Thursday, 05 August 2021

Artist took a risk and is now a ‘national treasure’

AWARD-WINNING artist Bill Mundy is to stage an exhibition of his life’s work.

AWARD-WINNING artist Bill Mundy is to stage an exhibition of his life’s work.

Click here to view our video interview and feature about Bill and his work.

The 77-year-old, who has lived in Henley for 35 years, will display more than 100 pieces at the River and Rowing Museum from tomorrow (Saturday).

The exhibition, called The Art of Bill Mundy, contains about 70 of his large paintings and 34 of the miniature portraits for which he is best known.

Some of the works date back to the Seventies and about 20 now belong to private collectors, who agreed to lend them for the exhibition.

The remainder are still in Mr Mundy’s possession and most will be available to buy.

Mr Mundy, who has been fighting cancer for more than a year, began preparing for the exhibition six months ago by building a scale model of the gallery which he used to decide how many works would fit in the room and where they would go.

He said: “This is my first and probably my last big retrospective exhibition. I’ve always wanted to hold one in a large space in Henley.

“Many people have asked me over the years when I’ll be having one, so this is it essentially.

“I don’t think anybody has seen all my paintings and it’s going to be interesting to see so many all in one spot.

“The museum is a prestigious venue and the Lord Kirkham Gallery offers a nice big space, which is what I wanted. It can also guarantee the security of my paintings, which is very important.” Shortly after his preparations began, Mr Mundy underwent surgery to remove a tumour from his lung, which had spread following successful treatment for bowel cancer last year.

He was in hospital in London for eight days, half of them spent in intensive care.

Mr Mundy said: “I didn’t know how long I would be incapacitated, which is why I did as much as possible before the operation.

“I did worry that it might affect the exhibition but I have a great capacity for recuperation. I can recover pretty quickly because I’m active and have a positive mindset. I will never let anything get in my way.”

Mr Mundy was born in Wokingham and started painting at the age of five.

He underwent an apprenticeship designing biscuit tins for Huntley and Palmer before starting his National Service when he was 19.

While in the Army, he drew maps for the Royal Engineers during the Malayan Emergency.

He stayed in the Far East for 20 years, forging a career as creative director and later Asian area director for an American advertising agency.

During this time he was appointed court painter to the Johor royal family in Malaysia.

In 1977, his painting of the Sultan of Johor was accepted for the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition.

He abandoned his advertising career shortly afterwards and moved to Henley to start a new life as a painter.

Mr Mundy said: “It made me think, ‘could I make it in England?’ I decided to give everything up and start again from scratch. The company couldn’t understand why I’d given up such a well-paid job to go and live in a garret.

“It was hard at first because I was unknown but I slowly built a reputation and it all went from there.”

In 1980 and 1982, Mr Mundy’s paintings were voted exhibit of the year at the Royal Academy and he has exhibited there regularly ever since.

He is a full member of the Royal Society of Miniature Painters, the Miniature Art Society of Florida, the Hilliard Society of Miniaturists and the Miniature Artists of America.

Mr Mundy has painted the Duke of Edinburgh, who signed the portrait, and was commissioned to produce an equestrian miniature for the Queen in 1999.

He continues to work full-time, starting at 9am each weekday and finishing at about 7pm.

He said there were only two goals he had not fulfilled — being elected to the Royal Academy and painting Prince Charles from life.

He said: “Queen Victoria always said you have to be careful around artists because you never know where they’ve been — and it’s true.

“I’ve been to several palaces around the world and met all sorts of people, like explorers and captains of industry.

“I am lucky to make a living from something I enjoy doing. I took a big chance in coming back here, although I do work very hard.

“I had an email the other day from an American collector who was very flattering about my work. He said I was a national treasure.” Mr Mundy has never married or had children. He lives by himself but has a partner who lives in Henley.

He said: “I’ve got to know a lot of people. Living on the river, you get to know people like Vince Hill and Paul Daniels.

“I do like Henley very much because it’s a friendly town, it’s near London and there’s a lot going on. It’s a great place to be.”

One section of his exhibition focuses on Henley and the River Thames. This is one of Mr Mundy’s favourite subjects as he has always lived on the river in Wargrave Road.

This work includes his painting When The Queen Came To Henley, which celebrates Her Majesty’s visit to Henley Business School at Greenlands last year to mark her diamond jubilee.

The 30in watercolour depicts some of the 30 or so boats which took part in the accompanying river pageant. The painting is accompanied by an explanation of how he created it using photographs of the event.

Also featured are his paintings of a Spitfire flying over Henley and of the annual swan upping at Marsh Lock.

Another section consists of large and miniature portraits of famous people, mostly from the Henley area.

The subjects include veteran singer Vince Hill, who lives in Shiplake, Sir Martyn Arbib, who founded what is now Invesco Perpetual, and Upper Thames Rowing Club founder Peter Sutherland, who died a year ago.

Mr Mundy paints the miniatures using a very fine brush and a technique called pointillism in which he applies hundreds of individual dots of colour. Each one can take up to 40 hours to complete and must be done under a magnifying lens.

The other two sections feature pencil drawings and bronze sculptures. There will also be a selection of trompe l’oeil paintings, a form of optical illusion in which the image appears three-dimensional.

These include four autobiographical montages of photographs, press cuttings and other artefacts from different stages of Mr Mundy’s life.

There is also a pair of self-portraits called Then And Now, which were painted in 1975 and 2012 respectively.

The exhibition will be opened by Sir William McAlpine, of Fawley Hill.

* The Art of Bill Mundy is in the Lord Kirkham Gallery at the River and Rowing Museum until February 2.

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