Nick’s Ink: the design is delivered.

Facebook messaging between Nick Yarr and me, 14/01/17

Nick Yarr
Exchange safely accomplished – I’m digesting the design – it is very intricate. I can’t believe my arm is that size flattened out – deceiving! The next stage will be getting my tattoo artist on board, and getting the design scanned. Any input as to where to look re scanning will be gratefully recieved! Thanks again, Clive.

Clive Hicks-Jenkins
It’s an interesting perception, the size of the arm, as I thought it looked rather small when the ‘wrap’ was flattened out to make a pattern. I was a little worried that it had shrunk over time. However, when I taped it around my own arm it was a reasonable fit. Neither of us are what might be called beefy, and so I’m guessing in terms of skin surface, our arms are similar.

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This will be the first tattoo of the Skin project, and so I’ve no idea what the response of an ‘ink artist’ will be. There are a lot out there now who are both designers and inkers, and some of the star practitioners may well consider inking only their own designs. However I guess it’s the nature of of tattooing to be often transferring a specific design or image that the client wants. For this design, we need first rate copying skills married to the sense of interpretation that’s bound to be a part of the process of making a good transference from pencil drawing to inked skin. It’ll take a lot of subtlety.

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Nick Yarr
Any thoughts on the scanning and where to start? I like the shading and three dimensional effect it gives. I like the flow and intricacy of the design, though the blue is something I’m becoming accustomed to!

Clive Hicks-Jenkins
Hansel & Gretel was scanned by Saxon Digital Services in Norwich. I think they did a magnificent job, which then transferred to the printing of the book. You can see all the fine etched lines in the printed illustrations which I’d worried wouldn’t reproduce well. I couldn’t have been happier with the result.

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Regarding the blue. Throughout the design process I took images and digitally removed the colour, so I could check out how everything would look without the blue. The blue translates to a smoky shadow and you get a good sense of what the design would look like if you elected to go that way. Personally I like the blue, but the choice is there for you to forego it. Or if my blue is a tad bright for you, it could be pulled back to a more muted one.

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Nick Yarr
Thanks Clive. I like the monochrome  and the blue. I’ll give it some thought. I like the design very much. It’s what I was hoping for, but more extensive, if that’s the word, and extensive in a good way. Remind me of the reason for getting a digital translation. (This is a whole new world for a doctor – lol)

Clive Hicks-Jenkins
A detailed digital image might make it easier to download and show any ink artist what you you want to have put onto your arm. A good photograph or series of photographs might do initially, but at some point whoever you select will need to see a scale version or the original, given that it was designed to fit your arm.

Nick Yarr
I see – so I could also then translate the digital version onto paper so they had a full scale design to work with.

Clive Hicks-Jenkins
Exactly. Also, should you decide to go with a monochrome version, you can give the ink artist a scale image with the blue turned to tonal.

I recall in our original discussions, alone among all the participants you wanted something that was more pattern-like. More about mark-making. I remember being a bit daunted by your brief, because I’m essentially a narrative painter. But interestingly the past years have seen me working more frequently with patterns. They’ve always been there, in the flowery fields of the ‘saints’ paintings (Saints Kevin, Hervé and George) and in the rich diapering of textiles and backgrounds.

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But now, in the Gawain series, they’re increasing foregrounded and given compositional weight to bear. In this gouache and pencil study for the print of The Green Knight’s Head Lives, the patterning of the horse’s caparison and the Knight’s tattoos, cover a good three quarters of the image, knitting it together and conveying the world in which the character lives.

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So gradually I’ve became confident about what I could produce for you. (I am super aware that this is for life.) Had I been designing a tattoo for myself, it would have been the one I’ve made for you. I loved the idea of translating all the traditions of elaborate British historic embroidery and adornment into a tattoo. Your foliate design would serve just as well for the embroidery of an Elizabethan sleeve or doublet, as for a tattoo.

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I want to take a tattoo tradition that’s been rather hijacked by tribal patterning, and make something elaborate and quintessentially British. Transposing what might once have been the embroidery of a sleeve, directly onto skin, feels rooted visually in the decorative traditions of these islands, while being married to the more subversive, modern expression of body modification. I love the idea of a reversal of what once was. The Elizabethan courtier wore his decorated splendour as an outer suit that could be peeled away to reveal the undecorated body. Now the dark suited business man can peel away his sober outer layer to reveal the foliate glories of his tattooed skin.

