My huge roll 25 metres long x 7 foot high canvas arrives still in its original Indian fabric tube from Cornelissen’s today. In another long package some 2 inch thick exhibition grade 6 x 6 foot stretchers and cross bars plus another two boxes of silvered tin tacks for holding the canvas on as Richard stretches them. He is determined I should want for nothing!
Perhaps as a reward, yet another box arrives from the Royal Horticultural Society. When Richard opens it he discovers two hellebores plus two ferns and a thornless climbing blackberry along with several packets of borlotti, broad and runner beans with other vegetable and flower seeds that were all part of my birthday present to him.
Unbeknown to us John delivered a new frame early afternoon and left it in the porch with a lovely note saying “love and best wishes from the frame fairy, socially distanced of course” and a little drawing of the frame fairy. So when we go for our walk we do it in reverse so that we can drop off a thank you card and a little box of marzipan fruits. John is actually there so we chat from a distance for twenty minutes or so. Then as we reach the village we meet Edward (Lord Lieutenant) such a joy to see him as it’s now just over a year since he and his lovely wife Alyson came to supper in early January. He says he thinks he and Alyson had the Coronavirus early on. He’s performing most of his duties via Zoom and is very happy doing so and also spends quite a lot of time hoeing in his front garden so that he can chat to the other villagers as they walk by even though the garden doesn’t really need more hoeing. But he’s such a kind and social person it will be his way of giving people conversation and keeping his hand on the pulse.
Then it’s back home to the studio to work on the large canvas.
Today we pick up a tray of fifteen primulas, a cowslip and a saxafrage from Arnold’s our wonderful semi-outdoor green grocer that has remained open throughout the pandemic. Dear Joyce, who is there every day come rain or shine who runs it with her two sons must be in her eighties.
We’ve just got back when we meet Lucy and Andrew, our neighbours from just down the lane. I enquire how her mother and stepfather are, as they have moved up from the south coast, Torquay I think. They point in the direction of their new home which seems to be up past the top of the Lane somewhere; then she says they are in Pine Bank and I comment that we used to live there and enquire which number so we are amazed when they reply 15 which means they are living in our old house. It seems they have turned the extension that used to be my studio into a downstairs bathroom. Interestingly we also knew the woman who bought it from us, who was a teacher.
Nathan sends images of the back lot at the film studios in Bulgaria where he’s working, as well as yesterday one of his splendid set in progress. There is a beautiful black Labrador retriever standing on part of it who reminds me of Prince the dog my parents had at the time that I was a young art student. I’d stayed up working n the kitchen on an old easel my father had got for me on a project we’d been set to be in the next day. Prince also slept in the kitchen so in the morning my parents were very distressed when they had to tell me that he’s ripped it into small pieces which I then had to stick together on the back to take into the art school. The dog ate my homework sit.
Amy from Art Shape sends the first of the works for the project/competition I set up for the students. Very exciting as this one is digital so has short piece of film and voice over. Harriet is going to bring work by other students to leave on the long table in my studio on Friday afternoon.
Harriet from Art Shape arrives with all the works for the competition/project I set for their students. I’m blown away by the first she carries in, a reclaimed and recycled old table which has been beautifully scored and painted with a scenario that is probably a self-portrait but then she lays out more and more on the tables we have provided for the purpose. Some of them are the actual works and others are print outs of photographs the students have taken of their pieces. There is an exquisite little stitched and embroidered piece, an agonising one which incorporates a tape measure and red paint and also seems to be, as I suggested, a journey into herself and the constant battle to try to lose weight. Another of a beautiful goose and other birds by a woman who has recently been diagnosed as autistic. The diagnosis has apparently helped her greatly to understand more about herself. Several are collages using as in one particular instance bits and pieces that have been left over from other art works. But each and every one has fascinating insights, merit and flair. I’m going to find this incredibly hard to judge over the weekend.
E mail from Maureen saying that Joel really loves his painting they have given him for his special birthday.
Put a top coat of removable varnish on the octagonal commission; always a job I do not enjoy doing as one has to work very fast and be very aware of drips etc. I try to paint it on in the different directions and areas of the composition. I often don’t do it but as this one is going to the USA and has a large central flat area I felt as if I should. I always used to use a coat of Matt medium which meant if the painting ever needed it I could rework or touch up.
We go into the studio after our walk so that I can make my final deliberations on the entries for the competition I set when I gave my Zoom talk to the Art Shape students on 4th February
E-mail from Yoshio.
