Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Long Time Ago ...

... in a land far away ... but, this is no fairy tale. It has taken years for me to muster the courage to publicly let this skeleton out of my closet!

Painting in the light of the only window in our one-room flat, summer 1970

On September 13th, 1969, Bill and I were married and the following day we promptly ran away from home. With one-way air fares and for three glorious months (until the money ran out) we had an absolute blast touring Europe in the "Sleek Machine" an old Renault we purchased in Germany ... that's it I am leaning against in a photo below. Speaking only English we had but one choice for survival. Fate took us to Brighton where several months into our almost one-year stay in England we both quit our day jobs to concentrate on where the real money came from ...

My art on Bayswater Road, London, summer 1970

Since the 1960s, on Sundays, the railings along the north side of Hyde Park have displayed art for sale. In my time it was a complete free-for-all but shortly afterwards the licencing of spaces came into effect and today you must apply for a "pitch". 

John Branch (grey hair) - sure would like to find him!

We have to thank Stuart Ring for introducing us to John Branch who was not a painter himself (although he would pretend to be if it was going to cinch a sale) but a brilliant entrepreneur/salesman. He would arrive before dawn to secure his own "gallery row" and, for a pound per person per week, he'd save spaces for upwards of a dozen people, ourselves included. It was money well spent for he was terribly effective at running off interlopers!

Yours truly and her art (all but the red one - scroll down for that story!)

Me at the end of a particularly good Sunday

Look closely at these hot sellers

Yup, most of my paintings were on velvet! The Life Guards, Beefeaters and Busbys sold well, as did the wild cats, puppies, flowers and an occasional nude ... but outselling them all were my domestic kittens!

The only painting I kept - Siamese Kitten oil 10" x 8" 

Up until this point I'd been a commercial artist but it was here, on Bayswater Road, that my fine art career was launched. We'd drive to London, and back home to Brighton, every Sunday. Ultimately the sales from these Sundays enabled us to quit our day jobs and save the fare for our passage home. We sailed October 3rd to 10th, 1970 aboard the Empress of Canada, a Canadian Pacific ship. The on board, prearranged display of my paintings was my one and only sell-out, solo exhibition.

Facts and figures;
 21 Sundays from May 10th to September 27th, 1970
A total of 234 paintings sold = 
863 pounds - average weekly sales 41 pounds
Our day jobs paid 10 pounds/week (
me) and 25 pounds/week (Bill) 
and our rent was 5 pounds/week

Bill posed as though he had parked that London cab!

Our extended honeymoon (Europe, England and Bayswater Road) has left us with some of our richest memories. Like the time Bill spent an entire week painting his Red Sunset and, the very next Sunday, sold it (for 5 pounds) to Canadian girl who never suspected we weren't British!

Everyone is an artist ... if only they'd try!

For a very short time after returning to Canada I painted a few more "velvets". Below are the two I still possess; they're stashed in a box, in the basement.

Lynx oil 14" x 18"

Ocelot oil 14" x 18"

Some of you will be appalled.  Some of you may say kudos that I did what a gal has to do.  I'm just grateful I never used glitter!


  1. Come on girl can say you were part of the Velvet Era WOW! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Indeed I was Murray ... Thanks for looking and commenting! Perhaps some other artists I know will come out of the closet?

  2. A fabulous post, Alice! While I'd heard the stories, the photos to match surely tickle my eyes. It's no surprise that your cats were so well-liked and purchased - they're truly a passion for you. Thank you so much for posting this story....

    1. Pleased to hear you enjoyed it Win. Thanks for the compliments!

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  4. So enjoyed reading this Alice. What an amazing time you had.someday I'd like to see your velvet paintings. 😉

    1. Just ask to see them the next time you're here Colleen!

  5. Wow Alice! You’re absolutely amazing!
    How much for ocelot? 😍

    1. Seriously Ericka, you want a velvet painting?!!!

  6. Love you story. It's time for fever to make a comeback!

    1. Ah, Philippa, thanks for reading and responding. I'm thrilled to have met you and look forward to out art play day!