Dearest hibernating honey bears,
New! Here is a link to two new wobblin' hissin' stocking fillin' arty art prints, just in time for Christmas:
and in other news...
Every autumn, I dread the darkness, damp and the leaves turning orange. Not even toffee apples help in my least favourite season.
I found this sweet poem which reminds me of why I prefer the winter and its promises.
Outrageous weather in late October didn’t stop me from attending the Whitby Steam/ Goth weekend again. It was a short visit but I enjoyed the spectacle and applaud the effort made by the faithful. I very nearly lost my wig a few times in the wind.
SJ (left) and fellow steamloon Becky in search of authentic Gothic cod and chips
Getting into my 'making the best of autumn' stride, on bonfire night I found myself in an outdoor hot-tub for the very first time. This particular tub is positioned high in the Pennines, so it was in rain and strong winds that old friends and I watched the fireworks in our bathing costumes praying that we wouldn’t be the end target of a stray rocket. As it turned out I was a casualty of something else and I now know that you shouldn’t overdo the bubbly in the bubbles. Something about the fizz, too much oxygen and the vigorous pummelling of internal organs transformed me into a lightly chlorinated, catastrophic mess - from which it took nearly 4 days to recover.
Fangs very much!
Far more important than my daft weekends, I need to say a big thank you to all those who gave a home to an artwork at any point over this year or if you have taken time out to visit my studio gallery.
*all serious now*
If you don’t mind I’d like to deliver a small sermon on the matter of collecting art prints.
I’ve been publishing art for more years than I dare calculate. It’s been a truly heart-warming experience to find so many people willing to give up their wall space to my work. Back at the beginning in the early 90’s, my then publisher took the risk of printing runs of 500+ copies. Mostly it worked well, so they did their thing and I did mine, never much thinking about the numbers.
Experience taught me that the art industry, like so many others, was placing profits above integrity and over ten years ago I decided to become an independent publisher. I immediately reduced the number size of my limited editions. There were assorted reasons for this but mainly I wanted the prints to be genuinely restricted, no improbably high numbers of artist proofs, United States editions, remarque’s or spare ‘insurance’ copies. I always keep in mind that ‘just because you can, doesn’t mean you should’ so if the certificate says 10 copies, then it’s 10 copies, world-wide. I can set this number as low as 2 although usually it is between 20 – 50 copies and certainly never more than 100.
The downside of slashing print numbers is the risk of becoming Miss unpopular. In the case of the recent ‘Love Bite’ and ‘Deeds, Not Words’ images, they sold out on the day of release; lovely from the artist’s point of view but frustrating for collectors who failed to get a copy. I do try my best to be fair and make it up where I can but it's not easy. Luckily most collectors are very understanding, so thank you.
I have now completed phase one of my experiment in running a retail gallery. Having the space has enabled me to meet interesting people and collect lovely new local artfans but like so much of provincial Britain, it’s very quiet on the high street these days; often more so in seaside towns and, despite its recent tarting up, canny old Whitley Bay is still rather out on a limb. Worse than that, I’ve discovered that I’m not Superwoman after all: trouble with my wayward, deteriorating eyes and a recent diagnosis of bone growths and arthritis in the upper spine (most likely the result of years in front of the easel in cold studios), I would now prefer to dedicate myself solely to creation. There will be no downing of brushes until I'm forced – so the gallery will close for now and I'll be painting: while I still can.
My masterplan is to open for special events and YOU CAN VISIT THE STUDIO/GALLERY ANYTIME! Please just contact us (with a little notice) to arrange a time. JAM will also be open Saturdays until Christmas 2018.
I will leave you with this new family portrait painting (private commission) 'Christmas Crackers'.
The print release of ‘Deeds not words’ and ‘Love Bite’ are now all reserved. Both prints have been oversubscribed - If you contacted us to register your interest - once we have allocated each edition, we will be in touch very soon.
Thank you very much for another overwhelming and super-fast response!
It seems the holidays are all but over: flowers are throwing down their petals and weak English tans are beginning to fade. Today, I’ve had to put on a pair of socks for the first time in weeks which made me ponder on the imminent end of a bittersweet summer.
