Thursday, 29 March 2012

The Royal Flueologist

Chim chim-in-ey, chim chim-in-ey
Chim chim cher-ee!
A sweep is as lucky, as lucky can be
Chim chim-in-ey, chim chim-in-ey
Chim chim cher-oo!
Good luck will rub off when I shakes 'ands with you

If you ring Kevin Giddings and are put on hold for a short while these are the words (from the film 'Mary Poppins') that you’ll hear coming from a friendly flue in deepest Sussex. Kevin - the cheeky chap above - is the Royal Flueologist. On Saturday morning my young friend and I set off for Crawley Down to meet, in non-Regal terms, ‘the chimney sweep to the Royal family’.

I’d met Kevin last October at the annual dinner of the Royal Warrant Holders held at the Guildhall in Windsor. He was the current president and I thought his demeanour, character and appearance would be perfect for a portrait. I plan to start a miniature next week and a large oil painting later in the year, and took a number of photographs of not only Kevin but a few of one of his three (lucky) black cats. Maybe I’ll include his genuine Victorian flue brush as well. It even has a little wheel on the top for more easily manoeuvring round the corners of some of the larger chimneys. Like this one at Hampton Court Palace which Kevin has climbed into (when the fire is out!)

Everywhere we looked we saw chimney sweeps’ paraphernalia. Here’s his bike

And some of the beautiful chimneys he’s collected

Kevin’s daughter is a very good rider and later in the morning we were invited to see her at the Old Surrey Burslotow & West Kent Hunt as it assembled. (The Old Surrey is one of the oldest established hunts in the country and is the original hunt of Jorrocks. Sir Winston Churchill also rode to the Old Surrey hounds). But before we left I was intrigued with this model horse that she’d made.

And even more intrigued by these ‘hit’ symbols on Kevin’s son’s khaki vehicle.

It was a glorious day when we arrived at the hunt and soon the horses and hounds were ready to move off. I love these occasions – typical English scenes.

On the way back to Kevin’s house we took a slight deviation to Penshurst Place. My friend Joanne used to live there in the North Lodge with her husband Group Captain Chris Dalston after he retired from the Royal Air Force some years ago. The present occupant of Penshurst Place, Lord De L’Isle, is a member of the Sidney family who have owned the mansion since 1552. I took this picture of what I thought was Joanne and Chris’s cottage, but chose the wrong end of the estate as this is the Gate House.

Before we left the village we had a stroll around ‘Leicester Square’

Last Thursday Val and Diane came with me to the Regal cinema in Henley where we saw a magnificent performance of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. (Kenneth Macmillan’s first full-length work for the Royal Ballet).

It was beamed live directly from the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, London. The dancing was superb – especially that by Juliet in the last act. Supposedly dead, her limp form was so gracefully ‘thrown’ around the stage by her partner it was hard to believe she hadn’t really expired. Truly balletic.

This week I finished a miniature of Daniel. Daniel is a lovely little dog belonging to an American client of mine. I usually paint her daughter every couple of years, but this was a departure – and equally rewarding. The dog's owner has allowed me to show it to you.

I’ve also just finished a painting that I intend to use as my next Christmas card. (I like to work well in advance). And as the Post Office is increasing the cost of postage stamps by about 30% next month I sent away to Edinburgh last week and bought 300 of last year’s Christmas stamps – at the current price.

On Saturday morning I’ll be driving up to London to pick up the two rejected works I submitted for the Royal Society of Portrait Painters annual exhibition. Unfortunately the large portrait of Rolf Harris I’d hoped would be selected, was turned down, but this small watercolour entitled ‘Farmer George’ was accepted.

