Easing out of lockdown now, and reacclimatising myself to something like normal life as the noise of the streets drowns out the birdsong again… I know how immensely lucky I’ve been, as one of those for whom the last four months haven’t meant any real hardship – just peace and quiet and a guilty enjoyment of life being suddenly very simple and free of decisions: a bit like when snow brings everything to a halt. I still had a few writing commissions to work on, and I even found new subjects to paint, discovering streets and buildings I’d never noticed before as I sought out new routes on my ‘daily walk’.
And I’ve been doubly lucky because of the Artist Support Pledge – the Instagram scheme started by Sussex-based artist Matthew Burrows to help artists recoup income lost through cancelled exhibitions and suspended classes. Not sure how much the Pledge has turned over in total so far, but in my case it’s helped me find new buyers, new artists – and new art, because the idea is that you promise to buy from another artist as soon as you reach £1000 in sales. At a time when life was reduced to essentials and so many businesses were closed down overnight, this was a way of encouraging us to keep investing in each other, and in art: perhaps not actually essential, but definitely life-enhancing. I’m still making frames and delivering paintings I’ve sold through @artistsupportpledge – and by providing an income, it’s also allowed artists to donate to fundraising projects, giving a percentage of their sales to food banks, NHS charities and other important causes.
One of the few good things to have emerged out of Covid-19. It would be nice to think there might be some more to come…
What a Hazard a Letter Is: the Strange Destiny of the Unsent Letter is now available in paperback. (‘A charming book, witty, original and wise’, Christopher Hart, Sunday Times)
I’ve been wondering about the significance of the letter during Lockdown. Should we be writing more of them? There feels a greater need to keep in touch with each other while we’re physically isolated, and to keep a record of our thoughts; on the other hand, are we exposing postal workers to extra risk by adding to their mailbags? Customers at my local post office are queuing down the street and round the corner. It’s like the run-up to Christmas, without the gaudy stamps – and without the bad temper: everyone is patient, stoical and considerately distanced. And my wonderful postman handles special deliveries by ringing the doorbell to let me know he’s there, then signing on my behalf and popping the parcel through the door for me.
Perhaps the answer is that we should at least be writing letters, putting our feelings into words, even if we don’t get round to posting them now – or ever. History and literature are strewn with letters that were left unsent, whether deliberately or by mistake – as well as those that were misdirected, or intercepted, or failed to reach their intended destination for some other reason. Some changed the course of a life by remaining unsent. Others turned out to have been withheld wisely. What a Hazard a Letter Is: The Strange Destiny of the Unsent Letter tracks their stories, complete with the reasons and the consequences…
Published by Safe Haven Books, £9.99 paperback
‘Houseboats’ and ‘The Pink One’ – two river paintings I’m showing at the Chelsea Art Society’s members’ exhibition this week. Paintings, prints, pastels and sculpture, all on a theme of Ebb and Flow in Chelsea. Tuesday 8th to Sunday 13th October at 340 Kings Road, London SW3 5UR. Click the link below to see the online catalogue.
‘There is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in a shed,’ as Ratty didn’t quite say in The Wind in the Willows. I had great fun writing about the joy of sheds for the August issue of Country Living, on sale now. Impossible to resist the idea of a room of one’s own – especially if it’s in the garden…
Table in a Spring Window is one of several paintings I have in the Piers Feetham Gallery summer show, which runs until 3 August. A really lovely exhibition in a wonderful gallery, full of light and distinctly summery, with beautiful work by artists including Glyn Saunders, Caroline McAdam Clark, Roger Hardy, Susie Elliot and Christie Bird. Well worth a visit: 475 Fulham Road, London SW6.
‘Sewing’ is one of four paintings I’m showing at the 72nd annual Chelsea Art Society exhibition, which opens on Thursday 13th June. Five days of inspiring work from established artists and open submissions – and all completely free. (Free to view, that is – you’ll have to pay up if you want to take something home with you, but there will be loads of affordable paintings, prints and sculptures…)
Chelsea Old Town Hall, Kings Road, London SW3 5EE, Thursday 13th-Monday 17th June (for opening times see chelseaartsociety.org.uk).
