I came to London from Ayrshire in 1966 carrying with me an excellent art education way ahead of its time, a passion for painting and a love of the shore and the sea.
My art education was extended for two years in Kingsdale School’s sixth form, which had a fully accredited Foundation Course in its own “mini art school”, from which I went on to do Fine Art at Hornsey College of Art in 1968 and finished at Ravensbourne in 1971.
I walked to school through Dulwich every day and worked in Cullen’s (which became Oddbins), in the holidays. We now live in what is either the last house in Dulwich or the first, coming at it from Tulse Hill. We are occasionally left off the map! With that in mind, seclusion for my work as a painter has been very useful. I rent a studio in the next property that used to be a small printing works and walk to it through a gate at the bottom of my garden. We have been here for 38 years. Sometimes it pays to stay put.
As a painter I have followed the advice of my tutor Brian Fielding – “Just do it and keep doing it over and over again.” Forty years on there is a lot done and a lot still to do. Painting intertwines with my other “cultural” passions; the most important of which are the music and artwork of Don Van Vliet, Captain Beefheart (with whom I was privileged to be friends for a while in the early 70’s); the painting of Cy Twombly and the works of James Joyce. These three artists have all influenced me more than anyone else and are all repositories of wonderful imagery to integrate with my view of the world.
Over the years I have pushed and pulled between abstract and semi-representational pictures. Early on I felt a need to resolve this conflict but I now see that they co- exist in the same dimension especially if one let’s go of the “problem”. Painting has to be about painting. My recent work has been inspired by looking at photographs of James Joyce’s Ulysses notebooks from the National Library of Ireland which are all energetically scored through with green, red and blue crayon lines deleting used passages as he went. The combination of his handwritten words and these unwittingly attractive criss-crosses of colour left little to do but play improvisations on this ready-made theme.
I have produced a suite of 100 watercolours entitled “Impregnated with Raindew Moisture” – one of Joyce’s lines from deep in Ulysses. Each piece is dated, as these are daily “observations” of life seen through myriad filters including nature, the elements, Joyce’s writing, plus colour and line.
Whilst the work is not about illustrating Joyce, I have “been there and done that “ in both image and text with an 18 poem cycle “Nulysses” originally published in 1993 and endorsed by Seamus Heaney as “playing a fine tune on the Joycean keyboard”. With my 20th anniversary coming up I am back to “looking through Ulysses eyes” with much excitement and anticipation. Talking of 2013 anniversaries, I am also embarking on an investigation of the work of Benjamin Britten, so the riches increase.
I see an Open Studio as an opportunity to gain some organisational clarity and exhibit the 100 watercolours together at least once. I also feel less need for seclusion and welcome studio visits by appointment.
I exhibit with the Rowley Gallery in Kensington Church Street and with ArtDog London. I have exhibited in the John Moores Painting competition, the Hunting Prizes, the Cheltenham Open Drawing competition, the RA Summer Exhibition and in 2009 won first prize in the London Group Open.
Dulwich is a beautiful place to live in and I have exhibited twice in the Pavilion Café in the park, which is an intimate and sympathetic space especially for a series of paintings entitled “On a Woodland Path” directly inspired by the park. My father worked for several years as a guide at Dulwich Picture Gallery, a jewel to have in one’s midst; highlighted particularly for me by it being the venue for Cy Twombly’s last exhibition before his death. And James Joyce once visited his publisher’s house in Alleyn Road around the corner from the lovely Dulwich Books where I work part-time as Senior Bookseller.
I think the nature of art is universal and global although there is little necessity to seek it out in terms of miles travelled. It is in a grain of sand and on our doorsteps and can be looked for and found every day.