Sometimes I can be really haphazard. Yesterday, having just got a cheque for over a thousand pounds from the Building Society to give to the plumber, it disappeared! I searched everywhere for almost two hours – even went down to the dustbins and went through them. To no avail. Then I went to the post office to send off two parcels – one being 5 miniatures to Wells for the upcoming Hilliard exhibition and the other to Russia for the World Federation of Miniature Painters exhibition. But just before I posted them the thought crossed my mind that I might have accidentally put the cheque in one of the parcels. So I came home again and sure enough the lost cheque very nearly was on its way the Russia!
I must be getting old.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

The Revival Period

I’ve just come back from attending a book launch at the Philip Mould Galleries in London. The book is ‘A Dictionary of Miniature painters 1870 – 1970 by Roger and Carmela Arturi Phillips.

The book spotlights painters practising the art after the invention of photography in 1830 saw the demise of many miniature painters. The book describes this time as the Revival Period. I was honoured to see that one of my miniatures was represented in the book – even though it was painted in 1975.

My old chum Trevor Wayman (a brilliant artist) met me at the gallery – great to catch up with him. We walked across Piccadilly for a healthy lunch at Pret A Manger. Here’s a picture of me with Roger and Carmela at the gallery.

Well, the good news is that the oncologist gave me a clean bill of health on Monday. The lung and bowel cancers are no more and the scarring has reduced nicely. Apparently my liver is in ‘pristine’ condition too, so that’s a great relief. I’m usually too worried to take in all that Dr Gildersleve – the oncologist – tells me, so my friend who came with me, has a memory like an elephant and remembers every word he says.
The grandmother of the two little girls that I painted last week came to collect the miniatures over the weekend, and was very pleased with them. She has allowed me to post them on this blog, so here they are; Holly and Ella.

Last Saturday morning my young friend and I drove to London to deposit three paintings for submission to the Royal Society of Portrait Painters annual exhibition at the Mall Galleries. There must have been something very specials going on around Buckingham Palace at the time as diversions in the area were everywhere. I should know whether I’ve been successful by tomorrow evening as the results will be published on the internet. It really would be great to have my big drawing of Rolf Harris exhibited, but will have to wait and see.

I’m working hard an a miniature for a Singapore client right now and should be able to send it off by the end of the week. But apart from that, and my sculpture class, it‘s been a fairly average week. I did spend a number of hours over the weekend compiling a 60 page photographic book on our holidays. This is a great way to save memories, as well as putting some of the photographs in my album. Now off to meet a couple of friends for a fish and chip supper at The Angel on the Bridge in Henley.

Monday, 12 March 2012

The countryside in March

Yesterday we drove to Bampton in the Cotswolds to see Joanne Dalston. A beautiful early spring day, the blossoms were all beginning to sprout and daffodils lined the verges. Just last weekend Downton Abbey - the very popular television series – was filming the society wedding at this church there.

And I glimpsed these cottages through the churchyard, the wonderful mellow colours of Cotswold stone bright in the afternoon sunshine.

Earlier we’d enjoyed a hearty (enormous helpings – I think they thought we were hungry farming folk) lunch at the Clanfield Tavern.

Here are Val and Joanne standing by the entrance.

It’s been a very busy week as far as painting is concerned, and I’ve managed to complete two miniatures of a pair of delightful little sisters. They were commissions I’ve been looking forward to doing and are my first miniatures of the year. Also on the art subject, here I am contemplating the sculptured head I’m attempting to make of Rolf Harris,

I rashly thought that as I’ve been painting portraits all my life modelling a head in clay would be relatively easy. But no way – I have a long way to go.

On Saturday morning I went for a CT scan at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading. The oncologist won’t have the result until later this week, so I’m crossing my fingers that all is well.
Later in the morning my young friend and I drove to Birmingham to visit the University there for a nostalgic trip down memory lane. (She’d studied there for seven years). I had no idea how extensive it was. The red brick buildings were a beautiful colour, and the clock tower reaching high into the sky was easily the tallest I’ve ever seen.

