Its a gloriously sunny first day of June when we drive to have lunch at Bell House by kind invitation of Robert and Toyah. As discussed yesterday when Robert phoned, the gates are open for us when we arrive at 10 to 1. Its such a joy to see them both, Toyah with her radiant smile looking beautiful even though she has been suffering from the after effects of a dreadful virus that she contracted whilst doing pantomime, which knocked out her auto immune system. Robert’s looking very elegant. Its a delicious lunch and they are obviously frequent visitors to Bell House. Its so good to catch up and hear all their news. Toyah’s very pleased when I say I thought they made a brilliant double act when they appeared on ITV’s ‘Mr and Mrs’ although we know that Robert is a reluctant ‘celebrity’. But the Great Roberto did actually enjoy it and she says there might be something else in the pipeline. The thing that is always so touching about them is their obvious love and affection for one another which really came across with great wit in the programme. After lunch we go back to the house where Robert takes us on a tour - I’m always surprised to see how many of my paintings there are in their beautiful home. They also fill the large stair well which has now been painted a beautiful pale grey. He shows us the attic room which has just been newly carpeted with sizel matting and painted a lovely yellow. In a glass case hangs a pretty red tutu made by Barbara, Toyah’s late mother for Toyah when she was about four years old and in another Robert’s school cap with Toyah’s school tie. We then descend to the magnificent library in the basement. Richard is in awe of this marvellous collection of books. We then do a tour of their exquisite garden and Toyah becomes distressed when we look at the fountain and pond, as even though there are protective circles around its edge, the heron that she spotted flying away must have eaten eleven of the exotic fish. The garden is dotted with beautiful figurative sculptures many by the late Althea Wyn. There are lots of vegetables and salads growing in pots and beds between the flower and shrub borders and seedlings in the old green house.
Then we stroll back up from the river for tea at a table outside the kitchen. We decide we mustn’t leave it long before they come to us when with their generous spirit they say they will bring cream cakes.
Then its back home to Bishop’s Cleeve as my sister Gill and my Mum who she is bringing back after a fortnights stay with her in Bedfordshire, are coming to supper. Gill’s looking a lot more relaxed and says my Mum (who is 90) has been very supportive in going to visit Howell with her. Its good to see them both.
Another beautifully warm day for eating in the garden and doing a bit of cutting back etc. Then back to the studio on the Toronto commission and a little miniature.
As President of the Friends of Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum I preside at the AGM. Its a very exciting year for the Museum as October will see the official opening of the splendid new development. The Friends have worked incredibly hard and have raised a quarter of a million pounds towards the development. I take pleasure in thanking them and our wonderful chairman Gina Wilson and the committee. Keith Woodman our Treasurer does such a great job particularly as he does the accounts for the Holst Museum too which are even more complex. But they all work very hard in their own individual roles, particularly Jennie Ogle who has always, with her husband Douglas, organised the many fantastic cultural and educational trips both here and abroad. I’m delighted with our speaker Mark Hurrell, head of BBC Radio Gloucestershire. His great enthusiasm for the station and his work is quite infectious and there’s a lovely recording that he plays of the interview that he did with Laurie Lee which was in fact the last interview that Laurie gave. Afterwards we take them to dinner at Brasserie Blanc. Its always fun being with Mark and Julia.
Working on the Toronto commission.
We travel up to London for the opening of the International Fine Art Fair at Olympia where the dealers International Arts are showing my work. Having popped into the Alpha Gallery briefly first. Things are really buzzing by the time we get there and as Peter had promised the Crown Prince of Burma ( king in waiting ) is on the stand in his fine uniform, pale with gold braid and a yellow sash. A charming man who asks if he might take a photograph of me in front of one of my paintings. Peter says they’ve had lots of people through who say they know us or my work. So pleased as Mark and Julia turn up (I was worried we might have missed them) just as a lovely lady from Finland was buying one of my paintings. We don’t stay for too long as have to get back to Cheltenham.
Off the Christ Church where I am lunching Cheltenham Open Studios of which I am Patron. There’s a wonderful array of work especially the mini masterpieces that the artists donate to help boost COS’s funds. We end up buying ten and also a lovely painting by one of the artists who tells me she has built it up with many glazes of oil pint. I am so pleased that Martin Horwood has been able to make it and says some generous words of encouragement. Also delighted as Lady Arabella our Chairman notices my necklace which has been made by students at the National Star College - she says she would like to show some at her gallery, the Little Buckland in Broadway.