It’s International Women’s Day today so it seems rather appropriate to be able to give Harriet the amazing project manager at Art Shape, the envelopes with the prize money for five of the Art Shape students on their Arts Emergent course when she collect the work. I have also highly commended another seven for the high standard and originality of the the work submitted. I give Harriet a little pot of primulas as a tiny token of gratitude on International Woman’s Day.
Later I do a Facebook, twitter and Instagram in praise of Dr Gill Rouse director and co-founder of LINC
I’m just getting ready for bed when Richard rushes in clasping the laptop and exclaiming “exciting news!” as it seems that a meteorite seen as a fiery ball hurrying across the sky must have disintegrated over Winchcombe, our small neighbouring town about three miles away and a diligent family discovered small pieces of it on their drive. Wonderfully observant of them, they reported it to the Natural History Museum who sent experts down to collect and analyse and asked them in the meantime to carefully pick it up with foil so as to not contaminate it and put it in a plastic bag. This is ideally done within twelve hours so it isn’t polluted.
Richard had a telephone appointment with his doctor after a blood test last week he thinks he’d like to examine him tomorrow.
I’m still working on the big canvas and a couple of smaller pieces.
My sister Gill wrote this evening saying that she had just been watching Mastermind on television when my name came up as the wrong answer!!
R goes down for his appointment early . His doctor’s in full PPE with visor mask, gloves and gown ad gives him a very thorough examination. The blood test was clear but he checks the lymph nodes under his arms and in his groin and these all appear to be OK but what he did discover is a small hole hernia so he has put him on the list. I’m so pleased when he calls out that it’s all OK, particularly as he hasn’t had a review with his consultant at the hospital since September. All the family are greatly relieved. He finishes the last four illustrations for Martin’s educational poetry book whilst I am doing a tiny painting for Clémentine’s birthday. Richard has a made a box to send this and her other presents.
We discovered last night that Richard had missed the butterfly from his collection so he’s already drawn, photographed and sent them to Simon the book designer and Martin the poet by the time I come down after doing my exercises.
UPS come and collect Clem’s parcel. Nathan is in Bulgaria filming but will be home quarantining with her for her birthday on Saturday!
Hear from the shippers who are coming to collect Tom’s commission for which they will have made a wooden crate, to fly it to California where he is hoping it will arrive by the 2nd of April so they can show it off at their Easter party.
Busy in the studio working on a largish canvas that I’d made a tenuous start on in May or June.
So sad as on the news it was announced this morning the human remains that police had found are of Sarah Everard the beautiful young woman who had disappeared whilst walking home just over a week ago. One can only imagine the sheer anguish and pain that her family must be going through. How tragic that all the joy that she has given them has been so abruptly stopped. It is every parent’s nightmare.
I receive a parcel from Henrietta for Mother’s Day.
In the studio I’m making some radical changes. After starting a new smaller work last night it’s given me the courage to make new and radical changes to a larger composition.
I’m just about to do my exercises when Richard brings up a most exquisite floral arrangement in beautiful purples and mauves; from the huge hydrangea to the delicate paler mauve clematis and roses. They have a delightful perfume and with the dark green eucalyptus leaves the arrangement somehow feels classical and timeless even though it is very of now. They are from Nathan. I have already put on the lovely almost artist or fisherman striped top from Henrietta and the boys and opened the touchingly tender card from Henrietta drawn by her own hand of mother and child zebras. I recommence my exercises when Richard appears again with another large box of flowers. When he opens it for me we discover a multitude of blushing pink tulips still to open which is also from Henrietta, Kev and the boys. I’m so touched to be thought of in this affectionate way way and feel very blessed to have such a wonderful family.
Call from Rick Rumrell from St Augustine, Florida. He’s reminding me that he would like me to do a painting to go on the cover of his second book - he has a Rembrandt on the first. I think it’s a latter day version of the prodigal son story. He’s been telling me about it for several years and I think the first one is soon to be published
Alban Shipping come to collect the octagonal commission for Tom in California.
Recommence work on the big canvas that has been in my studio since last summer with only a few tentative marks. But I approach in a broader way with a bigger hogs hair brush forcing myself to be bold so that I have something to react with or against. It spurs me on and with the relief that the commission has set off on its long journey to California I feel somewhat energised even though I do still have two smaller commissions to contemplate and create. I’m taking this freer period as an opportunity to build momentum for the exhibition I have coming up at Panter & Hall towards the end of September.