There have been no fancy holidays, just the occasional stretch-out on the grass and a couple of days away from Tyneside.
One of these included a visit to the National Railway Museum (I’m not a spotter but I know someone who is). George Stephenson’s ‘Rocket’ says hello as you arrive and then you see a poignant new exhibit: a WW1 ambulance train which carried wounded soldiers back from the front.
I am always taken aback by the sheer scale and presence of the magnificent engines. I looked at almost everything except the modern Oriental trains - you can’t get a sooty face and wave your ribbons at those things! I perched on a stool in the café (Blueberry muffin: 7/10) and admired the curves of the magnificent Mallard but one of my favourite finds was this marvellous platform vending machine.
SJ wondering how in the world she can get one of these...
There is simply too much to say about a place like this: I loved every square inch of it. The house and estate have been beautifully maintained and recently renovated: the stone could have been quarried yesterday. And who knew that a Georgian greenhouse at Chatsworth cultivated the 'Cavendish' banana that we all know today? The plants were sent from Chatsworth to various locations in the pacific and grown commercially for the first time around the turn of the 20th century.
This French beauty was sitting in the grounds - a great pity it was closed. If I were posh enough to have a favourite champagne, it would be Pink Laurent Perrier; I even painted some once…
I can’t report on the cake quality at the Duke of Devonshire’s place as I didn’t have any. I’d overdone it the day before as it was my birthday. Instead I bought a ridiculously expensive bar of Chatsworth soap which is still in my car, overpoweringly a reminder that I need to go places more often.
There has also been a good amount of peaceful painting time and I certainly don’t take for granted the evening walks home along the normally chilly coastline in the bizarrely out of character warm breeze.
For those of us inclined towards depression or seasonal affective disorder, the sun is one of the best fixes there is which is why I dread (and have to psyche up to) the coming seasons. However, I am very lucky to see another autumn: a gift which some will be denied.
This week, I experienced the loss of a friend...
Toni was an incredibly talented artist who I met many years ago when we shared the same art publisher. We hit it off immediately; she possessed a wonderful, dark sense of humour. Toni was well known for her striking paintings of animals, executed with such precision that I could never understand where her patience came from. Yet, as technically accurate as her work was, she could never be accused of photorealism. Toni composed her portraits artistically and could give a standard Friesian cow a certain ethereal quality; all of her cows,spring lambs and goats would have names and personality. This magic ingredient and her respect for animals is what elevates her artwork above merely faithful animal painting.
Despite this honed skill, at around 50 years old, Toni changed careers. At this age, how many of us would be brave enough to train for an entirely different occupation, especially while undergoing treatment for double breast cancer? She worked and studied like a demon, passing her final exam this summer (with 100%) to become a hospital pharmacy technician. She had been doing extra revision when she couldn’t sleep because of the pain from an extremely rare form of metastatic cancer, such was her resilience.
Not being able to meet very often, we wrote to each other regularly for years. I have reams of correspondence full of Alan Bennett-esque observations from her life and whenever I cleared out my inboxes, I always saved her messages because they were too good to delete. I’m so glad I will always have her words.
On asking Toni how she managed to remember so many clinical references and chemical names:
“When I studied ear/nose/throats, I struggled to remember the difference between ‘Otitis media’ and ‘Otitis external’ as they have very similar symptoms and some related specifically to the ear canal. So for one, I drew a gondola in a canal (ear canal). My victim in the gondola was carrying an ear trumpet (can cause temporary deafness) then I struggled to remember that Clioquinolone is one of the treatments, as we don’t have those type of things in hospital pharmacy, I drew an upturned Renault Clio in the canal that someone had dumped. Did all that and it didn’t come up in the exam.”
Life isn’t fair: a brilliant person has been taken from her life-partner, Wendy and deprived those of us who knew her of a determined, clever and remarkably funny friend. I will miss her.
Toni Hargreaves 1965 - 2018
Dear chocolate kittens,
To everyone who made a short or a long distance trek to Jam gallery for my recent ‘Urban Zoo’ exhibition, it was wonderful to see you, “THANK YOU!” - I cannot say it enough.
