Interview with Artist Pamela Kay

  • Pamela Kay
  • Pamela Kay
  • Pamela Kay

Pamela Kay NEAC is one of Britain’s foremost painters of flowers and still life. Visit her latest exhibition now at Fosse Gallery, Stow-on-the-Wold

Inspired by Dutch, French and Spanish Masters of the 17th and 18th Centuries, Pamela Kay’s paintings reflect her interest in the beauty of humble everyday objects and their unassuming nature. Her work encompasses not only flowers and still life but also interiors and gardens.

We interviewed Pamela ahead of her new exhibition at Stow on the Wold’s Fosse Gallery (running until Saturday 23rd February 2019).

Hi Pamela. How did you get your start as a painter?

I trained at Canterbury, at the art college, where I did Fine Art. You also had to choose a craft, so I chose textile design. Then I went on to the Royal College of Art - but before that, I met the man who went on to be probably the most influential man in my life, the Royal Academician and portrait painter, John Ward. He was my mentor; I learned the craft of painting from him.

John always used to say, ‘you must go to work like a milkman,’ which I thought was absolutely wonderful. You don’t just sit around waiting for inspiration to hit - the phone bill will intervene. You start painting at 9.00am and go on to 5.00pm, or whenever you finish. And that seemed to me like an eminently sensible way of earning a living.

After I did textiles at the Royal College, I was appointed Head of the Design Production Department at John Lewis - a position that I turned down in order in pursue my painting. (You have a certain shelf-life as a designer before you go out of fashion; an idea which I find terribly boring.)

I have to say that I was very fortunate to meet the people who helped me, and the societies that helped me - to be accepted into the Royal Watercolour Society and the New English Art Club. They had walls on which you could regularly hang your work. I’m not sure how it’s done nowadays, but I will say that I was very fortunate at the time.

How did you arrive at your subjects of choice - flowers, gardens, still life?

Flowers were the logical progression from my textile work. I’ve always loved flowers, and you can’t paint what you don’t love - you pass on the feeling into what you do. I also had tremendous admiration for the Dutch Golden Age painters of the 17th century, and the Spanish still life painters. It was a natural area of interest.

And then, of course, I found the wonderful gardens in the Cotswolds. I painted in Hidcote, Sezincote, Kiftsgate - but also the private gardens on the open days. I trawled around those for around ten years. Just recently, because I’ve been taking groups of painters abroad to paint gardens, I’ve been concentrating on Giverny - Monet’s garden.

Judging from your biography, you’ve been all over the world…Hong Kong, Thailand, Vietnam, India, Sri Lanka, the Middle East…North Africa, Egypt, Turkey, and the Mediterranean – Greece, Spain and Italy – and the Baltic countries, including Russia…

Well, you see, I had the golden days of Swan Hellenic; whenever I had a good exhibition, we’d usually go and buy a ticket. I have an absolute passion for Roman and Greek history and archaeology, and I have been able to visit most of the main archaeological sites of the Mediterranean.

We also ventured into the Far East, which was my husband’s main interest. He was a headmaster in Hong Kong in the fifties - when we went back in the eighties, he couldn’t find the shoreline, or any of the places he’d stayed in before. [Laughs]. They’d all been knocked down.

Describe your state of mind when you are painting.

It is a completely meditative state of mind, an altered state. You are totally engaged - it takes enormous concentration to get it right, and I don’t mean in a photographic sense. There’s something alchemical going on… It’s a bit of a magic business, painting. How can you turn a flat board and some paint into something that looks like a quince, or a basket? That’s magic, to me, and it still is. I’m always astonished by the end of a painting.

Which artists have had the biggest influence on your style?

Adriaen Coorte was a Dutch painter of absolute silence and mystery (yet he is possibly one of the least well-known Dutch painters). His Still Life with Asparagus is a small, miraculous painting of great humility. Possibly the most important influence of all - and my most favourite painter of still life - is Jean Baptiste Chardin. Luis Egidio Meléndez was also a marvellous artist. And then there’s Juan Sánchez Cotán…that man was a monk, and there’s an extraordinary calm and stillness about his work. That’s the sort of thing I love, that stillness. A sort of eternal look at things.

For more about Pamela’s work, visit www.pamelakayprints.com

Visit her latest exhibition now at Fosse Gallery, Stow-on-the-Wold (until Saturday 23 Feb 2019)