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I think it’s drop dead sexy, this kind of male surrendering to beauty. Like a buck with a pearl earring. I don’t know how many people will get to see your tattoo, but I think it could be a gorgeous surprise, just poking out from under the cuff of a white shirt and skinny-smart three-piece suit. Hey ho Silver!!!

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Nick Yarr
I agree that tattoos are sexy. Moreover this design is very different to the many tattoos I’ve seen, and that’s a very good thing! I think that finding an artist I’m happy to trust to do justice to your work will be the next challenge. I’ve a few in mind – so I’ll keep you posted! Thanks once more for the time and trouble you’ve taken. It is very much appreciated.

Clive Hicks-Jenkins
You might explain at some point that this a part of an ongoing art project. That might have an appeal for an ink artist who was interested in the profile generated by the project.

Illuminations

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Peter is in Edinburgh, where he’s to give the keynote address at the symposium Shaping the View: Understanding Landscape through Illustration, organised by Desdemona McCannon. Before he left we had several discussions about illustration, looking at definitions of the word.

il·lus·tra·tion (ĭl′ə-strā′shən)
n.
1. The act of illustrating or the state of being illustrated: concepts that would benefit from illustration; an idea that lends itself to illustration.
2. A picture or image that is used to decorate or clarify a text.
3. An example that is used to clarify or explain something. 
4. Obsolete Illumination.

It’s a tricky one to pin down, ‘illustrative’ having been used in modern times as a pejorative deployed by a curatorial elite set on defining boundaries that put ‘illustrators’ further down the pecking order of arts practices.

But tucked away at the foot of the list, I like the ‘obsolete’ definition, illumination. When my friend, the writer Marly Youmans asked me how I’d define myself in relation to my collaborations with her, I unhesitatingly wrote back, partly in fun, ‘illuminator’.

When growing up in the 1950s, my home, though full of books and music, had little on the walls that might be defined as art. There were mirrors and wall-lamps, and even pictures – if you include the rather unlikely though jaunty wallpaper of palm trees and desert islands that decorated our back parlour. But there were no paintings. So looking back, I begin to realise that my earliest experiences of the world as expressed in images, were through the pages of my childhood books.

The ones that stuck fast and have stayed with me over the years, are the Rupert Bear and Toby Twirl annuals. I learned to read on my father’s lap as he helped me make sense of the words under the pictures showing Rupert’s adventures with his pals. The speed with which I progressed was entirely down to wanting to know what happened next in the stories!

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The bucolic loveliness depicted by the illustrators of Rupert’s and Toby’s worlds, was simultaneously observed from life and imagined. Observed with enough tenderness and precision for me to recognise types of rural settings – my father was a wayleaves officer for the South Wales Electricity Board and often took me with him on field trips – and yet subtley different enough to open up imagination. The pine forests of the Rupert books were exactly like those I’d visited with my father, though with the added allure of being portals to other, more exciting realms, accessed by the simple means of climbing the trees, just as Jack had clambered up a beanstalk to find himself somewhere unexpected.

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Both the boy bear and the boy pig had the freedom to scamper about on their own business, and both were secure in the knowledge that ‘mum’ would have tea on the table when they returned, no matter how outlandish their adventures out of range of parental disapproval. I lived in the annuals, and later in the comics of my day, and after those in books that had no illustrations, excepting for those on their covers. Illustrations led me gently, naturally, persuasively to literature.

Landscape for me has always been where I’ve retreated to recover myself. So when my life in the theatre became too chaotic to endure, I bolted to the countryside. It was the natural place of healing, and it was where I took up brushes and began to translate my out-of-control feelings, into the painted worlds I felt safer in.

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I see now, though didn’t at the time, that the sense of comfort and balance I was trying to recapture, had its roots in those early experiences of discovering the world through the illustrations of Alfred Bestall, Sheila Hodgetts and others. And later, after I moved from landscape painting to explore further options, I came to understand enough of where my emotional responses to landscape had originated, to be able to reference the books of my childhood in paintings that openly acknowledged them. My Dream Farm is one of them.