It was a real pleasure to see familiar faces and a delight to welcome new ones into the fold.
(Thank you also Guy 'Badger' Callaby, Bev at North Chocolate for your kind sponsorship, Lottie McPhee cakes for your sugary seagull confections, Alison V for the dog-biscuits, Margi Noise-machine for your extra paws and Ian Wright for everything else).
Rats and greyhounds, butterflies and seagulls are winging their way to new homes.
I am always ambivalent about the departure of creations. The canvas and I spend long days alone. It’s a battleground at times but slowly and lovingly, we reach our peaceful destination together. Sometimes, even years later, when I look back at a picture, I can still hear the music I was listening to at the time or recall the season.
When art comes about from significant personal experience or influenced by the people we love, it is never easy to let go. A musician can write a love song and he gets to sing it as many times as he likes - I don’t think about the fact I will never see my original again but I wanted to be an artist and the only way I can do that is to enjoy the creating and keep moving on.
So it’s not without sadness to say goodbye but knowing that the fruit of my labours has touched someone else enough to live with it makes me happy. It also means that I can sometimes buy the work of other artists and they should know that I am a careful guardian - all too aware of the emotional investment they may have made.
Back to school!
I’m busy with all sorts of miscellany for summer and I’ve been to visit OFSTED champions, St Matthew’s Primary School in Prudhoe, to talk art and biscuits.
Photo : Kate Buckingham, Hexham Courant
Not spending much time with kiddies, I forget just how entertaining they can be. On setting the task to create themselves as gingerbread people, one little girl did this:
During August, I’m also going to cast my eye over Tyneside’s ‘Great North Exhibition’ and I’ll report back with a review of the art but, since I know the equal importance of it, I’ll also cover noteworthy cakes I may discover on my visits.
After Christmas I will begin work on my next major exhibition (2021). Before then my mission is to tackle the commission waiting list; if you are STILL patiently waiting, thank you so much - I'm on it!
Love, SJ x
Ps As I get very easily distracted - I’ve decided to close my studio/gallery ‘Jam’ Mon-Fri, but more than happy to make arrangements for mid-week visits by request (still open as usual on Saturdays, special events, exhibitions or on blatant whims).
PPs Urban Zoo is now finished, but if you haven’t seen it, the catalogue and available paintings are right here. http://www.sarah-janeszikora.com/images/pdf/URBAN_ZOO_CATALOGUE.pdf
To see the 'Urban Zoo' digital catalogue, please click here.
Love, SJ x
Here are the details of my coming exhibition:
In an act of rebellion, I decided to skip London this time and exhibit in my own studio, so get your flat caps on, harness your greyhounds and journey to the North of England.
A digital catalogue will be available during the exhibition and further prints from Urban Zoo will be released in late summer/early autumn.
As if a trip to the coast isn't enough, during the same period that my own little exhibition takes place, there is another event which may persuade you to visit the region. THE GREAT EXHIBITION OF THE NORTH is an arts based itinerary of events that will take place in Newcastle/Gateshead and run for 80 days across summer 2018. Venues include The Sage, Baltic and the Great North Museum and is sure to be worth a visit, here are further details: https://getnorth2018.com/
In Tyneside we are looking forward to seeing you soon,
I'm going to have an exhbition - details to follow shortly. Please keep an eye out for your email invitation. x
Lots of folks reported not receiving their invites for my last exhibition - I have a 'Z' in my name and emails will often go straight to your junk folder, so if you haven't heard from us by May 25th, have a peep in there.
A digital catalogue will also be available online during the exhibition.
In which SJ is feeling under the weather.
It’s been a really cold winter and I’m not tip-top. I’ve had this year’s flu. The usual aches and pains came and went followed by the arrival of a lurid green chest infection. It robbed me of my usual enthusiasm for building a snowman or bracing walks on an ice-crunchy beach.
Nothing much is being achieved either creatively or practically. My house looks likes the council tip and although the snow has melted, I still cannot see my car for seagull splatterings. No matter how we think we can show a virus who is boss, it’s startling how easily the flu takes you down. I spent the best part of February smeared in Vicks Vaporub and eating truckloads of biscuits because in my desperation for energy, green vegetables became redundant and a sugar junkie is now what I am.
