22nd September 2021
Artist Peter Edwards (b.1955) will be awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Gloucestershire in November 2021. Peter is a member of our alumni, having studied a BA Hons at Gloucestershire College of Art and Design (Pittville Campus) 1975 – 1978. To mark the occasion Peter has kindly donated four portraits to the University. These form part of his Contemporary Poets series and are available to view at Oxstalls Campus. Below, Peter describes his own experiences of meeting and painting each of the 4 Poets.
1. Kit Wright
I first met Kit early in the early 1980s when I travelled to Liverpool to meet Adrian Henri. Henri took me along to Ye Cracke pub near his home where the staff of Liverpool Art School would meet daily in one of the rooms. The then head of the art school Jeff Nuttall (artist, actor, poet) held court with members of staff and associates one of these being the strikingly tall Kit.
We struck up a conversation in which I explained my wish to paint poets I admired. Not so long after as chance would have it there was an arts festival held in the small Shropshire town of Ellesmere (not to be confused with the Ellesmere Port), where I had grown up and now had a studio to which Adrian Henri, Kit Wright and Willy Russell came to read in an evening performance in the working men’s club.
By this time (1985/1986) I had painted the large composition of Adrian Henri, Roger McGough and Brian Patten that had been exhibited in the National Portrait Gallery’s portrait competition and acquired by them.
The day after the reading I met up with Adrian and Kit, later driving to a nearby cottage where the three writers were staying.
That evening we all had dinner in the Red Lion Inn, Ellesmere, and I cemented a plan with Kit and Willy to paint them.
I travelled to Kit’s home in London for a sitting and executed a number painting sketches and took snaps in the house and garden. Back in my Ellesmere studio I decided on the garden composition for the big painting. It was painted on canvas stapled to a wall, once primed the works could be taken down, rolled and put back up again as needed. A good record of this is the photo of me in the studio in early 1990 while finishing the last canvases for my exhibition “Contemporary Poets”.
Once finished the canvases were picked up by a van sent by the NPG for stretching and framing to a museum standard and robust enough to survive a long tour. The framer was Paul Ferguson MBE ACR Master Carver.
Kit came back to Ellesmere to sit again while I was working on his painting. A charcoal study from this time was later bought by Drue Heinz for the Hawthordown Literary Retreat.
2. Craig Raine
The poets I chose came from my reading which started at art school in Cheltenham (Gloucestershire College of Art and Design). I read contemporary poetry from the small poetry press (stimulated in part from my own attempt to get something published in magazines). This literary ambition ended with publishing a collection of poems “Brain’s Acreage” printed by my former complimentary studies tutor and friend Nick Wayte (who also wrote) and his partner Jill Woodward. This was done in the months after finishing my degree course but before giving up my bedsit in Pittville Lawns.
Craig was one of the writers I admired but hadn’t yet met in person. I was aware from talking with Seamus Heaney and Douglas Dunn during sittings that their editor at Faber was the famous “Martian Poet”. I wrote to him in Oxford having obtained his address from the poetry society in London. It took a couple of goes to pursued him, and I drove to Oxford with my gear and painted a head and shoulders (now in the sitters collection) and took numerous snaps to create a large work back in the Ellesmere studio. Each of the poets contributed a poem of their choosing to hang with their painting, and be used in a small catalogue that accompanied the exhibition. This can be seen in the poet’s section of my website.
Craig wrote about the experience of “sitting” in the Galleries Magazine. It is reproduced in the articles section of my website.
3. Vuyelwa Carlin
Voo and I had worked together since the early 1980’s, she as the life model and I as a tuitor at Shrewsbury School of Art (part of Shrewsbury College, then known as Shrewsbury College of Art and Technology). In the break times she worked at a notebook and I learnt that we had a shared interest in poetry, and that she was a published writer. As my series of painting of poets progressed in the 1980s and the National Portrait Gallery became increasingly committed to offering me a show, I asked my colleague to be one of the subjects. As we discussed how we would do this Vuyelwa decided that when she sat for me she would do so as a life model. Uniquely of all the poets she posed for the painting in the Ellesmere studio. We both lived in the same county, albeit at different ends.
4. Maud Sulter
It was important for me that the selection of poets for my exhibition was my choice and came from my reading, and the serendipity of meeting, and personal recommendations. For instance, Douglas Dunn told me I should read Michael Longley and introduced me to Sorley MacLean after a reading In Dundee. Brian Patten praised the work of John Heath-Stubbs. I went on to paint all three and the works are now in the Ulster Museum, Sabhl Mòr Ostaig, Skye, and the National Portrait Gallery, London.
The result was a selection of poets from differing factions of the poetry world who would not have been brought together otherwise. The famous, the select, the popular, and the difficult, were united by my desire to celebrate them.
I had bought some of Maud’s work as a limited edition publication, and wrote to her in Hebden Bridge. Eventually I received a large holiday postcard from Greece, and after another card or two in which she joked that she had a quite romantic view of herself (with a self portrait cartoon!), we arranged I would travel to Yorkshire.
As it turned out the day chosen was the morning after the Great Storm of 1987, and though the main damage had been in the south of England the town was left with the aftermath of a major overnight event. I sketched in the house she shared with the artist Lubaina Himid. But somehow the bleak and sodden townscape of Hebdon drew us outside and I eventually settled on this composition. The first abandoned version to be found on the back of the canvas!