Angela is taking part in our coming Home is a Feeling show in Faversham on 13th and 14th November.
Describe what you do as a creative.
I’m a multi disciplinary artist. I use ceramics, stone, fabrics, drawing and watercolours to create my work, preferring to choose a medium that is appropriate for the project I happen to be working on. I teach watercolour classes utilising local plants and produce in a still life setting. I also enjoy people watching and can be spotted regularly making ‘scribbles’ in a tiny sketchbook in preparation for creating these little figurines. I find posture and behaviour fascinating and try to portray familiar humanity, usually in a slightly humorous way.
Tell us about yourself.
I was born in New York but left when I was about 4. My big ambition is to return one day with my own exhibition in my ‘home town’ of Brooklyn. I raised two wonderful children as a single mum for many years but never lost sight of my art. I continued attending life classes and exhibiting all the while, dragging my poor children with me wherever I went, our home was always one giant canvas for them and for me. Whatever didn’t move got painted!
Eventually, in my 50’s, I gained a BA at UCA Canterbury, studying for a while in the Kunst Akademie in Vienna too and won a couple of prizes, then 10 years later I have managed to gain my Masters too. So now I think I’m done with paperwork and I’m going to settle down to building a legacy.
I exhibit regularly, both with groups but also with my daughter who turns out to be a fabulous portrait painter, so life couldn’t be better and I don’t feel so guilty for having taken her to all those galleries now.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I always knew that I was going to be an artist, as cliched as that sounds but it’s true. Once, for a short time when I was about 10 I think, I thought I might like to try being a bus conductress but that didn’t last long and I was back to my original plan, which is lucky because I’d be out of a job now!
How did you begin doing what you do?
My earliest memories of art making are from junior school where I used to win prizes from Cadbury’s quite regularly for my art. One year, my teacher decided to keep the piece I’d made, which was a stained glass window drawing, despite my protestations. I was protective of my ‘babies’ even then. I left the school but had several siblings following me as I was the eldest of 6. As each one entered this same class, I kept asking them to get him to return my picture but he would show it to the class and then put it away again. I tried for years but never did get that back.
I can remember wanting to go to University, I started my A levels but didn’t finish. I was discouraged from taking A level Art because as a girl I was unlikely to get any income from it and was advised to take up shorthand/ typing instead. It was the last time I let someone dissuade me from my goal.
I entered the Civil Service for a few years and loved the people and their life stories but hated the paperwork. However, I was winning Art competitions that they organised so it kept me going.
Finally, my daughter gained a place at UCA Canterbury and she rang me one day saying “Hey Mum, you know you always wanted to go to Uni, well I’ve told them you’ll ring today to book an interview” and so we both graduated in consecutive years from there. It was such fun because it was a complete 180 degree shift, now she was dragging me round with her! But we’ve both made careers out of it and we work together so well that it’s all come together really nicely.
What turns on your creativity?
I just love seeing. As a teacher I’m always saying that once you learn to ‘see’ you’ll be amazed at what you’ve been missing. If I see a colour I like, I’m inspired to rush off and paint it. This week that’s been the beautiful pale pink roses from my garden. I’m constantly rearranging them in their vase in order to change the way the light falls on them and they just get more and more gorgeous every time. If I see a shape that appeals to me, I might take a quick photo or, if I’m at home I might draw it in a sketchbook. A classic example of this is the way one of the actors held herself upright, draped in a shawl at a rehearsal this week. I went along to watch, as artist in residence with the group and couldn’t stop drawing the lovely shape she had created. Often, as I live by the sea, I wander down to the beach to people watch and that’s inspiring to me because I’m fascinated with their body language and posture. Also, some of the clothing(or lack of it) along the beach front makes me smile. I see a lot of humour in people and I try to capture that chuckle moment with minimal detail, to challenge myself. I suppose I hope to create a smile on the face of the viewer in the same way that the person on the beach made me smile.
What do you like best about your work?
I’m very lucky to have a little place to live in that I also use as a studio. Being an artist is hard financially but I don’t have to pay for a space so I really count myself as fortunate. I’m so grateful too that I have a wide range of mediums to choose from, I don’t always feel like painting or carving so I can swap things around according to my inspiration. I’m learning to trust my instincts more as I get older and I’m feeling happy that I can discover new things about myself by doing that.
When were you most satisfied in your work?