I felt ok for approximately 2 minutes and was about to return to my studio but in an almost seamless segue I now have pleurisy. This is a first for me and not a very pleasant one either. The level of pain in the lungs has been literally breath taking and I’m told it can last for weeks - very frustrating since the novelty of Lucozade and egg-in-a-cup has long since evaporated, leaving me half-crazed with cabin fever and moving as gracefully as the hunchback of Notredame.
Consequently, painting has been rather hitty-missy. I managed to create one piece at my kitchen table; an awkward working environment as anyone with 6 cats will tell you......
However, being forced to lie down on the sofa during the day does offer an opportunity for peaceful contemplation (as well as noticing how badly the living room ceiling needs painting) Then came the snow storms and a flapping bonkers pigeon trapped in the chimney. Avalanches of soot for three days did nothing for the lungs or the spirit. The bird was eventually freed by a chimney sweep with a child’s fishing net and an industrial hoover. The pigeon was last seen being transported away to be fed and rested in the vets aviary. Maybe I should have gone with him.
Weirdly, I've discovered that lying on the offending lung offers some relief. So, positioned strategically among the cushions, I’ve been reflecting on the the big stuff of life; love, sickness, loss and death. A number of friends and family have been going through the sort of poor health that knocks pleurisy into a cocked hat. The worry gives rise to all manner of ‘what if’s'. What IF tomorrow, someone we care for is no longer there? Are we appreciating them enough today?
Dr Szikora's prescription for illness or unhappiness is a ready set of ears, tea (gin) and sympathy (really massive cake) and show them we give a damn. This may not fix everything or even anything but it is the time spent that will help. Trust me.
I've been touched by the thoughtfulness shown to me. I especially enjoyed the little ceramic goat who arrived in the post, the burst of multi-coloured tulips and the welcome ’medicinal’ plonk.
In some ways sickness, like all other human experience, is useful to me as an artist; woe, the same way as joy feeds into my work. Mostly what I do comes from a need to understand life better; trying to catch an idea and examine it before it flutters away. Working in the arts is a privilege and never more so than when you are excused a degree of introspection. It is my way of existing in the world. I will always flounder in debates because I can’t recall facts easily; I'll always think of something better to say as I'm walking away and I'll always get tongue tied in certain company. These are just some of the reasons why I prefer visual communication: I get time to think. There is a flood of relief from downloading an idea or a feeling onto canvas and ultimately that someone else might connect with it. At the end of the phsyical process, I clean my brushes, sweep the studio and, for a moment, I have uncontaminated peace in my soul. I live for that.
Despite this wobbly first quarter, I’ve got an almost finished collection of new paintings. The setbacks mean I need to catch up, finish off the works, get the odd numbers even and by late(ish) June, I’ll have them on my studio walls. By then, even if Whitley Bay cannot quite deliver us a honeyed tan, at least we won't get frostbite.
Happy New Year!
I hope yours is set to be a very good one. For my part I'll be putting on an exhibition of new paintings. I also plan to publish some new limited edition prints, shambolically run a studio gallery and hopefully avoid the massive biscuit of pressure as it rumbles after me. I'll let you know more details in Spring.
I'd like to think that by now you are sitting by a glowing hearth, sipping yourself into a pleasing yuletide reverie with a good vintage port. You should be getting ready to fondly watch a 1970's Morcambe and Wise Christmas special for the 400th time. In reality you are likely to be stone cold sober, stuck in a traffic jam on your way to Tesco, your credit card has disintegrated in the festive frenzy along with all your nerve endings.
Not much of a Christmas fan, I've put up a tree but only so the cats can pull it down for fun and if they don't topple it by the 26th, I'll do it myself. Don't get me wrong, I like the idea of a ridiculous dinner and time with loved ones as much as the next person but I get overwhelmed and a little frustrated by this time of year. All of the extra 'to do's' on the list mean that no matter how much I try, I rarely get to lift a paint brush in December. That's like taking my medication away!
Supposing the last 12 months was a box of chocolates, I definitely got some hard toffees which gave me jaw ache from the chew but there were a few melt in the mouth truffles too.
