2021 January -
I’m relieved when I see the big red Parcel Force van and its driver, a lady with a large red pony tail and baseball cap, come to collect the large parcel for Henrietta’s birthday from the porch, especially as we’re sending it on the 24 hour next day delivery band. It always gets worrying when I can still see the parcel awaiting collection and the clock is ticking away into the afternoon.
Glance at e mails and see the Fresh Art Fair is postponing ( it’s already postponed once ) to April 2021 and one from the RWA who are advertising their hosting of the ‘Death of Chatterton’ borrowed from Tate Britain, painted in 1856 by Henry Wallis. Chatterton was the Bristol born poet who took his own life at the age of 17 by drinking arsenic after he’d ripped up much of his literary work into small fragments which in the painting he still holds some of in his hand. Such an exquisite painting that has a very ethereal feel; the whiteness of Chatterton’s skin against the redness of his hair against the open white shirt and white stockings and the blue of his knee-length breeches help create the most evocative and poetic composition. The light that illuminates the figure comes from a central window, one pane open to release his spirit from the small darkened garret that he had rented in London. He’s thought to have been an influence and inspiration on the Romantic poets Shelley, Wordsworth and Keats. Interestingly the artist who painted this pre-Raphaelite composition in 1856 was Henry Wallis and it created a sensation when it was exhibited that year at the Royal Academy and was described by the Victorian art critic as “faultless and wonderful”. I think it may well inspire a new generation in the Bristol region.
Henrietta’s birthday and usually we would drive up to London to spend it with them but this year, because of Covid-19 we see each other on Skype (as developed in Estonia). It’s so good as they are with Nathan and Clementine who have come over to celebrate it with them and it takes me a moment or two to realise they are in our studio next door as they are having building work done. It’s such a joy to be able to see them in this way and they show me the magnificent birthday cake Kev had bought for Henrietta - mango and raspberry. And when she opened our presnets, including the big Art Book with its shocking pink cover and orange lettering, they decided it matched the cake!
Clem sends me a text photograph of Nathan in his wet suit carrying his surf board as he’s just about to go onto the beach at Ramsgate where they are looking at two or three houses this afternoon, details of which he’d sent us yesterday evening.
On their way back he phones to say they have put an offer on a very beautiful house that even has a sea view and balcony.
Working in the studio on some of the miniatures for my charity event in aid of the National Star College, Linc and the Friends of The Wilson which will be on the weekend of the 5th and 6th of December.
Nathan phones on his way from London to do a reccy in Birmingham.
Working on all fronts in the studio.
Maxine and Brian come at 3.30 to collect ‘Noah’s Child’ from the studio
so good to see them albeit from a distance looking well and happy and obviously enjoying their new home.
Richard has now cut boards for and stuck canvas on three octagonal panels and given them several coats of gesso before putting them into the frames, which now occupy three of the easels in my studio and although I’d made a tentative start on one of them consisting of only a few marks in terracotta paint, today I decide to further those few lines having mixed up large amounts of colours in jars and over the last three or four days and contemplated ideas over the last three or four weeks so that I can work spontaneously and rapidly on the first for the Californian commissioner.
R collects a large number of frames for miniatures from Sam the framer in Southam. They’ve made them really quickly as we only ordered them seven days ago. So I now have the challenge to see how many I might manage to complete before 1st December when some of them will be online and the 5th and 6th December when we’re hoping to hold the Mulled Wine, Mince Pies & Miniatures weekend although it may well be that we will need to space people so that there are only ever two or three in the studio and a similar number in the garden eating their warm mince pies and drinking their warm mulled wine. Though if the regulations don’t permit that we will post miniatures to their new owners in good time to arrive before Christmas.
Feeling good as the Californian commission is making better progress than I’d thought at this stage. It’s always good to have a new challenge and this particular one is the octagonal shape.
Yesterday Richard noticed that another painting, the large ‘Passé, Présent, Futur’ has gone from the gallery’s website, which is what happens when one has gone to a new home. They seem to be doing very well as this is the third in the past couple of weeks.
Also very elated as Nathan and Clementine have had their offer on the most beautiful house on the coast accepted. We are so excited for them. They have both been working very hard and I know how happy this will make them.
Continuing on the Californian commission; it’s exciting working out ways to incorporate ideas I have in my mind’s eye. But in a small break after our walk and before tea, I continue with a miniature I started yesterday.
