” I recommence on the newly started reverse of the triptych doors. Have already tried painting the angel in two different positions and sizes but neither one feels right so I create a third, this time much bigger, kneeling and with a lot more movement and am happy with this so I paint out the other two. I have arranged over the next three days to allow members of the Parochial Church Council to come to visit the studio between 3 and 7 pm, so stay up working on it until 4am trying to make the back look rather more finished than three days work!