Richard has already hung the exhibition at the Tithe Barn which The Little Removal Company sent three men and a truck to collect yesterday afternoon.
At midday I officially open the fantastic Bishop’s Cleeve Street Fair. There was something for everyone here, a giant helter skelter, Punch & Judy, music by the Gloucester Gladiators, the Tewkesbury Town Training Band, Cleeve Chorale and Cleeve Harmony. Salty Dog and a real dog show. A perilous parachute jump for teddy bears from the tower of St Michael’s, ice cream and candy floss and it turns out to be a glorious afternoon for everyone to enjoy all the fun of the fair. As I look down from the gallery in the Tithe Barn, where they have asked me to show an exhibition of my work I can see dancers, jugglers and an Italian market. By the time I got back from performing the opening at noon the room was full of people some who we know and many we don’t, others who pass the house on a daily basis and make very generous comment about it saying it is their favourite house in Bishop’s Cleeve. The time speeds by and at a quarter to six the Little Removal Company arrives. They have sent three young guys who are taking photographs of the paintings as they pack them as Richard says they did when they collected them. They are very interested in the work and Richard gives them a copy of the latest catalogue when he pays them. I sit in the sunshine for twenty minutes to recuperate then our dear friends Jane and David arrive for supper. Its so nice to see them. They are so heroic as they frequently go to Highnam Woods to help with the national nesting box survey and also the butterfly survey. Last week they waded six miles down the river to help clear it of weeds. Its wonderful how people give or volunteer in so many different ways - all of them important and of benefit to everyone
Good to be back at work in the studio.
Start small painting for the Rotary Club’s “Polio Mile it is challenge - end polio now” campaign.
Up to the Star Bistro for lunch with Arabella and Niki. Paul (Director of Creative and Performing Arts) joins us towards the end of the excellent meal - lots of ideas and input from him too. We then visit the exhibition of students’ work which really is stunning and Louise who teaches art there, shows us the large kiln for firing glass that they have bought with the moneys from my last Christmas ‘Mulled Wine, Mince Pies and Miniatures’ Open Studio. It looks wonderful and has a lot of capacity for making larger items. Its a lovely feeling to know that all those Open Studios have helped this beautiful at department and now the glass kiln (and some musical instruments with the change!). So I’m very grateful to all of you who have supported thank you.
Up very early. Edward collects me at 5 past 7 to drive over to the Bishop’s Breakfast at Great Oaks Hospice in the Forest of Dean. Its a long way but we are both very pleased that we attended as the hospice was founded by Sheila Evans MBE and was something that she worked at for a long time before eventually bringing to fruition. The hospice looks after day patients and also has an outreach service into the community of the Forest. Sheila is very passionate about the work and after her talk passes over to the palliative nurse, Jane, who runs the team. They have generously laid on a very good breakfast. The hospice is a great achievement and Sheila’s husband Ceri shows us around.
After Edward drops me off Richard and I set out to visit a couple of the Cheltenham Open Studio venues, the first being Artshape who are using the beautiful All Saints church as their venue. I’m surprised when the young man who is stewarding and has hung the exhibition there, tells me he had hoped to get to Bishop’s Cleeve Tithe Barn then says “you don’t recognise me do you?” and it turns out that he was the little boy who lived in the house with his sister that is now my studio. After University he worked at Artshape, which works with socially disadvantaged people as a volunteer then was taken on as a part time tutor and is now a full time tutor. There’s also a woman sitting there who again says she knows me - she had been a student at the Art School before it became a University; in the 80s had instigated an invitation to me as a visiting lecturer as at the time there weren’t many women staff. I buy three more paintings. Then we visit Deepspace Works where Sue Billington, its director is so pleased to see us as its our first visit there. It was originally a factory but Sue has been painstakingly turning it into a gallery and learning space with artists studios upstairs. Sue shows us a lot of her work and videos of her at festivals where she works with both hands and eyes closed, often to music, so they are very spontaneous. we’re very pleased as we find a lovely little piece entitled Arvo Part 1 which seems very relevant to us as Arvo Part is a world renowned Estonian composer who is a friend of Margus. Deepspace also works on a lot of community projects and offers classes to people with learning difficulties and also life drawing.
Then its back home to work.