Lovely e mail in the early hours from Ren enquiring if I would still be doing my charity miniatures this year to which of course I will answer “Yes!”.
Jane comes early afternoon with a generous bunch of spinach, chard and beetroots which she has grown and will be wonderful for the beetroot, apple, ginger and lime juice that Richard makes for me each day. Also some broccoli for Richard to plant.
The Covid-19 virus figures are looking pretty grim and even though various parts of northern England, Scotland and Wales have lockdowns, semi-lockdowns or more restrictions, the numbers are still doubling at a rapid rate.
Henrietta phones me through her mask on the bus travelling back from Goldsmiths where she now works as a lecturer. She started there at an extremely difficult time when so many of the meetings, lectures and seminars are online and because it’s a brand new job that is supposed to be two and a half days a week it is actually encompassing almost all her time seven days a week. She was working until midnight the other night when she realised the only thing she’d eaten all day was a cereal bar in the morning. But she loves it on a day like today when she goes in and where she’s actually working with the students and colleagues - today they were looking at clay. As soon as she gets off the bus and home she has to start work again. Thus for the last two weeks my telephone calls are from the bus ride home.
My sister Gill phones in the evening to say she thinks under what seem to be becoming ever more difficult conditions, she and Ian will not plan to be with us at Christmas as they will probably need to stay safe at home. Though she says she might, if regulations permit, do a circular car journey to deliver presents.
Continuing on the commission for the USA which is beginning to take shape.
Today I’ve been working on one of my more experimental 3D pieces; these aren’t made with a view to selling but are very good for not only stretching one’s creativity and imagination but also to speak of my anxiety for the crisis of the planet and our oceans. I’m working on this in my studio across the Lane as because of its size it requires more space to turn it.
Also finishing off the painting that I started about three months ago with the RWA in mind.
Mark from Trinity House comes to collect two paintings for the gallery. Whilst we are chatting he tells us that “Passé, Présent, Futur” was purchased by a lawyer from Peru.
Working hard to finish the works for the RWA
R delivers the works to the RWA in Bristol during the allocated time slot between 2 and 3pm. It is very well organised as he was the only person there which was perfect. When he gets back he calls up to the studio to tell me that they have just sent an e mail requesting to reproduce the two paintings I had submitted, on postcards. I’m rather touched as they are only making fifteen (all by Academicians) and two of them are mine.
Richard and I are preparing for a visit from Henrietta, Kev and the boys on Sunday. They will all stay in my studio across the Lane but eat here with us. And as the forecast says there is 35% chance of rain we decide that we can’t rely on the marquee. But I have ordered a pull-up perspex-type screen that stands 2 x 1.5 metres. We have decided we can divide the room that looks onto the garden in two as we can have both sets of french windows open but I hadn’t had chance to try it out and had hoped if it was good to be able to order another couple - but the time has run out. So have to think how we can improvise. Remembering that we have two very large gold frames that John has given to us when they became redundant, R and I discuss covering them with thick cellophane that he wraps print in and he suggests that he could staple it within the rebate and that it would then look particularly good from the gold side, which he does very successfully.
He also put four new bamboo legs onto a trestle table top we had and brings the other one from my studio so that the screen and the frame sit between the two tables. We cover them both with matching cloths and it looks perfect. But I’m still just a little worried as there is a gap of a couple of feet at our near end so R ties a transparent plastic cord between the screen and the wall on which he hangs more cellophane. It looks so perfect that it just feels like a permanent extension of the screen but so clear that I have to stand a small table with a couple of vases of flowers on so nobody walks through it.