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Perceived divisions between art and illustration are ones I’ve come to disregard. For me, the two are the same. There’s good and bad that flows from easel painters (for want of a better definition) and illustrators alike. The banal is bad regardless of whether found between the covers of a book or on the walls of a gallery, while the great is always illuminating, whether springing from the pens and brushes of Potter and Sendak, or from Hockney at his most sublime and painterly. (A man who excels at everything.) High and low are definitions I’m unmoved by. There is only excellence, and it all comes from the same source.

My picture book, Hansel & Gretel, is due out later this month. It’s taken a long time to make a book that has its roots so firmly in what I grew to love and trust as a child. The last page bears this text:

Clive Hicks-Jenkins is a painter who occasionally makes images for the covers of novels, poetry collections and plays. He has always wanted to make a picture book, and this is it.

The Knight and the Virgin

Making a screenprint.

Rough sketches. There were several of these, but the one below was the guide to the study painting.

Below: working the face in some detail on mountboard before beginning to lay on paint. The drawing disappears almost completely under the first layer of gouache, but by that time it is already ‘locked’ in my head.

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The Virgin and child painted onto the lining of Gawain’s shield begin to take shape.

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Gawain’s helmet plume. Gouache and pencil.

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Camelot, worked in sgraffito and pencil. The ground is heavy, acid-free mount-board that allows for the inscribing with a needle.

Rendering in gouache and pencil.

The finished study. Gouache, pencil and sgrafitto on board.

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The composition re-drawn as a ‘master-drawing’ to guide the process of making stencils on separate layers of transparent film. Each stencil represents a single colour in the printmaking process.

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Camelot rendered in wax crayon on transparent film. In the study, the ‘etched’ look was created by using a needle to ‘indent’ the card, and then working pencil over the top. With the stencil I had to use a technique more akin to scraperboard, wielding a needle to clear areas of the wax drawing. It was massively time consuming as the sticky wax detritus had to be constantly brushed away before it got stuck back down by the pressure from my hand resting on the surface. This stencil, which is a small section of the composition, took two days to complete.

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Layers of transparent film create the quality of mark and tone Dan and I were looking for. The stencils are all made in black and red. No point in working in colour at this stage. It’s easier to see what’s going on in the layers by simplifying. The pattern on the inside of the shield was particularly taxing. In the painting the pattern was made by using yellow ochre whipped in with a fine brush over the top of the red. For the printmaking, the ochre has to under-print the red, and so all those pattern marks on the stencil had to be painted around. A long day’s work.

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More layers of stencils. Even though they’re transparent/translucent, eventually it becomes hard to see what’s underneath the top five or six layers.

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The stencils fixed in place with registration pins to assure correct alignment. The colours at right are the guide for Daniel Bugg. Each corresponds to a layer of stencil. The big brush is to dust the stencils and keep them free of detritus, though usually a few stray hairs from Jack end up in there.

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This is how Gawain looked when composed of all the layers of stencils. Quite sooty!

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Proof stage by Daniel Bugg. The two stencils for the colours shown here have been processed as screens by Dan. Each screen is made of microfine mesh stretched on a frame, through which the printing ink is squeezed to make the impression.

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Proofing stage.

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Adding one of the black screens to the proofing stage, to check how things are looking.

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Another proof, this time adding shades of ochre before laying in the black. Red and cobalt teal laid over each other make a rich, bruised purple.

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Below: the finished print.

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The Armouring of Gawain. 2016.

Screenprint. 55 x 55 cms. Edition of 75.

Opening 8th September at the Martin Tinney Gallery, Cardiff

Gawain and the Green Knight: Clive Hicks-Jenkins and the Penfold Press.

Prints, paintings and drawings exploring the medieval poem

Invitation to ‘Gawain and the Green Knight’

Please join us if you are able at the opening of:

Gawain and the Green Knight: Clive Hicks-Jenkins and the Penfold Press

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Prints, paintings and drawings on the theme of the medieval poem

Thursday 8th September, 6 pm – 7.30 pm at

The Martin Tinney Gallery

18 St. Andrew’s Crescent, Cardiff. CF10 3DD. +44 (0)29 2064 1411

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Exhibition runs from Thursday 8th Sept to Saturday 1st Oct, 2016

Art commentator James Russell writes of the Penfold Press collaboration between artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins and printmaker Daniel Bugg:

“The story is the kind you might find in The Mabinogion. Sir Gawain is more human than your average legendary hero. Having taken up the challenge offered at the Camelot Christmas feast by the terrifying Green Knight, he embarks on a quest to find this ogre, only to be tested – and found wanting – in unexpected ways. Sir Gawain is both a glittering knight and a fallible young man, and it is this flawed human character that intrigues Clive. Each print is inspired by the text and rooted stylistically in its world, but beyond that Clive and Dan have allowed their imagination free rein.”