Visit Kim Hill’s Open Studio (beautiful work) Kim works with students from the U3A, and also with NHS patience when GPs prescribe it. Then go for cup of tea and delicious home made chocolate brownies to Lucy, Andrew, Joe and Charlie’s specially to look at how they have hung their group of miniatures, lovely, lively little boys they are such delightful friends and neighbours.
Over to Gloucester where I am opening the Hillfield Sensory and Woodland Gardens. Very pleased as the weather is dry. We’re met by Mark who opens the gates especially for us to park inside. There’s a nice party atmosphere with bunting and refreshments. Julia shows me around the gardens and tells me about the small historic buildings, the Scrivener’s Conduit, the King’s Board and the Leper’s Chapel. The gardens also have some of the oldest trees in Gloucester including a champion oak and three redwoods. We’re joined by the photographer from Gloucestershire Media who its always a pleasure to see; he tells me he’s started painting himself which is rather nice as both his parents are artists. Julia Hurrell (chair) and the Friends of Hillfield Sensory and Woodland Gardens have worked very hard making these new additions and improvements. The beds have been planted with lavenders and other aromatic and textural plants so that the gardens will also give pleasure to the visually impaired. In a city its even more important to have spaces like this so that residents who don’t have gardens of their own can have a place to sit and contemplate. There are two lovely sculptures that have been designed by students from Gloucester High School for Girls. A competition had been opened up for them but because the entries were so good they chose two to be made up rather than one. The School is very close to the gardens so it will be a place that they can come and proudly show their work. In my opening speech I mention that the joys of the garden crosses all cultures countries and creeds and that we all have an innate need to turn the soil, sow the seeds and bed the plants and watch the fruits of our labours grow. I also say how excited I am about the gardens because having been a Patron (for 22 years) of the National Star College where the dedicated staff help their wonderful students achieve their full potential and that although it is based in Ullenwood, students from the Star College also live out in the community and one of their houses, Elizabeth House, is very close by in Denmark Road. I say how pleased I am to see some of the students here today, also Kathryn their Principal who got classified as Outstanding for her leadership at the Star College when the College also got Outstanding from the recent Ofstead report. We were also delighted to have Gill the head of fund-raising. It’s good to speak to so many people afterwards including Richard (MP for Gloucester) and Althea Graham.
Afterwards we go back to Mark and Julia’s for lunch, Adam their youngest son is also there, he’s a keen photographer and shows me some of the beautiful black and whites he’s taken of Gloucester Cathedral. The other guest is Richard Revd Richard Atkins, a Methodist minister who does a slot on BBC Radio Gloucestershire each Sunday morning 6 - 10!! He’s wonderfully witty and gregarious man and says when he interviewed Rowan Williams in the studio he purposely played some Simon and Garfunkle because he knew he liked it. We all agree what a very nice man the former Archbishop of Canterbury is.
After lunch we drive back to Cheltenham to Christchurch to collect all the little ‘mini masterpieces that I bought at the opening of the Open Studios and a painting. Nikki Seville is such an amazing person, she takes me into the church to see some of the painted icons by an artist who had taught her in Bethlehem; she’s trying to encourage him to enter the competition and exhibition that I am organising to try and find an artist from the region to create an image to be reproduced on Bishop Michael’s next Christmas card. Nikki had recently organised Faith in Art exhibition. Whilst we are there Nathan phones to wish Richard Happy Fathers’ Day
We then go on to All Saints to collect the three paintings we’d bought there. Apparently this was Artshape’s first time taking part in the Cheltenham Open Studios festival. I am so touched when Mike Carter tells me he had been talking to the head of Artshape and said they knew I was Patron of the National Star College and wondered if I would become their Patron too. I say I’d be touched and honoured to do so.
Henrietta phones to say Happy Fathers’ Day to Richard too.
Back in the studio its very good to have an uninterrupted day.
Working on new ideas for the London showas well as commission. Also a flurry of e mail exchanges re paintings etc.
Jim Hart ebullient presenter from Radio Winchcombe arrives exactly on time at 2 o’clock. He’s great with a saucy sense of Scottish humour and I’m amazed at how well he can recall some of my paintings that he has seen as far back as 1996 in my exhibition at Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum, including “Portrait of the artist watching her two children grow” (Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum) and “Other Mothers’ Sons” painted during the first Gulf War which now forms part of the Imperial War Museum’s collection. He’s very perceptive and on the ball and the questions seem pertinent to the paintings and sculpture as well as the region. its fun chatting to him as he’s such an interesting person. He’s also very interested in the Saudi Arabian paintings having worked with both the Tunisians and the Israelis in fruit juice production! The time whizzes by but as he goes he says he will definitely be coming to the National Star College’s evening of Creative and Performing arts.
