When I first left college I did a series of part time jobs while I established myself as an artist. These kept body and landlord happy while the painting and drawing satisfied my soul. I worked as an illustrator and also sold paintings, first through The Rooksmoor Gallery in Bath and then through Anthony Hepworth Fine Arts in the Cleveland Bridge Gallery. (Anthony now works from Kensington Street, London) .
I had a couple of exhibitions with Anthony and the story of how I came to show work there was a story of sunshine and serendipity, but one for another posting. This is about how I learned that as an artist you can not only sell work, but you can also buy it .
Anthony shared the gallery space with another art dealer and he had an exhibition by a Welsh artist called Evelyn Williams. I fell in love! Her work was stunning. I bought a catalogue, I visited the exhibition every day, but mostly I visited one drawing, a haunting piece of a girl, very still, very sombre, looking straight back at you. Her name, I think, was Sarah. I began to take my friends to visit her. I went to the opening and Evelyn was there. So elegant with a beautiful plait of long gray hair and she seemed so at ease with herself and with her audience. There were sculptures, paintings, drawings, all so full of heart and soul, and a darkness. I read the program notes and they talked about self doubt and how she worked and I thought, how can this woman doubt that her work is anything but wonderful. Her work had a quiet heartbeat of its. I was too scared to talk to her at the show, she seemed so confident.
And still I went back to visit this drawing and I would skirt the exhibition in a spiral that always led to it.
And then I went with Jo, who now owns and runs The White Hart in Bath. I think they have a couple of my paintings on the walls there.
"You know, Jackie," she said, " you can buy art as well as sell it."
Buying art was something other people did and it hadn't occured to me that I could walk up to the gallery owner and I could say, I want that painting please. I could buy it, and I could take it home.
I had had a good run of jobs recently and sold a few pieces. I was single, no mortgage. The money was sitting in the bank, waiting for work to dry up. It could sit there, or I could buy this drawing that haunted my dreams.
So I did. £500, unframed, a piece of paper with marks on it. I took it home and in my small and shabby flat it looked even more beautiful. I sat for a long while and just looked.
I think I cried.
I had it framed, and recently had it reframed again by John who dresses all my work and does such a stunning job with my paintings, making them look more special. He framed it in a simple molding and hand gilded in a white gold and now she hangs on my studio wall.
£500, at a time when I had little money to spare. And what is she worth now? I don't know, and I hope I never have to find out because I do not want to ever part with her. I know what she has given me over the years, what she is worth to me:
The courage to carry on with my work because every time I look at her I know that the woman who made her suffered so much with self doubt and yet she had the courage to carry on. And how could she doubt herself, when her work is so stunning.
The pleasure of looking at such a beautiful piece of work.
Stillness in time as in a busy life she holds me with her eyes and makes me pause for a while to look.
A connection with another artist.
The memory of how I had to be told how I could buy work, if I wanted to, almost being given permission to own something so beautiful, because somehow I thought that buying art was a thing other people did. That still makes me smile when I remember.
So much more, the stories that are tangled up in those haunting eyes, the history of the girl, the history of the artist. I met Evelyn's sister, saw some of the work that she had made in various stages of her life. I can't even remeber how this meeting came about but I do remember loving seeing work from school, college and then on through life.
And I have never, no not once, ever, regretted spending that £500.