 

 

 

The Restless Prophet and his Raven

A detail from my painting The Prophet Fed by a Raven is on the cover of the novel Cai by  Eurig Salisbury, awarded the Gold Medal for Prose at last week’s National Eisteddfod. The book is published by Gomer.

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Eurig Salisbury, winner of the the Gold Medal for Prose, National Eisteddfod 2016.

Of all the paintings I’ve made, this one has probably been on the most interesting journey. Since it was shown at MoMA Machynlleth in my Saints and Their Beasts exhibition in 2007 it has lived in the home of its owners in the USA, though thanks to their generosity it returned to Wales for my Retrospective in the Gregynog Gallery of the National Library of Wales in the Summer of 2011.

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In 2010 the painting had a surprising outing onto the cover of the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases. (This was at the suggestion of a friend who would be embarrassed to be credited for her kindness here, but it must be acknowledged nevertheless, albeit without revealing her identity.) Some time later the painting appeared in a calendar issued by the journal

When in 2013 Oxford University Press published a collection of essays and covers from the EID, The Prophet Fed by a Raven was selected as the cover image.

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Back at home in North Carolina it came out of it’s frame to be photographed –

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– to generate an image large enough for a display in the exhibition of EID journal covers at the David J. Sencer CDC Museum in Association with the Smithsonian Institution. (More thanks here, this time to the owner of the painting who went to untold troubles to get it to the photographer and back.)

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In 2010 it appeared between the covers of a a weighty tome, Biblical Art from Wales, edited by Martin O’Kane and John Morgan-Guy.

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Anita Mills, who wrote so thoughtfully about my drawing practice in Clive Hicks-Jenkins: a Monograph (Lund Humphries 2011) presented a swift, entertaining and insightful deconstruction of the painting that completely took me by surprise. Click on THIS link to read  it.

Marly Youmans wrote a beautiful poem in response to The Prophet Fed by a Raven that can be read HERE.

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I like the idea of a painting of mine travelling and having adventures. I’m gratified that people see it who have no idea who I am. For them there is just the prophet, the flaming raven and the scattering of sheep on the Welsh hillside beyond. I don’t think an artist could ask any more of a painting than to be out there and speaking for itself.

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For Z.B., M.Y. and A.M., my friends across the ocean.

Lizzie Organ, ‘a fairy godmother for artists’

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Ashbrook House in the village of Clyro, just outside the book-town of Hay-on-Wye, was where the Reverend Francis Kilvert lived and wrote his famous diaries. Artist Lizzie Organ and her partner, portrait painter Eugene Fisk, acquired the house and commissioned a full scheme of restoration of the external fabric from the architectural practice of Nicholas Keeble Associates. This included complete re-roofing of the house in natural slate, numerous repairs to the original joinery and restoration of the magnificent 100-pane gothic window over the staircase.

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A decorative lead-roofed canopy with a gothic balustrade was made locally and added to the stone-stepped front entrance.

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When the work was completed, Lizzie opened the ground-floor and cellar rooms as galleries at weekends, and by arrangement on weekdays. The spaces were full of beautiful furniture, paintings and objects, most of them for sale. When the galleries were closed the rooms reverted to Lizzie’s and Eugene’s private use. It was a clever juggling act. Lizzie held several mixed exhibitions a year, with occasional shows for featured artists.

Visitors came as much to see and be inspired by the house as to purchase art. Lizzie’s creation was an exercise in the combination of business and lifestyle. She gave people a glimpse of how they might live. She always did her utmost to persuade artists who had the skills, to make small, beautiful and relatively inexpensive objects for her themed exhibitions, because she said people loved to buy something affordable by an artist they admired, even if that artist’s paintings were too expensive for their pockets. And buy they did.

The Summer and Christmas exhibitions were always a triumph. In this way I was persuaded by Lizzie to make a eight place-mats for her ‘Christmas Dining-Room’ themed exhibition. The set had relief chequerboard patterns, was finished in faux-patinated bronze and it sold in about ten minutes. For her ‘Box of Delights’ show I made a folk-inspired faux-bronze house with the roof as the lid. That went to the USA.