I was so proud of myself for getting my medallic work into the British Museum, I must say that was a golden moment for me. I’ve visited that Museum for years, I’m a massive fan of the Elgin marble carvings and so it felt really special.
Other than that, I was very happy to be carving away at some ancient stone underneath the old cherry tree orchard in Vienna. My walk to the Akademie was through Prater Park every day and it was such a relaxing, productive time for me I will never forget it. I now have that same carving of a woman’s torso in my garden and it reminds me of those halcyon days.
Describe a memorable response to your work?
For a time, I had a stall at the Landmark Art Fair in Teddington. One day a lady came and bought a small stone carving of apostles I had made and said she was giving it to her daughter who had just returned from a stint on a Greenpeace ship. Five minutes later, that young girl rushed up to me with the carving clutched close to her chest and burst into tears, saying she knew the minute she saw it that she needed to have it but she’d given up everything to go onto the ship and had returned with literally only the clothes she had on and she didn’t know how she was going to get it until her mother offered to buy it. I don’t know for sure but that little carving touched her heart and I bet she still has it. If she was to be the only person who I ever sold a work of art to, my career would be a resounding success still.
I really believe that some things are just meant to be with certain people. Somehow artwork speaks to the soul and it’s inexplicable but can be very powerful.
What is the most exciting part of your work at the moment?
At the moment, I’m enjoying planning and researching new projects. I will be exhibiting twice next year in Margate’s Pie Factory and so I need to create a new body of work which is coherent for that.
Also, I’m applying for grant funding and possible residencies further afield, looking at new opportunities to keep me on my toes.
The theatre group that I work with is looking at performing an Edwardian play, which should have some great costumes for me to scribble and I’m also developing a new range of ceramics alongside my daughter, so that’s fun.
Then, as the Turner Contemporary gets back into full swing next year, I hope to be running more watercolour painting days there too.
So there’s a lot in the pipeline, as usual. I must admit I’m a bit of a multi- task-a-holic.
What is your dream project?
My absolute dream would be to have a residency in New York, with an exhibition to follow. I’d love to be able to tick that off my bucket list!
Which artists / creative people are your heroes and inspiring figures?
One of my first visits to the British Museum was to see an exhibition of Michelangelo’s drawings and I was just blown away. Several years later, I returned to the museum and this time I took part in a drawing tour of Leonardo’s drawings so was able to spend time really quietly scribbling before the gallery opened to the public which was such a privilege. Renaissance drawings are some of my favourite things, I especially enjoy the sanguine colours.
I’m a great lover of books and some of my favourites are biographies of other artists. In particular I’ve read Vincent’s letters recently, also books on Alfred Gilbert the Victorian sculptor and Rodin of course.
And I’ve got a huge soft spot for the work of the Glasgow Girls, in particular Margaret Macintosh, wife of Charles Rennie. I saw her beautiful frieze in Vienna and it was badly placed under a staircase which was sad.
And I must also mention the Secessionists.. Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt of course but I can recommend Kolo Moser’s work too, particularly his glassware.
Oh and Hoffmann’s cutlery design… I could go on forever.
Your idea of happiness
Is not having to stop to sleep or eat, just being able to draw and paint and sculpt without interruption.
What art/creativity related book should everyone read?
The Colour of Sculpture is a beauty, if you’re into sculpture that is for you, very inspiring and informative too.
If you’re political and you’re interested in black American history, the The Black Book by Toni Morrison is an absolute must, it’s incredible.
Tell us a lesson life has taught you.
That money is not worth constantly chasing. I used to think that if I didn’t sell anything and other people around me did, I was less valuable as an artist than they were, therefore less valid.
I’ve discovered, over the years, that those artists who chase money obsessively, adding up every sale and beating themselves up if they don’t reach a particular target, end up less happy than I am now. I’m not financially secure, never have been, but I’m my own boss and I’m very happy with how I live my life. I could be richer, that would be nice, but I remember the divine Grayson Perry telling me once at De La Warr Pavilion that you should never worry about undercharging for your work because even if you give it away too cheaply, if it’s the best of your ability, the price is
immaterial because the quality of the work will speak for you and act as your ambassador and good will always come of that. So I’ve got past fretting too much over money, just as long as I can afford to keep doing what I love best, I’m happy.
Anything else you would like to add?
I would just say that I do make sure I read something art related every day so that I always learn something new towards my practice and I try to draw every day too, which can only be a good thing. You can never get enough Art in your life!