I – My Earliest Memory of Painting

M Y EARLIEST MEMORY OF THE IDEA OF PAINTING was around the age of two or three, standing on the lavatory seat watching the bombs exploding over the Firth of Forth in Scotland.  My father was in the Royal Navy.  As was proper then, there was a fine white starched lavatory cloth, also I knew where my mother kept her pastels which I had not yet been forbidden to touch so I painted what I titled “A Cat in Heaven” with predictable consequences.

I remember at around four trying to draw a house and being explained the basic principles of perspective and around the same age being told to copy a child-like picture of an apple which was all splashy paint in the wrong colours so I tried to do a real apple.

I knew from early on that I wanted to be truthful about what I saw and that it was communication that was without words, also that as I was myopic I was more aware of colour than line.

From the age of seven to about 10 we lived in Sri Lanka (Ceylon). I eventually attended the convent school in Trincomalee in the company of another very bright little boy as it was thought that the nuns could manage us rather better than the inept staff of the Naval School. The class was set to draw bananas on lined paper with hard coloured pencils. I pressed so hard that I scored three pages of my exercise book. That was the epiphany. I knew I needed good paints and wanted only to spend my life as a painter - much easier wished for than done.

We returned to Ireland, big house, governesses, being able to ride well of prime importance, drawing and painting discouraged or as punishment forbidden, as was reading during the afternoon. I trained my pony to stand still when I dropped the reins so I could sketch. Fortunately I was not found out. I also trained my dog to sit behind me on the pony.

School was St. Mary’s Convent Shaftesbury between 13 and 16 years old. I enjoyed learning but hated organised games. My parents requested the nuns to discourage drawing and painting, though an elderly art teacher gave me free lessons on Saturday mornings. She taught me the rudiments of flower painting, Irises in particular. I wish I could thank her as it is a love that has continued all my life.

To be continued…

PhilippaI – My Earliest Memory of Painting