Art is the imposing of a pattern on an experience and our aesthetic enjoyment is recognition of the pattern.Alfred North Whitehead, 1861-1947
What do I communicate when I do what I do….
Art is not the product of individuals, it is the product of a community. It reflects collective beliefs, values and ideas. My art reflects the collective beliefs of my family and friends and the many people I have met and spent time with along the way, and more recently as I have transitioned from my career as a weaver and linen shop owner to a full-time painter.
Considered in response to Alfred North Whitehead’s words, the pattern I create with my art is a reflection of my memories and deep-seated emotional responses to past collective experiences: events, people and places and our commonly held beliefs, values and ideas.
As a child, I lived with my family near Thetford in Norfolk. I was born into privilege, which seems to have engendered a deep innate sense of duty in me – doing the right thing is a core value I still retain today. I was the first of four children and often felt protective over the others; a sensibility that became more profound after our parents divorced.
I attended a fairly progressive boarding school called Cranbourne Chase, housed at Wardour Castle, near Tisbury, Wiltshire. It had a female headmistress and a considerable art & music department. Despite this, my creative gene seemed to go completely unnoticed during this time!
At least one of my school friends went on to art school, but, it never even entered my thinking to do anything similar. I don’t recall being actively discouraged from such a path, but looking back, I do remember being very keen to be considered able and accomplished in subjects such as English and maths, so maybe I was encouraged down an alternative path as a consequence of my own tendencies.
Weaving the thread
My artistic journey really began in 1970 when I was 19 years old. I mixed with a lot of creatives at this point in my life (without realising I was actually one myself!). I had many friends who collected art, or who worked in or owned art galleries. I remember being especially drawn to the work of the Russian born artist Romain de Tirtoff, known by the pseudonym Erté, whom I first encountered at The Met in 1968 and I started collecting his work thereafter.
One particular friend taught me how to develop & print B/W photos in their darkroom and this set me down a specific path, working as a photographers assistant then a photographic stylist [collecting props for editorial & advertising photo shoots], that would prevail for much of my young adult life.
At this time I started Linen Hire, a business I ran from my London home, supplying fabric backdrops for hire. I also started distance learning with the Open College of the Arts, which ended with my attending The Surrey Institute of Art & Design SIAD in Farnham, as it was known back then – now it is The University of the Creative Arts – specialising in weaving with linen. I also started attending West Dean College around this time.
After graduating from college, encouraged by Ann Sutton, I began commissioning woven linen fabrics from mills in Ireland, Scotland & Belgium to sell, to trade & retail.
I began my transition into retirement in 2016, triggered by the lease renewal on my shop. I realised that if I renewed for another 3 years, I would be 67 when it expired and that what I actually wanted to do more than sell linen was paint!
The trend set early in my career of spending much of my time mixing with creatives still prevails today, but the art forms this circle now encompass is very wide, including textiles, fine art, photography, gardening, pottery, basket weaving… the list is endless. And in recent years I have added many new friends as a consequence of the painting courses I have attended and my membership of various creative communities including PURE Arts Group and Instagram, which can feel like a very real community as we share thoughts and ideas.
My husband Angus and I live very close to Partridge Green where the Emily Ball at Seawhite courses are held. I’ve been attending these on & off since graduating college in 1998.
I realised that a lot of the models we were drawing in the ‘putting people into painting’ course were reading, which triggered the initial spark for the Women Reading series. I am a keen reader myself, I have a lot of books in my study and am in a book club, so this subject really resonated with me and drew me in. It has however now become something of an obsession – I see people reading everywhere!
Top Tip: I often find my key inspiration very close to home – hiding in plain sight so to speak… It pays to be vigilant as ‘women readers’ pop up all over the place, and very often at home! however, as I say it has now become something of an obsession, so I find I cannot turn around without catching sight of another opportunity.
Surround yourself with people who inspire and motivate you and never give up! Starting a new career can be difficult at any point in your life, but it is especially difficult when the career choice is something that calls for expansive emotional content. Being an artist can feel uncomfortable, overwhelming and highly emotional at times, but, I’ve learnt to push through this discomfort and keep moving forward – following my dream.
Possibly the most important lesson for me however with regard to my personal career aspiration is you can’t do art wrong! You need to be brave and have the courage to experiment and play. Often the best work comes when you least expect it, so don’t be scared, just keep going and trust the process.
If you have found this article interesting why not take a closer look at my artwork or maybe join me on an Emily Ball at Seawhite painting course. I look forward to meeting you…
@franwhiteartist on Instagram