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At Christmas the reception-room/shop of the gallery (see above) always had a selection of my tiny hand-painted pantomime toy theatres, each with a single character on the matchbox-sized stage: Priscilla the Goose from ‘Mother Goose’, Dick Whittington’s cat and and a pantomime horse among them.

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Lizzie encouraged me to make objects. She believed that painters were the better for extending themselves through the act of making. Thanks to her a foundation was laid for my studio practice that has continually supported my painting with acts of exploration. I still make toy theatres and decorative objects.

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From time to time I make ‘postal’ art, as I first did at her request. I made these ‘Fairy-Tale’ envelopes for a Kilvert Gallery postal art exhibition, the paper drenched in black ink and the addresses written with a mapping-pen dipped in bleach! (Apologies for the poor  images, digitised from slightly out-of-focus transparencies.)

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I build articulated paper maquettes too, that are models for paintings, but have additionally carried me into the realms of film-making and animation. Lizzie would greatly approve of it all.

When Lizzie neared the end her life, Ashbrook House closed for business. Her funeral in 2009, like the gallery she’d presided over, was an example of creativity in action. At Clyro Church she was arrayed in all her silken finery in an open casket of basketweave, decked in her ‘Barbarian Queen’ jewellery. While the vicar played his violin in the nave, a beautifully groomed and ostrich-plumed horse was led in circuits of the church, high-stepping a stately pavane that ended at the graveside. Peter wrote Lizzie’s obituary for The Guardian. The strap-line read: ‘She traded high society for the Welsh borders to become a fairy godmother for artists.’ And that she did. She was certainly my fairy godmother, kick-starting my career as an artist, and I was not the only one.

Ashbrook House was sold. Without Lizzie at the helm there could be no Kilvert Gallery. These days it’s a private residence.

Lizzie began showing my paintings in mixed exhibitions at the Kilvert Gallery after my partner Peter had shown her a portfolio of my work. In 1996 when she asked me which of her regular artists I’d like to have a two-man show with, I unhesitatingly chose Charles Shearer, whose work I greatly admired.  At the exhibition my paintings were on the ground-floor and Charles’ prints and paintings were in the cellar that opened onto the garden and the brook that ran through it. We’ve been friends ever since.

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I was in awe of Charles, but thought the challenge of having a show with him might spur me on to be a better painter. I think it very likely did.

Below: Armistice, painted for my first one-man exhibition at the Kilvert Gallery in 1996.

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Border Country at the National Eisteddfod

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It’s a sadness not to have been with Peter in Abergavenny for the opening of his exhibition Border Country at the National Eisteddfod. But with time ticking on my forthcoming Gawain exhibition at the Martin Tinney Gallery in September, I had to stay home to work. I’ll see Border Country later this year, when it’s on tour.

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Of the four artists in the exhibition, John Elwyn (whose painting is on the cover of the catalogue above) and Bert Isaac are dead. Joan Baker will be attending the exhibition this week, but Charles Burton and his wife Rosemary, herself a painter, were able to be present for the opening, brought from Cardiff by Dave and Philippa Robbins who live just around the corner from them.

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Rosemary and Charles Burton in front of his painting of a steam train in the south Wales Valleys. (Croeso is the Welsh word for Welcome.)

Peter and I knew John Elwyn, having visited his Winchester home and studio in his latter years. Bert Isaac and his wife Joan were friends, and we visited them frequently in Abergavenny, where they held regular exhibitions of local artists in the ‘orangery’ of their beautiful Georgian house.

We are especially close with Charlie and Rosemary, and when Peter and I lived in Cardiff we saw a lot of them. (We had gallery-visiting holidays together in Paris and Venice, and in Venice we were joined by Liz Sangster, another painter and close friend from my days in the theatre.) That little painting of a steam train usually hangs in the kitchen at Ty Isaf. We purchased it, along with another piece the same size, from a Cardiff antique dealer before we knew the Burtons. In fact it was the acquisition of the paintings that stirred Peter’s interest to trace and then contact Charlie, who had retired from teaching. He was still painting, though not for the most part exhibiting. These days both he and Rosemary show regularly at the Martin Tinney Gallery in Cardiff.

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I love the colour red chosen by Peter as a background to the paintings. Beautiful.