A Good Start…

Almost two weeks into the new year and so far so good! I’ve managed to stick to most of my resolutions – which is a bit of a first for me!

Mainly I’ve been trying to alter my body clock and get into a routine of sleeping when everyone else does (i.e. during the night) rather than staying up, working through the small hours and then missing the best part of a day by not rising before 11.00. So far so good but it’s not been easy – my body doesn’t like it at all! But with the daylight hours being so short at the moment, it certainly makes more sense to try to make the most of them.

The way I’ve tackled this is by forcing myself to get up and out early, then walking for miles and not returning home till I’m physically exhausted and ready to drop. Of course this means I’ve not been painting in the studio much but I have made a point of walking to some of the exhibitions that are currently on show. So I feel all is not lost art wise, improving one’s knowledge is equally important – and discovering and exploring new streets and areas of London has been a real bonus too.

Somerset House, located off The Strand on the river embankment, is currently hosting the Valentino, Master of Couture Exhibition ‘The Catwalk’:


A wonderful collection of over 138+ exquisite gowns, displayed on mannequins seated either side of a long catwalk, each bearing colour-coded  discs in order to trace the development of the life and work of the legendary Italian designer through the decades. From the late 1950’s (mint), through the ’60’s (mustard), ’70’s (smoke), ’80’s (terracotta), ’90’s (parma violet), ’00’s (cream) and 2010’s (ice) until his company closed it’s doors, his collections, made almost exclusively for a client list of the rich and famous (including such great beauties and fashion icons as  Audrey Hepburn, Jackie Kennedy and Princess Diana) were stunningly beautiful examples of the very finest craftsmanship. The fabrics used had equally enticing names (crepe Georgette, black shantung silk, pink degrade chiffon, gazar, faille, organza and tulle) and embellishments included peacock feathers, snake-skin, strass, jet beads, lace and soutache embroidery. The highlight for me was the video display showing many of the  highly skilled and delicate hand techniques employed in his atelier. Techniques such as ‘Volant a Conti’ (lengths of organza cut on the bias and laid vertically to form a volant) ‘Tappetto Di Ruches’ (strips of tulle sewn to a base fabric to create a flat surface of tightly packed ruffles) and ‘Rose de Volante’ (lengths of organza silk, cut on the bias and shaped to form open roses fabrics and, unique to the Valentino atelier, ‘Pagine’ (disks of organza piled  to create a page effect). They were simply mesmerising to watch! The star of the show, standing hauntingly alone on a dais in a beautifully lit hall, was an exquisite satin wedding dress, complete with long train and veil and hand embellished with seed pearls and lace. Valentino was indeed a master of his craft and his passion for his art – and the beautiful women he dressed – was evident in each of his exquisite creations.

My next outing took me across Hyde Park to Piccadilly and the Royal Academy, where the latest show compares the early works of Constable, Gainsborough and Turner in the context of the rise and development of the ‘English Landscape’ school of painting.


I have to say I was slightly disappointed in that the bulk of the show consisted not so much of the paintings of the great masters, as I’d hoped:

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‘Romantic Landscape’ circa 1783 by Thomas Gainsborough RA

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‘Durham Cathedral’ 1798-99 by J.W.M.Turner RA

but rather of prints and lithographs, many by lesser known artists ‘in the style of ‘ ….which, informative and important as they undoubtedly are, did little to excite me. One exception however was the work of Michel Angelo Rooker – an artist previously unknown to me. His delicate and beautifully rendered watercolours were quite remarkable  – and more than made the trip worthwhile:

