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.