the artist remembers

Today, two small, still-life paintings of Staffordshire figures, made at Penparc Cottage in 2004. A bonneted Highland shepherd-boy with a ram, and a girl perched sideways on what must be a spaniel the size of a Saint Bernard. I’m not at all sure where the paintings are now… sold I’m quite sure, though I’ve no idea to whom… and I don’t think they’ve ever appeared on the Artlog… or anywhere else for that matter… before today.

I like their roughness and the way the paint becomes something tangible and almost separate to the paintings themselves. I’d been looking at Bonnard and at Winifred Nicholson, both painters I greatly admire. (In the early days I taught myself ‘colour theory’ armed with a catalogue of Winifred Nicholson’s work!)

Here’s a second painting of the Highland shepherd, one I’ve shown on the Artlog before. It was painted at the same time, and clearly I was working a theme. The painting belongs to the artist and curator Frances Woodley, and it’s to appear in an exhibition she’s preparing for Bay Arts in Cardiff later this year, titled All Coherence Gone: Historical currents in contemporary still life.

I didn’t own the figurines, and they weren’t even present at the time of painting save in brief sketches I’d made of them earlier. Interesting that they look so plausibly present in their environment. I did place a stand-in Staffordshire figure on the table, just to get the sense of what the light from behind did to the glaze and colour. But really, although they don’t look it, each of these three paintings was an ‘imagined’ still-life. Not even the striped curtain was real. At that time there were still the rather fussy floral-print curtains left up from the previous owners of the cottage. I painted a notional curtain that I imagined made-up from a fabric I once used for a stage costume. It was gauzily transparent with satin stripes running through it, and I always thought it lovely. Perfect for being ruffled by a warm sea breeze through an open window. Whatever paintings may be for the people who love them, purchase them and live with them, for the artist, or at least this artist, they’re repositories of moments of remembered delight.

Below: from my design portfolio of 1982, textile samples pinned to a costume-fitting photograph taken at the wardrobe workshop of the Bristol Old Vic.

Gown of pale pink on white toile with a satin-striped-gauze-over-silk underskirt, the memory of which surfaced in the painting at the top of this page. The costume was for dancer Sandy Hamilton, who worked regularly with me throughout my career as a choreographer, though this was not her at the costume-fitting, but a maker from the wardrobe department standing in for her. The genius of a wardrobe supervisor working with me at the time was Terry Parr of the Welsh National Opera, who I adored. It was she who taught me this trick of layering transparent fabrics over silks and satins, so that when the dancer pirouetted her skirts would fly and the slippery layers slide against each other to create shimmering effects of light and movement. Later, when I went to Theatr Clwyd to direct and stage-design for the company, Terry came with me to be my costume designer.

10 thoughts on “the artist remembers

  1. Lovely post–I always like hearing about your past in the world of theatre, and also like seeing your interesting versions of the still life, so theatrical with “actors” and curtain and view on the world.

  2. Clive, another lovely post from you. The picture of the gown reminded me of my own “gown” story. In 2008 I went to the Venice Carnevale and had a gown specially made for the occasion. Theresa, who made my dress, lives in the north of Cambridgeshire but is a highly skilled costumier whose credits include, ” tutu-making and costume-making for the Royal Ballet’s principal ballerinas; The Royal Shakespeare Company; for film and television costumiers and for Cameron Mackintosh.” She has a delightful website where she showcases the making of many of her dresses and my dress, “Midnight Blue”, was one of the ones she included. It can be seen on http://www.alternativebridalgowns.co.uk/c18-12.html and includes some photos of me wearing it in Venice, on my way to the Doge’s Ball!

    • Hello little chum. It’s been too long. Where does it all fly?

      A splendid treat to yourself, having such a beautiful gown made for the ball at the Doge’s palace. What an experience that must have been. Magical. I’ve just been viewing Theresa’s portfolio, and it’s most impressive. It’s been so long since I’ve had a conversation with anyone about boned bodices, bucket-panniers and silk dupion. What a different world I once inhabited.

      I can see from the photographs that you were resplendent on the night. What happened to the costume afterwards? Did you display it on a mannequin in the corner of your boudoir? (I think I would.) (-;

      Many years ago I gave a talk about my work as a designer for an embroiderers’ association. I borrowed a half dozen costumes displaying skilful workmanship from the various companies I’d worked for as a designer, and for the week they were on loan to me I slept with them on tailors’ dummies arranged around my bedroom. It was rather wonderful, though a little bit spooky.

      • Clive, I’m so glad you enjoyed seeing my gown, it felt very self-indulgent to describe it on your blog but when I read your lyrical description of the pink and white gown it brought back the happy memories of Venice. I love the spooky image of you asleep in your room surrounded by tailors’ dummies! My dress is likewise on a tailor’s dummy in another part of the house. I could not bear to lock it away but I am aware that I am not keeping it in ideal conditions, although I do keep the curtains closed to stop the shimmering blue/green dupion from fading.

        Postscript: Phil and I had a lovely week in May in Cornwall with Robin, Robert and Vera. We shared a rented house with a magnificent view of the Percuil river and had some lovely excursions around the Roseland peninsula. It gives me great pleasure that you, Robin and I are still in touch after all these years.

      • Marly, I’m honoured you took the time to have a look! Best wishes for the success of Glimmerglass, such an evocative name.

    • Thank you, Liz. Of course you are well placed to contextualise the paintings, having stayed at the cottage a few times. It’s looking even prettier now than when you were last there. The kitchen, bathroom and hall have been re-decorated, and are looking great, and the two oldest rooms, the living and dining rooms, have been stripped, lime plastered and painted with distempers.

      • It sounds wonderful, I am filled with longing to visit Penparc cottage again. I have long been a believer that houses (and cottages ) choose their owners, Penparc certainly knew what it was about when it chose you guys.xL

        • Ha ha. I’m glad you think so.

          We’ve been exceedingly careful over the years to make no interventions or repairs out of step with the building. Our wonderful builder, Steve, stripped the dreadful modern masonry paint from the exterior, then removed the ruined lime that had been sweating and decaying beneath and replaced it with new lime render and a topcoat of lime-wash, which is what it should have been painted with in the first place. (The previous owners were to blame! Lime render cannot be coated with masonry paint, because it doesn’t allow it to breathe. And beneath the masonry paint we found thick layers of old lime-wash, that bore evidence to the cottage having been painted just before we purchased it, proving that for a century until then it had been painted with the correct material!) We had the asbestos tiles of the roof removed and recycled Welsh slate went up in their place. (The roof came from a demolished Welsh school.) When we added a dormer to lighten the crogloft and the stairs, we made it a tiny one, with a proper casement window, and it was added to the back elevation of the house so that it wouldn’t change the look of the front. It’s the last of its kind in the town, this little clom cottage that remains largely unchanged. (There’s one other that now has plastic windows and has been ‘renovated’ for rental purposes.) You can see photographs of it taken in the 1920s, and it looks the same! We’re rather proud of that. And the cottage rewards us in bucket loads, with its character and peacefulness. I always sleep well there!

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