Jim Hart drops a disc in of the interview. Richard says it sounds really good - I couldn’t possibly comment.
Over to Gloucestershire College in evening to see the end of year foundation course work and level 3 before presenting my awards at the Awards ceremony. There are some fascinating video and installations as well as exciting painting, graphics and Fashion. Afterwards we go down to the marquee for the Awards Ceremony where I get to present the series of prizes I sponsor.
Meet Katherine the Editor of Perspectives Magazine at the Museum to discuss works in the collection with Helen Brown the Keeper of the Collections for an article in Perspectives.
Back to studio to continue with commission.
Continue with Toronto commission which is really beginning to fill up now.
Call from Lucy director of Artshape following up Mike Carter’s informal approach to me asking if I would become their Patron. So she’s inviting me to have a coffee with her - I invite her to lunch instead and am very touched when she asks if it would be in order to bring her assistant Katherine along as she is a great fan of my work. I’m very much looking forward to meeting them as Artshape already work with the National Star College, many of the ex students attend their sessions and also has links with the Alderman Knight School.
Whilst I’m taking I hear the doorbell go and Richard welcoming lovely friend Joyce who I’ve known since we were art students; she has brought me a beautiful butterfly tower, habitat in which butterflies will hopefully breed. Shortly after, Janet and David arrive bearing a big Jubilee rose plant. This is really supposed to be a celebration of our three birthdays as Janet’s is in April, Joyce in May and mine today. Its a joy to see them as we perhaps only see each other a couple of times a year and they are delighted when a few minutes later my Mum turns up and we tell the story of my birth, how she and I managed to deliver me only seconds before the nurse and the doctor (still putting on his white coat) arrived at our bedside. Over Richard’s delicious lunch of Lotte Dunkerquoise with additional improvisations, we chatter and reminisce, exchanging news of our families. We have a quick look in the studio before they leave just after 6.
My sister Gill arrives just before 8 having driven all the way down from Bedfordshire specially and gives me a beautiful bag designed and made by her good friend and close neighbour Barbara. My Mum joins us a few minutes later so Richard serves the dinner - this time Halibut in a mustard and cheese sauce.
Nathan rings at about 9.30. He’s in Ireland, in Dublin working with the famous photographer Nadav Kander whose exquisite work I look up later that night and find it breathtakingly beautiful with its painterly and sculptural references. He says Rod Stewart was sitting on the next table at breakfast.
Big box arrives from Amazon and am thrilled when I open it to be confronted by a stunning portrait of of David Lynch on the front of a book of Nadav Kander photographs - how lucky am I. Work until 2 a.m. on commission.
We are off by 10.30 am to Cookham to the Stanley Spencer Museum to see its current exhibition “Perspectives of Love” . It’s an old chapel a nicely intimate space in the village that Stanley was born, grew up, lived and worked in. It was such a joy to cross over the bridge in “Swan Upping” to spot the church tower of his masterpiece “the Resurrection” driving into the village and later the house that he spent his life in and where most of the works were created. The exhibition was perfect - not too big or too small. Paintings and drawings that we were familiar with, “Portrait of Patricia Preece” (1933) “Sarah Tubb and Heavenly Visitors” (1933) with others that were a revelation “Girls Returning from a Bathe” 1936 and the pencil drawing “Portrait of Mr Francis” (1931). Fascinating to observe the gradual changes in the thickness of paint in the early self portrait (1923) and “Last supper” painting (1920) to the thinner but highly patterned application later on in the 30’s 40’s and 50’s “Christ Preaching at Cookham Regatta” (1952-9) which was unfinished at his death. £15 will pay for two people to get in and a fully illustrated colour catalogue. A most enjoyable visit.
Then we drive four miles down the road to meet Henrietta, Kev and the boys who have driven in from Greenwich for a belated birthday picnic on the grass of Ray’s Mill Island surrounded as it is by the river Thames and lock letting through many pleasure boats. Its gloriously hot and the boys enjoy a game of football, catching, climbing on the many wooden animals and paddling. Later on whilst we look after Isaac and Samuel on the island (where they have a second ice cream), Henrietta and Kev go to visit the Stanley Spencer Museum. A lovely afternoon enjoyed by all.