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Interview at the artist’s home – September 2006

SO, ANNE, WHY DO YOU PAINT?

Why does anybody do something they feel passionate about? It’s always been there, I can’t imagine doing anything else! Nothing else gives me that buzz – I start to work then, at a certain point during the creative process, there’s a change and the work begins to take on its own identity, and that’s the moment when it starts to teach me things. It’s an immensely satisfying feeling.

ARE YOU SATISFIED WITH EVERYTHING YOU DO?
Of course not! It’s a continuous process of judging and adjusting. I’m often so critical of my work that I stop, turn a picture to the wall or put a sheet over a sculpture for a couple of weeks, and work on something else. Looking at it later helps me see it objectively and I can identify the bits I’m not happy with.

WHERE DO YOU THINK YOUR PASSION FOR PAINTING NATURE AND ANIMALS COMES FROM?

Undoubtedly, growing up on a farm helped. As well as a farmer, my father was also a keen naturalist and instilled in me a deep respect for the animal and plant world and the natural environment, teaching me to observe carefully and patiently - a fundamental requisite for a career in figurative art. In addition, my mother was a teacher and encouraged me to draw what was around me from an early age.

WHEN DID YOU FIRST BECOME AWARE OF YOUR TALENT?
I must have been about six years old. I was at school and we were told to copy a picture of an otter out of a book. I remember looking across at the other children’s drawings and wondering why they hadn’t copied it properly. Then the teacher came round and gave a gasp of amazement as she looked at my work. However, any childish conceit I may have felt in that moment was swiftly crushed by her instructing me to show all the others how to do it ‘properly’, thereby making me the most unpopular girl in the class! However, having a natural talent is only the beginning – as in any vocational career, developing that talent requires constant study and practice. Becoming a professional artist involves no less hard work than becoming a professional scientist.

WHY DID YOU OPT FOR A SCIENCE DEGREE INSTEAD OF ART?

In the early seventies most of the art colleges were focused on ‘abstract’ art. On the other hand, what I yearned to know was how to draw accurately, represent solid forms in tone and colour, and learn how to excel in the traditional disciplines of the masters I loved so much: painting in oil and watercolour, drawing in pastels, etching and other forms of printmaking. So all my interviews with art colleges left me feeling bewildered, as if we weren’t speaking the same language. One professor even asked me how I would feel about building a five-barred gate! As a farmer’s daughter, you can imagine my reaction.
In desperation, I turned to professional artists for advice. One of these was Keith Shackleton, then President of the Royal Society of Wildlife Artists. He urged me to complete my academic studies before concentrating on art. This advice proved invaluable. My degree in Zoology not only gave me a thorough understanding of anatomy and how animals ‘work’, but also the habits of discipline and precision required for scientific study- a sound basis for a future as a figurative artist.

WHAT MADE YOU GO TO ITALY?
I finally found a school that did speak the same language! I was told of a school of classical drawing and painting in Florence, run by Nerina Simi, a contemporary of Pietro Annigoni, so I applied and was offered a place. As soon as I stepped into the studio I knew it was what I’d been looking for; the smell of wood smoke from the old stove, the film of dust from the constant sharpening of charcoal sticks, and the atmosphere of studious concentration, with everyone grouped around a real, live model. It was serious stuff! The first year was drawing, understanding what we were drawing and getting to grips with the concept of chiaroscuro. Only then could we move on to the wonders of colour. The ‘Signorina’ herself, already in her nineties, was a charming but formidable mentor, demanding discipline and dedication from us but she inspired all her students with love, respect and enormous gratitude for what she taught us. And when the course finished, there seemed no reason to move away – what better place to launch into a career in art than the birthplace of the Renaissance?

AT WHAT POINT DID YOU START TO SUPPORT YOURSELF FINANCIALLY THROUGH YOUR ART?
Apart from my childhood, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t. Whilst other students supplemented their grants by working in bars, I was working in my spare time to produce etchings. In the holidays I painted commissioned portraits of people and animals and I also earned a fair amount through book illustration and jacket design. All this helped to finance my subsequent studies in Italy.
My ‘big break’ came in 1983 when I was offered a one-man show at the King Street Galleries in London’s West End. Once my name was known, other doors began to open and I eventually settled into a very successful working relationship with the Jane Neville Gallery, with whom I have remained ever since.

WHERE DID YOU FIRST LEARN TO MAKE BRONZES?
From an old master-craftsman living near Florence. This ancient process (see ‘How Bronzes are Made’) has always fascinated me so I decided to have a go myself. I made a clay model of my cat and when I was happy with it, took it along to him to be cast in bronze. Instead of accepting the job immediately, he gave me a lecture on form and materials and technique and sent me home to do it again! He must have thought it was worth taking pains with me as he bullied me relentlessly for weeks until I had achieved his professional standards.. Only then did he agree to cast it, but that first attempt ended up as a crash-course in classical sculpture and bronze-making.

DO YOU THINK OF YOURSELF AS A PAINTER OR A SCULPTOR?
Did anyone ever ask Degas that question? There are times when I want to paint and times when I want to sculpt – one doesn’t replace the other. Painting and drawing in two dimensions is immensely satisfying but, for me, it was a natural progression to take the next step and attempt to create in three-dimensions. It’s a different way of looking at something, a completely different way of working. I can express movement and form in sculpture, atmosphere and light in painting.

WHICH ARTISTS HAVE HAD THE GREATEST INFLUENCE ON YOUR WORK?
My first love was Corot. His treatment of light and space struck a chord in my adolescent soul but, of course, as my art has evolved, so have my influences. On the whole, I’m still drawn to the artists of the late 19th/early 20th century – Corot’s still there, Sargent, Clausen, Liljefors, and Monet spoke volumes to me with his use of colour. Edgar Degas has always been a major influence for me, both in drawing and sculpture. And then there are the anatomical drawings of Leonardo da Vinci, the etchings of Rembrandt, Durer’s meticulous studies of the natural world; they’ve all taught me something. But in the end you have to be of your own time and use what you learn to reflect what’s around you now.

WHAT MADE YOU WANT TO TEACH ART?
I don’t really ‘teach’ art in the conventional sense. Basically, what I want to do is to share what I have learnt over the past thirty years with people who want to learn.
My courses concentrate on drawing and tone, light and colour, but in the end, all any teacher can do is pass on what they know and love to others who will hopefully be enriched by it. Ultimately, the aim of my courses is not just that the students will go home with a painting to be proud of, but that they will go home with an improved perception and the passion to become better painters in the future.

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