We had a look around the university’s Barber Gallery. Described as ‘One of the finest small galleries in Europe’ it certainly lived up to this description. So many old master painters were represented there including Monet, Manet and Magritte, Renoir, Rubens, Rosetti and Rodin, Degas, Delacroix and van Dyck – not to mention Botticelli, Turner, Gainsborough, Gaugin, van Gogh and Picasso! The I spied a beautiful pastel portrait by Rosalba Carriera. She was also a talented miniature painter and was the first person to discover the delights of painting miniature portraits on ivory at the end of the 16th century. Prior to this date all miniatures had been painted on vellum, but the luminosity of ivory over vellum, especially with the use of transparent watercolour, soon became the norm.

On Wednesday the River and Rowing Museum staged an exhibition of John Piper’s paintings and I was invited to the Private View. Felicity came with me, and afterwards we went to the Regal cinema to see ‘Lady in Black’.- A really dark and scary film, and a total contrast to the film I’d seen the previous evening. This was ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ What an enjoyable film that was – great acting, marvellous script, and the setting in Jaipur was even more colourful than I remember it when I visited during my advertising days.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Invasion of Dragons

Last Sunday morning upon hearing the rhythmic beating of drums I looked up from my desk to see a small procession of Dragon Boats in the distance.

I figured they must be near by, so sprinted (that’s a laugh) down the road to find where they were assembling. In the bright February sunshine I soon found them. Easy – I just followed the sound of the drums. There were about fifteen boats in all and they were due to race all the way to Temple Island and back – that’s a distance of over three miles. Quite a paddle. Although dragon boat racing has been practised for over 2,000 years with its roots in ancient southern China, it only emerged as an international sport in Hong Kong in 1976. In fact the history of dragon boats in competition dates back to the same era as the original games of Olympia in ancient Greece. For competition events, such as the one I saw on Sunday, dragon boats are generally rigged with decorative Chinese dragon heads and tails.

The standard crew of a dragon boat is usually 22, comprised of 20 paddlers in pairs facing towards the bow. One drummer (or caller) is at the bow facing the paddlers, and one steerer (or sweep) at the rear of the boat. The pulsation of the drumbeats produced by the drummer could be considered the ‘heartbeat’ of the dragon boat. Good drummers should be able to synchronise the drumming with the strokes of the leading pair of paddlers, rather than the other way round. Here are a few of the pictures I took.

When I came back from my holiday I found that my very hard-working cleaner – Little Jola – had returned to live in Poland. So it was back to an ad in the Henley Standard for a new one. This, our local newspaper, is so widely read that I had over 30 replies. The economic climate could have had something to do with it – I even had half a dozen replies from men.

Wish I’d had my camera at the ready the other day. Looking out of my studio window I did a double take. Could have sworn I saw a water-skier – minus the boat - gliding around in the mill pool below me. It was, in fact, a young lad balancing on a surfboard and propelling himself along extremely competently with a single paddle. But what intrigued me was that sitting on the front of the surfboard, and really enjoying the ride, was a very happy little Jack Russell terrier.

When I lived in Singapore in the 70’s, my amah’s little girl – Wai Heng – came with us (the family were staying with me over Christmas) to the Tiger Balm Gardens. Here she is sitting on one of the two tigers there. I sat on the other one just two weeks ago.

As it’s her birthday next Wednesday I think I’ll surprise her and put it on my Facebook page. She’s probably forgotten all about it, but as she’s an avid Facebook user I’m sure she’ll see it.

In an idle few hours the other day I started on the design of my next Christmas card. I won’t be giving a preview, but it will be hard to better last year’s Trompe L’oeil design. I like to plan ahead, and even might buy all my stamps soon - before the planned price rise rockets this coming April.

I finally finished my ‘Spitfire over Henley’ painting this afternoon. It’s taken about 350 hours of really hard work. You won’t be able to appreciate the detail of the painting on this blog, as it measures 20 by 28 inches, but I can assure you all the buildings in Henley are there. And a little me is shown about one millimetre high on the bowling green. If you really look hard you can also see my boat and a very tiny young friend rowing my dinghy.