Anemone and Hyacinth will be on show at the New English Art Club exhibition, 14-22 June. I’m so glad to be part of this exhibition again. It’s at the beautiful Mall Galleries (an easy walk from Charing Cross, Waterloo and the West End) and should include masses of interesting work by NEAC members and other artists. Come if you can!
Delighted to have sold this painting (Window sill: Where the light falls) at the first ART@INK exhibition last month, part of the fabulous INK Festival that’s become an April fixture in the cultural calendar of the lovely town of Halesworth in Suffolk. It was a privilege to be shown alongside brilliant artists including Roger Hardy, Dina Southwell, Melanie Goemans and Sula Rubens, in the beautiful top-floor gallery of The Cut arts centre – and to be able to enjoy the packed programme of short plays (great drama, superb acting) running in the theatre spaces downstairs. Very happy that part of the proceeds from paintings sold go to fund the festival and the work it does for theatre in the community. Long may it continue – already looking forward to next year.
Very exciting to have a painting featured in the Emporium pages at the front of the March issue of Country Living – alongside beautiful things from people like Seasalt and Designers Guild. I write features for the magazine quite regularly, but this is the first time they’ve shown one of my pictures, and it’s been lovely to hear from readers who are interested in them.
I’ve been thrilled to see What a Hazard a Letter Is in such good company at bookshops including Hatchards (above), Daunt and Waterstones – and by the reviews in newspapers and magazines. And I love the way it seems to have tapped into a revival of interest in the whole idea of traditional, stamp-and-envelope correspondence.
‘It’s a charming book, witty, original and wise.’ Christopher Hart, Sunday Times
‘This gloriously varied collection… Within these fascinating pages jostle Beethoven, John F Kennedy, Van Gogh, Boris Johnson, Oscar Wilde, John Major and more.’ Bel Mooney, Daily Mail
‘Caroline Atkins’ sparkling collection… a great idea for a book.’ Cressida Connolly, Spectator
‘It’s an enchanting book and, quite soon, any country-house bedroom that doesn’t have it on one of its occasional tables won’t be worth sleeping in… Don’t deprive yourself a moment longer. Buy the book.’ Clive Aslet, Country Life
This idea grew out of a chance conversation with my friend Graham Coster, publisher of Safe Haven Books. I’d been reading Janet Malcolm’s fabulous The Silent Woman, about her exploration of the relationship between Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, in which she describes writing a letter to a fellow biographer – and then not sending it. Her analysis of the motives that made her write, but not send, the letter is fascinating: the unsent letter, Janet Malcolm suggests, would be an interesting genre for study. In fact, Graham said to me, it would make a good book. And then he said: ‘When are you going to write it?’
So I did – with his help in researching and sourcing letters from history, literature, diaries and elsewhere. Letters written in anger and then thought better of, letters that no longer needed to be sent because writing them was therapy enough, and letters that remained undelivered because of mishap, misdirection or some other intervention. Plus letters that were expected but never arrived (and even some that did arrive, but were then treated by the recipient as though they hadn’t…). It was a chance to revisit favourite books – everything from Iris Murdoch and Dorothy L. Sayers to Anthony Buckeridge’s school stories (the unsent drafts of Jennings’ and Darbishire’s first postcards home are an enduring delight) – and to investigate the circumstances that left sometimes quite significant letters quietly, poignantly, unsent.
The title, incidentally, comes from a letter of Emily Dickinson’s (later turned into a poem): her point was that letters are like unexploded bombs, carrying material that can wreak havoc in our lives, so we should be careful what we write.
What a Hazard a Letter is: The Strange Destiny of the Unsent Letter is published by Safe Haven Books on 20 September, price £14.99.
Wrapping paintings for delivery after our exhibition at 54 The Gallery, Shepherd Market – a really lovely week in a beautiful gallery hidden away in the backstreets of Mayfair. Surrounded by cafés, and well away from the traffic, it felt more like continental Europe than central London, and the glorious weather gave the whole week a happy buzz. In some ways it felt like a holiday – but we worked hard too, selling well and making loads of new contacts. Thank you to everyone who came and saw our pictures – whether you bought, or just found the time to discuss our work with us, we really enjoyed seeing you.