Featured artist

Anna De La Mare


Anna De La Mare - 'of the sea', if anyone is wondering; Guernsey French. Spent the first 8 years of my life in the island and naturally very influenced by living near the sea. Fishing and tomatoes (later cut flowers) were the main industries - soon to be replaced by cheap tomatoes from Spain and of course Dutch bulbs and flowers. Jersey had the best potatoes, but we had the best tomatoes and we definitely, by a long chalk, had the best cows and Golden Guernsey goats, which in turn meant the best butter, cream and ice cream. I wouldn’t want to give the impression that there was any inter-island rivalry - but football, hockey and the Battle of the Flowers were hotly contested. The island is only nine miles by five, and you can walk around it in a day with a bit of determination. The locals were known as Guernsey Donkeys on account of their stubbornness. They weathered the German occupation when times were particularly harsh/brutal, existing on veg peelings and even grass. The Italians had it hard, being shipped in as POW slave labour; a lot stayed after the war and opened businesses. When I was a child it was sea, animals, countryside. We didn’t have a television or Wifi tech back then (oh, the good old days) - but we had a radio and the whole of the island, and all it’s wonderful scenery, nature, sun, history, to entertain oneself with. As an only child then I spent a lot of time alone (nearest neighbours about quarter of a mile), but I had a menagerie of animals for company: rabbits 16; cats 3; goat 1; dog 1; canary 1. Reading and drawing were the main activities for a child, if not roaming the countryside. Collecting flowers/plants, insects, small mammals – you have no idea what you can keep in a pocket, and for how long before an irate parent removes it.

I painted the dog at an early age (about 4yrs old), but it was in a vat of whitewash used on the greenhouses to shade the tomatoes from the strong sun. Needless to say my artistic efforts were far from appreciated either by the dog or the parents. What can I say, he lived to be dressed in doll’s clothes and run off down the road - bonnet ribbons streaming after him. We moved to the North of England when I was 8 years old – no one warned me what to expect. The weather was shocking. I had never seen snow before. On my first day at an English school I left and ran back to the house with pain in my hands from the cold that I cannot begin to describe.

I was an oddity. The way I spoke; didn’t understand the colloquial English; it was a culture shock – more like coming from outer space than a small island in the English Channel. I missed the milder weather, the sea, the call of seagulls, the way that when you cannot see to the end of a road because the land dips down on the horizon and you run with all your might to get to the end because you know the sea will be there – and it isn’t...just another stretch of road with more houses.

Drawing was apparently something I was good at, “not to be taken seriously, but did well”. I wasn’t particularly academic, although academia was reserved for those who could do maths. Guess who couldn’t? Miss Crabb (just a wonderful name for a maths teacher) held me up to the class as an example: “Miss De La Mare, drawing on your maths book is the sign of a weak mind” – she was probably right. I was good at English Language, Literature, History and Art - although the Art teacher, Miss Davis, felt differently. She sent some of my pictures off to competitions, but I don’t remember anything being said about them, so I imagine they did not reach whatever standards. I did some illustrations for younger kids, which she used in books she had created to teach infants - just teaching aids, but it made me feel great. When I left school (classes of 38-40) with no qualifications, my first job was as a window dresser in a shabby, rundown, little backstreet shop. I really don’t know how they kept going with the dresses they had, but they were also furriers so I expect that is where the real business was. After that I had a job in a factory which made clothes, as a dress designer, not as a grand as it sounds. Although I was sent to Paris to a big fashion fair once, to sneak-copy the designs, bring them back and slightly alter for the pattern cutters to produce saleable items here, in the North anyway.

When I was 16 I went to evening art classes at Leeds Art School. I was smitten! I loved everything about it. The smell – mostly oil paint and turps. The apparent anarchy, freedom, people who could paint and draw, who loved it, who understood why I wanted to, were interested in sharing their knowledge. I ‘ached’ to go there full time. I spoke to teachers/lecturers who told me I would have to get some GCE’s or, I could apply for a scholarship. The parents’ expectations were that I may be able to “carve a career” being a Manageress (one day) in a departmental store (the dizzy heights) and in any event marriage and 2.5 children would be the be all and end all. Arguments/strife followed - would never be a “proper job”. I left as soon as I was able. Put my thumb out and hiked all over with a rucksack and a sketch pad. Slept in woods, cricket pavilions and spent every possible moment in libraries pouring over their art books. Leonardo da Vinci soon became my hero, and has remained so ever since. I copied everything I could find. I recently found hidden away a few pencil drawings of that long, long ago period. Lucien Freud, Francis Bacon and Egon Schiele are amongst several other favourites. The Guerrilla Girls, worth a look.