Greyhounds have been painted, so have foxes, badgers, butterflies and bagpipes (and all in my new studio) so it would be naughty to focus on the relatively minor trials and trifling matters of my own little world . I wasn't forced to use a food bank or have my home burn down in needless flames. Christmas, with all it's unreasonable demands and gaudy IN YOUR FACE consumerism just makes things worse, the stress, expectation and debt takes its toll on too many people. The poor get poorer, the lonely get lonelier, the planet gets more full of harmful, meaningless tat. Surely this isn't the future of Christmas...?
What can we do? Loads. If you can stretch to it, donate some food for the two legged and/or four legged, cut those waste plastics out of your life, cuddle your old people, in fact, cuddle anyone you can get your hands on (within reason). We can all do something to be conscious of those who are chewing the hard toffee and share our truffles.
That's my seasonal nag done. I'd also like to thank you for being part of my world, for visiting my social media pages, website or gallery this year: it is always appreciated.
I'm now off to get a massive bottle of port.
However you do it, I wish you a very happy Christmas.
ps, here's a Christmassy picture. A private commission painted earlier this year for a family who have Christmas twin babies and wanted to celebrate their special birthdays.
I created a monster!
For those of you who enjoy a gothic drama ‘Dr Frankenbiscuit’ is now available as a limited edition print of just 20 copies.
Absolutely terrifying ey?
On a whim, I have also chosen (no offence, boys) to publish 'The scientist'. On the surface of it, this painting may seem a little…… harsh. In my defence, I completed it many years ago while having a severe ‘Bridget Jones’ moment in my love life.
If you or anyone you know is affected by the issues raised in this picture, please seek help. Get a cat.
I've got six now.
An important ps.... Because these prints are very limited in number, instead of the usual email/reservation system, we have simply added the copies to the Print shop.
The next release of brand new original and printed artwork will be late Spring 2018. Our mailing list members WILL be notified in advance for those artworks.
Hello Gummy Bears,
Here we are again: another summer ends and we resign ourselves to chilly days and darkening nights. I confess, summer distracts me –
a natural afternoon napper, the urge for my deckchair around 3pm is overwhelming so it’s good (or at least a more productive thing) to find myself back in woolly tights in front of the easel, particularly with the generous encouragement of you good people.
A studio-warming gift to Jam. Thank you Jenny from Abu Dhabi.
Jam is now 12 weeks old and I must say, ”Thank you very much” to all the visitors who have been in to say hello since June, some travelling from mystical Southern lands, like Kent.
Still my baby, Jam is beginning to toddle and even though I currently open the doors just 3 days a week, overseeing a permanent gallery space is an interesting new experience. My first hurdle (since the battle to remove all trace of dog grooming action) has been trying to stay vaguely tidy for visitors. I don’t just mean the work environment (though I do try to run a duster about the place) but also myself. When working in a closed studio, it doesn’t matter that I look like a walking jumble sale but in a public space the least I can do for visitors is not frighten them. It’s a novelty for me to paint in a dress and make up but I’m enjoying the occasional day of being a lady. No-one expects me to wear a dress of course; I just think maybe that comfy old t-shirt with ‘f**king psycho’ written across the back might send out the wrong impression.
I require a very strong prescription these days
The Social Whirl
Along with the painting larks, I’m discovering all manner of non-creative demands along the way. Aside from the essential window washing, visits to framers, hanging art and other tasks, it seems that everyone, whether in the public eye or not, must now engage in social media. Anyone who follows my accounts knows I’m hopelessly neglectful but I cringe at the thought of being a crashing web-bore. The result of this paranoia is that I’ve possibly gone too far the other way (10 Tweets so far this year and even fewer posts to Instagram). I ponder over how often is too often to update websites and social media pages and do you really want to know the details of my breakfast? I doubt it. My feeling is that I can legitimately rattle away on my own website and that if you are also here, you might not mind knowing that I had two pieces of brown toast (one with marmite and one with tangerine jam, both with cat hairs) but I wouldn’t want to clog up your social feeds with it every day.