Working on the large canvas which when I turn to see the even bigger - six foot - one on the other side of my studio, doesn’t seem to be as large. This is 52 x 40 inches. I continue to be bold painting shapes and forms over the central area of the canvas as yesterday’s had all been at the top.
Nice e mail from Mark at Trinity House that one of my paintings is coming up for auction which he was thinking of bidding on but realises as it is an early one that it is probably of my children. so though I would like to know. It is in fact the first painting I ever sold through the Portal Gallery in London, who I continued to show with until 1994. I’d gone up to London with a friend and fellow artist who had shown there and they took the two paintings I’d taken and put this up in the exhibition they currently had showing. I didn’t go back for a couple of years by which time they had forgotten the paintings but luckily I’d taken small transparencies of them and as I went home on the train with a cheque for £50 in my pocket for the sale of the two, I thought I’d arrived!
The frame was an old one I’d found in a junk shop and it was just intuition to take the painting over it as I could never find anything that felt compatible with the paintings, it always made them feel cut off at the edges or too grand if they were gold or silver.
Beginning to build momentum on this canvas; as it starts to evolve the studio begins to look more exciting with something positive happening on each of the five easels.
Continue on the same today. Am trying to resolve both the composition and the colours and feel I’ve made considerable progress by the early hours.
The young Irish jockey Rachael Blackmore has already won six races at this year’s Chletenham Festival and now has her eye on the Gold Cup. She obviously has an affinity with the horses she rides, perhaps an understanding helped by her degree in equine science. But then Irish trainers also seem to be exceeding the others by far as most of the winners have been trained there.
Lovely text from Clementine showing Nathan unlocking the door to their beautiful new Victorian house with its balcony and sea views. He rings later and takes us on a Face Time tour of it. Their happiness and delight is infectious. It has very much been an on-off journey with mortgages agreed then cancelled because he works abroad a lot but at New Year he thought it was very doubtful it was going to happen but lo and behold it has and we are delighted to share in their overwhelming happiness.
Nice e mail from Caroline, the editor of Topiarius who has written books on the subject and allotment and for several years was a gardening correspondent on The Guardian, saying that my painting and words takes up the whole of the ‘Out of the Box’ page. I’m really touched and pleased as it is such a beautiful magazine.
Richard starts a new illustration (of a cuttlefish) for Martin’s book as Simon, the designer had let Martin know there were an extra two pages so he had written another poem for the educational poetry book on Invertebrates.
Working on a small hexagon with quite a heavy frame as a seascape. Think it might be a sea shanty.
Trying to build momentum in my studio on the works for the exhibition although I have still got two outstanding commissions - and …..
…..the large fibreglass three foot high kingfisher arrives in an enormous box. Richard’s placed him on one of the tables in the downstairs workshop that he has recently cleared and reorganised to make it more useable. The other long table is full of frames and small canvases that he has been stretching sanding and priming so that I have a big variety to choose from for the exhibition.
R sends off his photograph of the cuttlefish drawings which means he has now done a hundred and forty pen ink and wash illustrations for this project over the past three months.
Nathan and Clem phone as they are on their way back to Ramsgate followed by a big van full of furniture for their beautiful new home.
Go over to see Richard who has been reorganising two of the store rooms in my studio. So the second is now completely clear as one of the things that happens when you don’t see the walls for the mounds of packaging, rolls of bubble etc. is that you don’t notice the superficial cracks in the plaster or the dinginess of the paint. By contrast the floor which hasn’t really been walked on for twenty years, looks beautiful still. We then walk round the gardens of both the studio and the house. The glorious sunshine illuminates all the beautiful aconites, crocus, tulips and daffodils that Richard planted in the Autumn and all the wonderful renewal too of many other plants and trees. As we go we pick up dead wood that has blown down from them. It’s wonderful to be taken by surprise by colourful clusters that have just come into bloom.
I’m working away on a large octagonal seascape but noticed when I returned to it from the bathroom that it is lit up by the sun streaming through my circular window so look at a new frame and panel that I had put on another easel earlier, having tentatively painted a fairly atmospheric background a few days ago and spontaneously roughly paint in the idea it suggests to me; I have to grasp these thoughts or wisps of images as they occur.