Henrietta, Kev and the boys were setting out after Samuel’s football match and he’s very pleased as they won 4-1 and he scored one of the goals and helped make another. Kev drops Henrietta and Samuel here at about 5.30 and goes back to collect Isaac who they had dropped off at the indoor skate park near Stroud. It’s so good to see them although of course it always feels strange not to be able to hug them. Henrietta looks as beautiful as ever and Samuel looks adorable. We sit and chatter either side of the transparent room division by which Henrietta is very impressed and says that if we hadn’t been artists we could have been inventors. Of course necessity IS the mother of invention. We discuss Samuel’s football match and his escapades during the first week of half term and Henrietta’s new job at which she’s working so very hard. This is a most difficult era for teachers and lecturers as it is so much harder having to do the majority of it online. Kev and Isaac arrive and R starts to cook on the barbeque outside it’s rather wonderful as he can pass the meals through the open french windows and shutters as he plates them up.He does remarkably well as he’s doing it single handed and some of the elements need cooking on the Aga at the other end of the house. The grilled tuna is the best I’ve had, having been marinated in lime, oil and rice vinegar. The boys have steak Portuguese. It’s such a lovely evening although a trifle chill even with the heating on and the two new ‘outside’ heaters in the two halves of the room. The boys are pleased to wrap themselves in the two throws I put on their side and we all had our coats on too. But of course good ventilation is all important.
We meet up for breakfast at our separate tables and then they are off to Devon where Kev’s parents have a holiday apartment although this time Henrietta, Kev and the boys are staying in a chalet that his parents have booked for them, on the same holiday park as his sister and family are staying. They arrive in Devon in time for the boys to swim in the pool and we go back to work, me in the studio and Richard in the garden, doing some big cutting back of the Kifsgate rambling rose.
I’m working both on the Californian commission and the miniatures.
The miniatures are now fourteen in number although most of them still need more work.
Invited to take part in a Zoom meeting for the Cotswold Landscape (they were the Cotswold AONB) to advise on artists that I thought might be suitable for painting one of their kingfishers models - 3 and 5 feet tall - for a trail they are making next year. I’m pleased to see that Arabella is one of the other four artists at the meeting. She has the Little Buckland Gallery she is a good friend and handles the work of many local artists. The man from the arts funding organisation mentions that he knows my work as he also helped organise the Hare trail in Dublin a few years ago for the Jack &Jill charity for sick children founded by Jonathan and Mary-Ann Irwin. One of the the organisers also mentioned that she had met me at The Wilson, which is rather good as when introducing myself I mention that I’m currently working on miniatures for my Christmas charity event which will benefit Friends of The Wilson as well as LINC and the National Star College. I say I would particularly like my first choice to be a group of students from the National Star College and although this wasn’t in their remit - having a group - it would be my condition for painting one myself. The meeting goes well and is quite lively especially as one of the other artists is Andy who founded the Cheltenham Paint Festival where street or graffiti artist come to paint huge murals on dedicated wall throughout the town. And I have to say they are painted with great expertise, skill and planning and are really quite astounding. One of the artists he suggests already has a passion for kingfishers which he paints very big and covers with flowers. I also recognise some of the artists that Arabella puts forward and am pleased when Ed Swarez suggests Russell Haines from Gloucester.
After our walk it’s back to both the commission and the miniatures.
I’m judging the Christian Arts Festival’s exhibition entries. Bishop Rachel is the other judge and although she has already made her choices I don’t look at them until I’ve selected mine. But when I do I find that we made different choices for our first three! However I’m sure the wonderful Nikki Seville the organiser, will also have her own thoughts.
I notice I’ve had my royalties from the Bridgeman Art Library, much of which is a payment from the Oxford University Press as they have used my painting Big City which sold from the Royal Academy some years ago on their new book ‘Conversational Pressure’ by Sanford C Goldberg.
Yesterday I had a lovely e mail from the editors of “Leon“ (in France) a wonderful educational series of art books for children saying they have just published two new editions each wearing one of my paintings on its cover. ‘Deadline’ for the Art and Writing and ‘Manga’ on the Art and Reading. Both are written by the very talented Régine Beber. They comment on how proud they are to have a woman’s work on those covers. They also published one a year or two ago which had my Melon Seller on the cover called Métiers/Trades. They are brilliant little books as they have both French and English texts which is the perfect way for children to learn.
Today is Halloween so post “The Storyteller” with its ghost-like characters suspend in the ether on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. But it is also the day on which Boris Johnson announces that because of the escalation in numbers of covid 19 cases and deaths we need to go into a national lockdown again, until 2nd December, following a similar route to Scotland,Wales, France, Belgium, Italy, Spain and Germany. SAGE had actually recommended we do this during the last week of September but the government had been reluctant to do so as many MPs have been arguing that their constituencies’ businesses especially in the hospitality sector would suffer but I suspect that in the long run the cost is heavier by delaying. Not only in the terrible toll of lives but in the livelihoods and economies of the region.