I spend too much time staring at screens; always a people watcher, I’m drawn as a moth to a flame. It’s a modern addiction and a hard habit to break for long. I can easily recall the days before I owned a pc, iPad and mobile phone. I would work for anything up to 12 hours a day in blissfully ignorance of texts, emails, memes, gifs, spiritual life quotes, YouTube videos and pictures of drinks.
Only when I’m painting do I feel truly free from the pressures of social interaction, psychological torments and the rigours of life generally. I get into alternative worlds and find my peace there.
good memories from this palette.
Torture and flapjack
Normally at this time of year, I’d give you a full fat review of my summer but due to setting up and being responsible for grown up/ baby premises, I didn’t have a holiday this year, just the odd day out in the North so here is the diet review starting at: Chillingham Castle, Northumberland.
The inner courtyard at Chillingham, King Edward I once stayed here.
This marvellously eccentric fortress and family home to Sir Humphry Wakefield, yielded a wealth of fascinating objects that filled every square inch of castle, including a macabre array of medieval torture contraptions. This grisly collection included an iron maiden and a barrel lined with spikes (for rolling witches down hills) and also an horrific looking device for crushing hands complete with a pair of marigolds thoughtfully squeezed between the rollers to help us imagine flattened medieval fingers. On closer inspection, my suspicions were aroused:
This is not an instrument of torture - it is a mangle to wring your clothes.
(Nice try, Chillingham).
I could go on about the genuinely fascinating exhibits of the castle and how it is allegedly the most haunted building in England but let’s cut to the chase: the obligatory visit to the museum café.
I ordered a hearty bowl of vegetable salt with a bit of soup in it and a cheese scone which, despite the three pats of butter provided, was similar in texture and flavour to a ball of hamster bedding. As I lovingly choked it down, I was able to marvel at the world’s largest prehistoric elk antlers. Nothing was spoiled by the almost hilarious food and I had a splendid day.
Next stop: The Bowes Museum, County Durham
Contains mostly French paintings, ceramics, furniture and silver things in magnificent rooms.
By arriving late in the day I feel the best cake boat was missed but there was an acceptable flapjack, in fact it would have been a relatively faultless cafe experience had I not upset the applecart by foolishly attempting to select a bottle of lemonade from the counter top. Abruptly halted by the palm of a hand, a panicked waitress yelled “DON’T TOUCH THESE, THEY ARE DISPLAY ONLY!” Happily, this did not interfere with the pleasure of seeing the famous mechanical swan and a superb collection of historic clothing. Bowes is well worth a visit.
A few little updates
For those who have very kindly followed my mother’s progress through her dementia, Sheila has arrived in the final stage of the disease. Immobile now for almost 12 months and without memory, language or sight, I spend time with her every week. It hurts constantly but she still has the ability to offer the most lovable smile I know. She doesn’t understand how bittersweet it is to see; I just hope that it means she still feels the sensation of something good.
My mother sits on my shoulder and reminds me that I still have work to do so I’m beavering away on a new collection of paintings and unbelievably I’m still on track for an exhibition in late Spring. All being well, I’ll notify you of the date in the new year.
In the meantime, if you are in the North Tyneside region, do please call into Jam. There will always be some of my own artwork on display and, right now, some pieces by Jacquie Boyd and Anthony Marshall. I personally collect the work of both and am delighted to show their art to you.
(I will shortly add a page on this website showing the full works of exhibiting guest artists at Jam)
'Doing the one' mixed media on canvas by Anthony Marshall.
'The view' acryllic on canvas by Jacquie Boyd
super aren't they?
Have a crispy autumn,
all of the new prints have now sold out - thanks so much, you ROCK x
Hello Rum and Raisins,
One of these days I'll report in with news of a big original art exhibition (or even a small one) but so far I've not had chance to do much dabbling this year. What I have been doing instead is getting moved into another new workspace. Following the somewhat laboured trajectory of my studio hunt and after three long years of false starts, I’ve finally found a pad in which to lay my artistic hat.
Who knows? it may not be my forever home but it feels nice for the time being and now that I have a little exhibition space, I can not only lure the good people of North Tyneside into my world, but I'm also looking forward to collaborating and showing with other artists from time to time.