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‘The Gatehouse of Battle Abbey, viewed from the side, 1801 by Michael Angelo Rooker ARA
Last Wednesday I set off across the park once again, this time in the direction of Chelsea and I stopped, with more than a passing interest, at  a couple of sculptures on the way. The first, a fountain: ‘Joy Of Life’ by T.B. Huxley Jones (1963) , in a classical style, showing figures riding dolphins over the gushing waves:
Dolphin fountain
and the second, a moving contemporary memorial by Carmody Groarke and Arup, to the innocent victims who so tragically lost their lives in the London Underground terrorist bombings of 7th July 2005:
Both works very different but beautiful in their own right. I’d passed them many times so why this sudden new interest? Well, I was on my way to the first morning of my 10 week sculpture course at Kensington and Chelsea College (a wonderful, thoughtful Christmas gift from my daughter!).
Keeping a steady pace, I arrived  just over an hour later at the beautiful old, long-established studio, tucked away just off the King’s Road:
Sculpture studioIMG_0414
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Here, after a brief introduction to my new tutor, Tim, the class soon filled with fellow classmates and  got underway. For the next few hours, once instructed in all kinds of sculpture techniques, we  immersed ourselves in our first task: working with clay.
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I’ve wanted to try my hand at sculpture for a long time now – ever since I first saw the wonderful work of the late Tom Merrifield:
and the physical act of molding and shaping was every bit as satisfying as I’d imagined.
It was frustrating at times too as my (pretty poor) first attempts show:
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But it was totally absorbing and, alas, time passed all too quickly. Before we knew it, it was time to wrap up and pack away our efforts:
and for me to retrace my weary steps home…Can’t wait for next week!
My final foray out into the cold miserable January air took me all the way down to the river again, this time to Tate Britain, to catch the last few days of the Pre-Raphaelite Exhibition:
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To see such familiar and much-loved works, by esteemed artists such as
John Everett Millais:
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‘Ophelia’ 1851-2
William Holman Hunt:
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‘Our English Coasts’ 1852 (Strayed Sheep)
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‘The Awakening Conscience’ 1853
and (my favourite work of all) by Edward Coley Burne-Jones:
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The Golden Stairs’ – 1880
alongside works by the other leading member of the PRB Avant -Garde group, Dante Gabriel Rossetti:
and the decorative textiles of William Morris:
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assembled together under one roof,  was an opportunity not to be missed – a veritable feast for all the senses! The only draw-back was the crowds. The galleries were packed! (seems I wasn’t the only one leaving it to the last-minute).
So, beginning to feel a bit light-headed as I was, I made my way to the Members Room for a reviving cup of tea and a quick bite. Here it was also busy but I managed to find a seat at a table where I struck up a conversation with a most interesting lady. Turned out she’s a published writer and poet (see Pauline Keith) and we had the most enlightening and entertaining conversations about her work, poetry, painting and life in general…We finally parted company exchanging contact details and with her promise to visit Painting Skiathos, perhaps, next spring..eager to learn to paint!
It never ceases to amaze me what interesting opportunities (and people!) present themselves when one is simply open to them….
Fatigued and footsore as I was by the end of a long but supremely satisfying couple of weeks, I found myself buoyed up with new-found inspiration and floated on air all the way home…..
with still enough energy to share a couple of wonderful evenings out on the town with family and some dear friends visiting from Skiathos:
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Yes, it’s been a good start to the year….let’s hope it continues and that I, well my legs anyway (not to mention my finally decreasing waistline!) can stand the pace!

2 thoughts on “A Good Start…

  1. Hi Yvonne, looks like you’re immersing yourself in many of the good things London has to offer! The Somerset House exhibition looks especially enticing – time I made a trip up on our new fast train route from the Chilterns countryside, methinks. And I can just imagine how much you’re enjoying the sculpture course. Clever Tam. I can feel a new obsession developing (think how quickly clay would dry in Skiathos in July – London’s damp chill is useful for something, then). Right, back to my notebooks, digging through for nuggets of poetry gold … All the best, Sara xx


    • Hi Sara! DO come! Any time! There’s always something interesting going on, we’re really spoilt for choice here and I’d LOVE us to have a day together, chatting and exploring. It’s been too long! Were your ears burning yesterday? I did talk about you at length to my new friend….being in the same profession I thought maybe your paths had crossed at some point….Sounds like you’re busy and well recovered, thankfully. Keep well and warm (and dry!) Much love, Y xx


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