I travelled all over Europe on a 650cc Triumph Tiger, made my way down to Turkey and then back up to Greece. I lived with a Greek sculptor for a year or so, helping him with some designs for stained glass windows. Eventually returning to England/London where I worked as a legal secretary whilst painting for myself and whomever wanted to commission me (rather grand - it just means someone said 'can you paint me a picture I will give you a couple of bob'). I went to evening classes and passed A level GCE Art & Art History, also GCE O level English Language & Literature.

However, four children stopped me painting in my tracks. I qualified as a ballet teacher and the children took ballet, but I felt I could not devote enough time to the children and concentrate on painting. I did try a couple of times but couldn’t give sufficient continuity to satisfy the work. I gave up on it and before long became frightened of picking up a pencil. I was so scared that I would not be able to draw that I refused to engage at all, except if the children brought back art homework.

For a couple of years as I was retiring from Prison Law I found myself in Wiltshire. The pull of picking up a pencil again raised its head. I couldn’t find a local art group but did join a wood carving club. This involved sketching, albeit roughly, what was to be carved and I produced my first piece, a running hare. It turned out to be my only piece! Somehow or other I refurbished, French polished, renovated several pieces of furniture instead. Oh, I did make a mirror with carved hare heads around it.

I moved to Wellingborough in 2015. Sought out art teachers. Found the U3A and joined that, also a Friday morning art session with a group who had a teacher. It was from there I learned about “scumbling” and produced my first portrait, it being of Angela Davis. Had the amazing luck to stumble on The Shed and Mr Black - I don’t even know how now. I did go to one of his exhibitions, maybe it was through that. I remember identifying him to myself as the artist, with his long black coat, rather an air of Oscar Wilde. At the Shed I painted my granddaughter’s portrait, Lily, which I entered into one of the FPAA exhibitions and was surprised and delighted to receive a Commendation. I also painted her twin brother Alfie. By now I was using acrylics and oils as well as pencil drawing. Attended John Black’s life drawing evenings on a Wednesday which I loved. It kick-started my confidence in drawing. I have always been a big believer that if you can’t draw, you can’t paint. No doubt there will be plenty who disagree.

In my painting I like to draw using pencil initially, map it out, wriggle it, shuffle it. I use very heavy/soft graphite which I like to paint over. I love the smudged graphite showing through the paint. It gives depth and atmosphere. I like seeing the workings of the painting coming through to the finished work. The finished work – well that is always a problem isn’t it?

When is it finished? Many the time I have thought a painting going really well, especially portrait, but apparently not quite finished, and within a brushstroke it is too late, gone over, a stroke too far, lost that likeness, immediacy, specialness (is that a word?). I am coming to the conclusion that so-called, thought-of, unfinished work is in fact perfectly valid and is finished in an unfinished way. I work predominantly in acrylic these days, I like the versatility of the medium. I can use it like water colour (yes, I know it is) but also as thick as oil with scope for texture. You can paint over it a short amount of time. You can even rub it off, if you do it straight away. The only thing is it doesn’t have that wonderful smell of oil paint and turps. I am not a portrait painter as such, I like diversity and slightly off-kilter subjects, such as the two boxing hares in a shop window which was a photograph taken by the chap you can see in the background, bald head and hand holding camera, even a food truck reflected. The Tibetan Monastery monks’ shed I came across when visiting the Kagyu Samye Ling in Scotland, or a representation of Anorexia.

The screaming self-portrait covered in blood was done as a result of a vivid dream I had after a dreadful encounter with a misogynistic bully whilst out with the dog. I think painting may be a healer and cathartic.

Sadly, in these Covid19 times, one of my most recent paintings is of a very dear friend, Mike, who unfortunately died on 1st April. A gentle soul whom everyone liked. Apart from this portrait almost every other painting I have in my possession at the moment (I have sold quite a few through the Rothwell Gallery) was started at The Shed. There is something mystical and inspiring about the place (even the cat doo!). John has a quiet, careful way of imparting knowledge, his teaching method, you either listen and take notice of his advice or you don’t. Never quite understood why anyone wouldn’t when his observations are spot on.

The need to paint and draw is, I am convinced, a masochistic tendency. The pain, anguish, stress, lack of self belief and confidence can be overwhelming. But there are also times of achievement, pleasure, relief which is immeasurable. An extreme interest with what is difficult, trying to do what I can’t do is the fascination.

Francis Bacon said “Painters who deny themselves the representation of life and limit their language to purely abstract forms are depriving themselves of the possibility of provoking more than aesthetic emotion”.




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