Over the years I’ve been housed in some very smart galleries, including a few where I never really felt at home. I’m not a fan of the fancy pants, gold-plated art shops around Mayfair. You know the ones, the doors are locked and you have to ring doorbells. Galleries staffed by elegant curators who get all itchy when the hoi polloi dare to cross their hallowed thresholds. I’ll still do the odd London exhibition but overall it’s not my scene; I’m more of a home-girl so, in a private protest, I’m pleased to announce that I have taken up residence in a former dog grooming parlour by the sea.
This space was once a human hairdressing salon too and during the cleaning process an almost geological formation of people and animal fur was revealed, even the light fittings were hairy. It would be fair to say it took around a month and the removal of floors and walls, before all the dog sediment was finally removed.
While I’ve been scraping away at old paint, it has been entertaining to watch the passing hounds who were previous customers of the salon, still make a beeline for the door as their owners struggle (particularly the woman with the St Bernard) to keep them walking past.
Flossie, an old client.
My two nearest neighbours bake cakes and, as if that wasn’t enough, a micro-brewery is going to open two doors away. There are plenty of tea and bun places and I’ve discovered that there is no excuse for scruffy hair (even though I’ll still find one) because there is at least one salon per person in Whitley Bay.
This seaside town born in the 19th Century, had its heyday in the 1920’s - 50’s and continued as a party town until the 1980’s. Like so many other coastal holiday resorts, Whitley Bay fell on hard times when people discovered cheap foreign travel. You can’t blame them, it is awkward to get to, usually cold and there’s just a little too much concrete.
Despite these criticisms, there are green shoots to be seen: Renovations of the promenade and former fun fair, Spanish City, are well underway. I see the coastline from Tynemouth to Whitley, heaving under the weight of visitors and locals at weekends and during the summer.
The shores that sit alongside the urban landscape might not be quite as picturesque as further along into Northumberland but the beaches are clean, sandy and spacious and ……. haaaang on a minute, should I be on a commission from the local tourist board for this?
Anyway folks, what I’m saying is: There are worse ways to spend a day than having a paddle, wasting a quid in the amusements and sampling the ice cream. (Di Meo’s family run parlour on the sea front regularly win National awards and their battenburg ice cream is worth a visit on its own).
But if you want to see some pictures too, I’m just a few minutes stroll from the seafront.
To celebrate the opening of ‘JAM’ (as in the sticky stuff found in biscuits) on Friday 16th June, I am launching a low number of 3 new prints later this week. They’re locally themed but even if you’re not from around these parts I hope you will still enjoy them.
If you are in my mailing list, you will receive an email with details about the new releases within the next 5 days. There will be no hoo-hah surrounding the opening of the gallery, please just visit when you fancy but do remember to check the opening times.
In the meantime, I’ve got some serious painting to catch up on – if I don’t see you before, I’ll see you on the other side – have a wonderful summer.
studio gallery (open from Friday 16th June)
207 Park View
Tyne and Wear
Mon - Weds by appointment only
Thurs - Sat 10am – 6pm
Get here by public transport:
Connecting to Newcastle upon Tyne central, the nearest Metro Station is Monkseaton. Leave the Station through the main doors and turn left to the end of Norham Road. Turn right and walk down Marine Avenue for a few minutes, (if you are on the opposite side of the tracks and the station is on the other side, then simply exit the station and turn right onto Marine Avenue) Turn right onto Park View and we are the first shop on the right.
Get here by Car:
A public car park is available next to the Whitley Bay Playhouse Theatre. Find it with your Sat Nav: NE26 1LT. From here walk up Marine avenue for a few minutes, take the first left onto Park View, we are the first shop on the road.
Hello my little tulips from Amsterdam.
Goodness me, how time flies. I do hope things are going well since we met last met.
We are almost arriving at my favourite season of Spring and I’m impatient for the bulbs I buried in November to perform their underground magic.
I’ve never planted bulbs before and I don’t even know if I’ve done it properly, so I’m monitoring daily and excited to see that shoots are coming through at a pace. Blimey, I’ve even pruned a rose tree this week; at this rate I’ll be a regular on gardeners question time and laughing uncontrollably at the diverse ways of dispatching slugs and snails from your clematis. (Snip in half with scissors, throw over wall into neighbours garden. Hilarious, see?)
