Tell us about yourself. How did you become an artist?
It has been a long journey! It probably should have been very different. I was born to be creative, but came out of school with only two O Levels; Art and Music. My panicked parents pushed me into the local college to do a Business Diploma. Everyone seemed to want me to be a secretary.
Instead at 19, I got married. At 21, I was a divorced, single mum in dire straits. So I started up a sandwich business from home called ‘Sam Widges’, employing a handful of other single mums. That was my first business and that got me out of trouble.
I married again, became a mum of two, and built up a second business with my husband; a large fireplace retail outlet (which still runs today); and during that time I gained a degree in Business.
I divorced again and then stumbled into the music industry in my forties, when my son’s band was signed to a major record label. This felt like I was getting back to my creative roots, with my love of the arts and music, and now I had some business acumen to add to it. For eight fantastic years I worked in the management team for some incredible musicians around the UK.
In 2011, I got breast cancer. This stopped me in my tracks a bit. During my treatment, I started to paint again. Naturally it was a time to reflect, re-evaluate. I was painting everyday and often, on the days I was well enough, I went to galleries. Then one day I was in the National Portrait Gallery, looking at a beautiful but simple portrait, and I said to my friend, ‘I could do that’. I felt a sharp tap on my shoulder from behind… it was the Curator who, with a very stern voice, said, ‘But you didn’t, did you?’ And that was the moment I decided I was going to be a painter.
Luckily the doctors and I were able to kick the cancer’s butt and I have spent the last seven years not just painting my heart out, but learning everything I can in the process.
I’m often asked, ‘Where did you train?’ I joke, ‘the University of YouTube’. Of course there have been many sources – galleries, podcasts, other artists, studying and copying famous works. Anything and anywhere that I can grab information and experience. It feels like I am on a mission and making up time for something I should have been doing all my life.
What inspires you?
It varies but right now it’s primarily nature… but throw in the juxtapose of industry shapes, like abandoned engineering and traces of past human existence, where nature has engulfed it, and I want to paint it. But rarely in literal terms – if I see it, I want to paint the memory and the feel of it.
I also like to paint figures using broad strokes and these paintings have a narrative which tells of something I’ve experienced, I feel or question.
Anyone who sees my work all in one place, either at my studio, website or Instagram, will notice I’ve been exploring and there are different styles, methods and mediums. However, there is a common undertone throughout and my own style is closing in fast.
What are your ambitions for the future?
To keep going as a full-time artist. To keep learning, keep discovering – it’s an amazing adventure.
It’s the best feeling when I get to see my work in someone’s home. When people send me photos of paintings they’ve bought from me, it always really makes my day!
Tell us about working in the Mansion
I have my studio upstairs at the Mansion, in a large shared room which is sectioned into areas for five individual artists.
I was one of the first artists to move in, in 2017 when the Mansion first opened to the community. I found out about it when I was walking my dog in the park and had called into the Café and saw a notice. I literally ran home and typed up my application. The timing was incredible for me and I just couldn’t believe my luck when I was accepted. I still pinch myself, to be honest!
All my life I have used Beckenham Place Park; I have never lived more than a mile from it and since my 11 year old dog, Buckley, was a puppy this has been the place of the daily walks. It’s undeniably a huge source of inspiration. I love it’s open fields, the river and particularly the ancient woodlands. I love the messy randomness of old trees and untouched undergrowth (I did a series of paintings about this.)
I am really excited about the forthcoming lake too. It will be like a mini Serpentine and it will bring an abundance of new wildlife and waterfowl. I can’t wait to go for a dip in the summer!
What does the Mansion mean to you?
For me, the Mansion is a place to connect with the community. I get to paint in a bright studio with a view (albeit a bit cold and drafty sometimes!) and have the chance to mingle with other artists, which is really important and I am surrounded by such talent here.
Also, with lots of Open Studio days, people visiting the Mansion can wind their way up the stone spiral staircase to come and meet us and see what on earth we do up there! And they’ll also find lots of affordable original art 😉
What are your highlights?
The Festival of Lights was so great this year. It was a brilliant atmosphere and the Mansion delivered a warm, festive event which was community (not commercially) driven, plus the light show was pretty spectacular. However, the best event for me was the Flower Show last summer… it was so much more than a flower show! Along with the horticultural competitions was The Dog/Owner look alike competition which was so funny, there were artisan food and drinks stalls… families all sitting out on the grass with their picnics enjoying the incredible live music and of course the Art Exhibition in the main hall and lot’s more. Yep, I can’t wait for this year’s Flower Show in June!
What are your hopes for the Mansion’s future?
It has transformed over the last two years. It really has become an amazing hub of activity. It’s for everyone now and it seems the community have really embraced it.
I just hope that it’s possible to continue with the good work that has happened here already; all of which has been done pretty much on a shoestring, I think.
If there could be long term certainty of being able to continue this good work and funding to preserve the building and it’s use for everyone – and not the elite few -then, yes, that’s my hope for the Mansion.