In my first blog post I want to introduce myself to you, the visitors to my site. Hopefully some of you will find it interesting…
As I write I have just turned 53 years old, so I think I can bring some perspective to my life and how it’s turned out so far.
Looking back to my first memories of wanting to be ‘good’ at art and who inspired me, one thing that I realised is that I have done exactly what I decided to do from the age of 15 – I wanted to be an artist and travel the world and I have. Even thought there have been may times when I have diverted from that path, I never completely lost it and I realised how happy I should be that I had the opportunity to follow my dream. Life can be cruel, unfair and short for many people and I feel grateful and privileged to be where I am today.
I have had a lot of help and encouragement over the years and a fair amount of criticism and setbacks, but for me, it’s the positive people that have helped me through the tough times and for them I am eternally grateful. Some were friends, some were family, some were teachers and some were strangers, but they all contributed, even if they didn’t know.
I’m glad I’ve reached the age where I know that bad times don’t last for ever, but neither do good times and the best I can do is just keep on keeping on. (Cliché alert!).
I was born in January 1965 in a smallish town called Nuneaton in Warwickshire (Shakespeare’s County – which we weren’t allowed to forget!), which is in the very centre of England. Nuneaton’s claim to fame was as the birthplace of George Eliot (aka Mary-Ann Evans) a wonderful novelist from the Victorian era and also Larry Grayson, a hugely successful comedian of British TV in the 1970’s and 80’s.
George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans)
Although on the surface these two people don’t seem to have much in common; Mary-Ann Evans being a highly intellectual novelist and Larry Grayson being a camp comedian, the aspect they share is their unconventional, for their times, personal lives and how that didn’t stop them being accepted by society and successful. For me I think the idea that you could live by your own rules, that you didn’t have to be conventional; dripped into my brain and stayed there, even though Nuneaton is seemingly a very conventional town.
The first artist I remember seeing and thinking ‘I want to be like that!’ was Nancy Kominsky. She had a programme on the television called ‘Paint along with Nancy’ which I watched at my Grandmother’s house and I was an avid viewer – I even painted along on a few occasions. I was very young at the time, but she made a huge impression on me, her painting was expressive and joyful, as was she. You can still see her programmes as they have been put on Youtube and personally think that they have stood the test of time. My Gran always said to me that I should do in life exactly what I wanted to do and not let anything stop me – advice I took to heart!
The other important influence at this tender age was my primary school teacher, a young Sikh called Mr Dhillon (I hope that’s the correct spelling). He spotted my interest in art and encouraged me to expand my skills. He taught me how to use an oil painting set and gave me lots of art projects to do in the classroom. He taught all of us about his cultural heritage, which was completely different to our own and showed us examples of Indian art, which I thought was beautiful.
One example of the many and varied traditional Indian Art images available.
He opened my eyes to the idea that ours is a big world full of fascinating people and places, who were very different to me and I wanted to get out there: to explore, to meet people and see all the different (and to me) exciting places I could.
The other important person for me, I met age 10, was an art lecturer and sculptor, Dave Berry-hart. He was my main guide and mentor for the next 8 years. At age 10 I started going to a Saturday morning art class at the local college, which was then called the North Warwickshire College of Technology and Art.
This is where I met Dave. I remember painting my first proper oil painting, a still life, which took me weeks to complete. Later on, the Saturday morning classes ended and I joined an evening class instead. No doubt the evening classes were probably only meant for adults, but somehow I was allowed to join. The thing I remember the best about Dave was that he taught me as he would anyone else. He never talked down to me and never criticised anything I did. He offered constructive comments and advice, but never said I was wrong, or that he was right!
I owe him such a massive debt of thanks, as the inner confidence in my abilities he encouraged kept me going through many a dark moment.
Dave on the left and Geoff Yeomans, one of the other great lecturers on the BTEC Art course, on the right
Through attending the evening classes and with Dave’s active encouragement and involvement I entered and passed the Art ‘O’ level at age 14 (the usual age is 16) and then the Art ‘A’ level at 16, again 2 years early. At 16 I was finally able to leave school and pursue the only thing I wanted to do – Art. I went to the local college again, this time a full-time student on the 2 year BTEC Art and Design course.
It was a fantastic course, covering all areas of art and design. All the lecturers were extremely good at their jobs and although I didn’t like every aspect, it was invaluable later on.
Everything I learned there, has been so important in my subsequent life, particularly when working as an Art Teacher where one has to be a ‘jack of all trades’.
Although I (thought) what I was best at was art, I was also a pretty ok student academically and I’m one of those seemingly rare people who actually enjoyed school. I loved sport almost as much as art, I never could understand the prejudice that if a person was ‘arty’ they were no good at being ‘sporty’. Much later on in my life I qualified as an Outdoor Instructor – teaching Mountaineering, Climbing, Kayaking and Expeditioning – at the age of 40!
Yes, that’s me in the yellow jacket
Well, after 2 wonderful years on the BTEC course I was more than ready to leave Nuneaton and embark on a degree in Fine Art, having gained a place at Bristol Art College. I had high hopes, but things did not go according to plan… maybe I’ll elaborate in a future blog…