This month, we introduce another LRAS member – Vivienne Graham. Over the years, Vivienne has created a distinctive style which is popular with adults and children alike.
Vivienne recalls her earliest experience of artistic success when she was only four years old. ‘I won a painting competition run by the local newspaper. The Scarborough Mercury wanted to promote a newly released film about Joan of Arc. I painted her in watercolours on top of a blazing bonfire, like the one that Guy Fawkes effigy used to sit upon every 5th of November down on the south sands. I won some money – I think it was a pound note, which was very exciting.‘
Vivienne grew up surrounded by a creative family.
‘My mother was an amazingly talented dressmaker. Two of my great-great grandfathers were itinerant professional portrait painters and one of my grandfathers used to make architectural drawings of churches in his spare time.’
Many of our members of the post-war generation will relate to Vivienne’s frustration with choosing between art and a ‘safe’ career.
My two older sisters and I were always the best artists in our classes at school, yet none of us were encouraged to develop that talent by any of our teachers. We would have loved to attend art school, but that was frowned upon by our teachers and parents who thought that art was not a suitable career.’
Vivienne describes in vivid detail what inspired her to take up painting again.
‘I became a primary school teacher and did not paint again until about 1975 when working for the Australian government in Papua New Guinea at various international schools around the territory. The tropical landscape was so vivid – bright blue skies, bright blue seas, white waves, green palm trees and red parrots.‘
The Australian teachers were very laid back and usually finished work when the children went home. I wasn’t into windsurfing or sailing so there was a lot of spare time to fill. I bought oil paints and boards and have been painting ever since.’
Vivienne’s work is a popular feature at our LRAS exhibitions. Her individual approach tells stories through painting and textile pictures, which is probably why children find her work so eye-catching.
‘I learned to embroider at primary school when I was seven. Every Wednesday afternoon the boys would go off with Mr Bedford to the woodwork room while the girls stayed in the classroom and did sewing with Miss Tindall. We learned running stitch, chain stitch, cross stitch, herringbone stitch and French knots – the same stitches I use today- nothing fancy. We used the stitches we learned to decorate tray cloths, nightdress cases and pinnies.’
When we came to Devon, I discovered an embroidered collage which I had made at school, of girls on the south sands playing with a beach ball. That inspired me to experiment with pictures along the same lines, and they sell much more frequently than my paintings. I take lots of photographs around Lyme Regis and each one would be suitable as an embroidered collage if I had the time. They are very labour intensive. I haven’t had any embroidering lessons since leaving school, but the more I practice the better I get.’
Her collages give us an opportunity to enjoy Vivienne’s individual style.
Vivienne was interviewed by Sheila Stratton