Start work on the commission that is to go to Holland. I’ve had the frame and panel ready primed by Richard for some weeks and I’ve now made some good progress towards the exhibition I feel I can start this for Marion in memory of her husband who was a Professor of Economics at the Erasmus university Rotterdam as well as an economist who worked with the government and the European parliament. I had been wondering quite how I was going to tackle it but once I looked at her reference material it began to fall into place. He also loved music so that gives me scope too.
Richard’s been reading articles in the new Cotswold Life which came through our letterbox today when suddenly he gives out a yelp and said Look! and turns the magazine to face me and I am also taken aback and surprised by a large, two thirds of a page image of myself working at the easel with the headline underneath ‘Kingfisher Trail Takes Flight’. I had forgotten that they were receiving coverage in the March/April edition. There are photographs of Ed Swarez who I have met and Imogen Harvey Lewis who I haven’t, talking about their plans for kingfishers and on the following page Andrew Davies, the street artist who founded the Cheltenham Paint Festival. I am particularly excited by it as a group of National Star College students will be working on one of the five foot high kingfishers which I know will be stunning as will the Art Shape’s students’ too. I have already mixed pots of paint for mine yesterday which are standing on the table in the ground floor workshop.
When I’m working in the upper studio Richard calls out to see if I’ve seen the e mail from Tom in California. He’s so pleased - his large octagonal commission has arrived in good time and says it far exceeds his expectations. He doesn’t drink or take drugs but feels he’s on Cloud 9 since receiving the painting, which makes me very happy.
This afternoon I went for my second Covid-19 vaccination, almost two weeks ahead of schedule. They are really doing superbly well with the programme; the medics and volunteers all working in harmony with the many patients. How fortunate we are that the brilliant minds of scientists, chemists and medics have come up with not only these miraculous vaccines but also treatments using very cost effective steroids etc that are cutting deaths from Covid-19 across the world by a third.
Another lovely e mail from Dr Margus in Moscow who tells me that he stands in front of the bear and angel painting both in the morning and evening and it always puts a smile on his face. We had been discussing Covid and he says it’s pretty bad in Estonia particularly in the Russian speaking population but that it’s hard to tell what the situation is in Moscow. They will be going back to Estonia for their second vaccination toward the end of April. I tell him how worried I am about France where the numbers prepared to take the vaccine have now fallen to 20% and when Henrietta rings in the evening she tells me that her friend Katrina who lives and teaches in Paris, has been to the Alps and meeting up with friends throughout their curfew period. Whereas in other countries like New Zealand where their wonderfully effective female prime minister said you have to go in “hard and fast” and their numbers of cases and deaths are remarkably low.
The new commission that I’ve been working on seems to be falling into place remarkably well. so this evening I worked on two of the larger pieces for the London exhibition.
I’m back on the commission which is to go to Holland.
E mail from Kingfisher trail re photographs in progress on the newly delivered fibreglass kingfishers. I am fortunate in having my own resident photographer in Richard so won’t need to make extra work for the official photographer. Although I’ve mixed the paint I haven’t started work on it yet as I’m still working on a smaller commission that is to go to Holland and want to make as much progress on this as I can before being distracted by other commitments.
Very nice e mail from Masako Ono curator of the Morohashi Museum of Modern Art, who Yoshio had introduced earlier in the month. She was giving me a brief introduction to their summer exhibition that she is curating with the title ‘Stepping Out - Trajectory of Life’ in reference to my work ‘Stepping Out (in my shoes)’ In addition to this and ‘Metamorphoses’ the exhibition will include many of my works and surrealist works from the Museum’s collection. The aim is to refer to the ever changing trajectory of human life, culture and art. This is very exciting as they also have de Chirico, Ernst, Magritte, Miro, Dali etc. She’s going to let me know when they have a rough design of the poster and merchandise on which they are using Stepping Out - this is so exciting and I feel very privileged.
Royalty statement from Bridgeman Art Library; exciting to see that my painting of Henrietta and Nathan has been reproduced in the Italian paper La Republicca. Also statement from the Artists Resale Rights
My sister Gill arrives at one o’clock bearing a beautiful tray of pale blue grape hyacinths that she has grown and were the second part of Richard’s birthday present. They are a variety of Muscari called ‘Baby’s Breath’. Also a delightful hanging basket as our Easter present. Such a joy to see her again; she has driven all the way down from the village of Blunham in Bedfordshir. We eat Richard’s fish pie in the little marque followed by his walnut cookies.