How are you feeling during this crisis, and how are you staying positive?
I’m feeling surprisingly upbeat considering what a desperately sad situation it is. I’m obviously concerned for others especially for the most vulnerable in society. I’m currently giving phone support through a local charity ‘Somerset Sight’ to two older people with little sight, who are pretty isolated any way and this has just made their isolation worse. One of these is a fabulous 90 year old artist so we have plenty to talk about and our chats are uplifting for both of us.
As an artist I’m used to working in isolation so probably more prepared than most but I feel lucky to have my husband working from home at the moment and of course my Guide Dog Flynn always keeps my spirits up. Flynn is oblivious to it all, especially social distancing! I’m enjoying my running more than ever and rewarding myself with cake - beetroot and ginger is my current favourite.
You mentioned you have a perpetual appeal for the seaside, and so do we. We recently captured our SS20 campaign by the water which focused on colour and how we view it. Do you have a particular colour you are drawn to? And if so, why?
I love the coast so much whether it’s winter or summer you can’t beat it. I was born by the sea and can\t imagine living far from it. I have always been drawn to greys and they’ve always been the dominant colour in my work. Originally inspired by the greys in architecture, but now more than ever the greys in the sea and the sky. My sight loss has meant my world is now more grey than ever so it’s probably good it’s the colour I’m most happy being surrounded by. Saying that I also love yellow and red especially when you see an unexpected slither pierce through the grey. Nothing beats a bright red fishing boat.
We understand that you have recently been registered blind and can't imagine how challenging life must be for you now. Can you tell us a bit about your journey?
I’m in a good place with my sight loss but it’s taken a while.
I was originally diagnosed with a degenerative eye disorder 10 years ago called Retinitis Pigmentosa but at the time could read the bottom line of an eyesight chart, I just found it hard seeing at night. Being an artist and also a Curator I couldn’t believe this was happening to me, my world was all about seeing. Although my sight continued to deteriorate it was only 3 years ago that I was registered Blind (severally sight impaired) when my eye sight nose dived and I could no longer read the top letter on the eyesight chart. I was in denial for a long time not admitting to my galleries or my buyers that there was anything wrong. Giving up curatorial work was hard and for a time I wondered if I could continue to paint but I knew I had to find a way. i also knew that I’d been painting for so long I could almost do it with my eyes closed. Living in such high tech times really does have it’s advantages and my iPhone helps no end with so many Apps that can help me continue to paint, including one that will read my paint tube colours which was one of my biggest frustrations.
As an artist, your work is very sensorial. How has becoming blind connected with your work?
I have always painted from memory and feeling for a place rather than a direct representation of somewhere so this hasn’t changed much. I no longer do preliminary pen sketches but do record voice memos of feelings and colour notes. The changes have come in the subtlety of line, mark and colour but as an artist your work is constantly evolving anyway so without sight loss i’m sure there would’ve been subtle changes anyway. I also wonder how long my sight loss has influenced the composition of my paintings, there is often an area of calm then an area of more frantic mark making, this is similar to how I see.
We find you and your work extremely inspiring. Some of your paintings are displayed in our mill, and are greatly admired by many. Who inspires you, and why?
In terms of art I have really changed my relationship with colour when it comes to the work of others. I am happy using subtle colours as I know what colours i’m painting I don’t have to see the paint but with other artists work I find it hard to see unless they are bright or bold or big, preferably all three! Jeff Koons exhibition at the Ashmolean in Oxford was the first exhibition I’d enjoyed with my Guide Dog, it was big and brash and I could enjoy many of the works without the aid of audio description. The game changer for me though was Rose Wylie, her exhibition at Newlyn and The Exchange in Cornwall made me so happy. Her work made me realise I could not only carry on painting but really enjoy painting. Her huge figurative paintings with carefree brush strokes, exciting use of colour and her take on contemporary culture brought me to tears…in a good way.
Do you have any exciting up & coming projects that you can share with us?
I was extremely lucky to receive an Arts Council project grant just before they stopped their regular funding streams due to Covid 19. This funding will support me to ‘Come out as a Blind Painter’ creating a new body of work which will embrace my sight loss and also fund the production of a short documentary film about this transitional period in my life as an artist.