I can’t remember what I planted so it will be a total surprise, they probably aren’t even flowers and I might find my borders full of onions. Either way maybe I should have a go at painting what comes up in homage to an artist that almost everyone knows and loves....
Vincent Van Gogh, self portrait, 1888
As a little respite from the greyness of Tyneside, I jumped aboard one of the ferries that conveniently sail from North Shields and headed over the water to Holland with the sole intention of visiting the Van Gogh museum.
It was well worth tolerating the rowdy hordes of passengers on their way to the coffee shops and, as a natural people watcher, the hen party with a blow up doll kept me amused in the long boarding queues.
I’ve been to Amsterdam a number of times and enjoyed the scandalous spectacle of the sex museum, broken my heart in the Anne Frank house and walked for hours along the canals but I’ve somehow never been to the Van Gogh. How dare I even call myself an artist?
Arriving at Dam Square, my companion and I set off towards the museum. We enviously watched the throngs of cool Dutch folk pedalling effortlessly on their peculiar bicycles. These dudes are well dressed and firm bottomed; there's a lot to envy.
The museum is a large, contemporary glass affair opposite the Rijksmuseum. Headphones on, I got stuck right in.
I’m just going to say this: I dislike Vincent’s early Dutch style work. It may not have been his intention but it speaks of misery and hardship to me.
Take a look at this little lot...
The Potato eaters, 1885.
It makes me tired to look at these people and their roughened features. If I had to find a positive in this scene it could only be the comforting coffee cups.
Among these subdued paintings, there was one one exception, a piece I've never seen before and which gave me some entertainment:
Flying Fox, 1885
A large, tropical fruit eating bat of the Megabat suborder. Vincent painted this from the (equally amusing) stuffed specimen displayed in a glass case alongside the picture.
Mercifully early on in the museum progression, the unhappy looking peasants rendered in all shades of brown and grey give way to the breath-taking light and colour we had all come to look at.
You can see Vincent’s own palette, a few tubes of his paint and many of the 800+ letters he wrote to his beloved brother, Theo. Then you are confronted by some of the most joyous and melancholy artworks you will ever experience.
It would be difficult to add anything to what is already written about Vincent. I can only offer my own response to his work: of all the artists I’ve admired my whole life, Van Gogh is probably the one who has the power to move me in a way that very few others can. The obvious reason for this is his life story. Without the loneliness and madness, his stays in the asylum, an almost unbelievable act of self-harm and ultimately his suicide, maybe Vincent’s self-portraits wouldn’t pierce the soul the way they do.
He stares out at you from some 25 different canvases and if you can zone out of from the other museum visitors, you will feel his presence.
Maybe the reason Vincent touches deeply is because so many of us are, or have been, affected by mental ill-health disorders. We know he was real; there is nothing pompous here, only the searching and beautiful confessions of a troubled mind.
In the museum, you can see his little yellow house at Arles, the surrounding fields, delicate blossoms and of course......
Finally, as your ofiicial reviewer, I would like to critique the cakes in the museum café and I can tell you that, just like in all National galleries, they were a tad expensive but at least the Black Forest Gateaux was of a substantial portion. I was disappointed to note that there was no absinthe available though there was a rather nifty wine dispenser. Select glass, choose wine, push button, hey presto, my kind of Gallery cafe.
If only all of us artists had even a teaspoon of what Vincent had, we'd be very lucky indeed. We can but try our best to bring a little light to the world, in our own way.
I’m continuing with a new collection of paintings. Although normally a figurative artist, I may try out some seascapes for a change. If I feel uncomfortable, I can always add a plump ship with a tiny figurehead, on the horizon.
There are vague plans for releasing some brand new images in late spring. You know the drill by now, I publish something then send you an email about it, the email will then go into your spam folder because I have a Z in my name. (So if you want to see new things, please remember to check.)
In the meantime, let’s wave winter bye-bye and keep looking at the gardens; Vincent could see magic in nature and if we make the smallest of efforts, so can we.