Monday, 29 November 2021

Pandemic unlocked my buried passion for art

Pandemic unlocked my buried passion for art

A PROFESSIONAL musician who turned to the visual arts during the coronavirus lockdowns is staging her first exhibition at Henley’s Old Fire Station Gallery next week.

As the covid-19 pandemic took hold in March last year, flute and sax player Annie Parker found that her regular performing and teaching work was drying up.

So she decided to turn the crisis into an opportunity by pursuing her long-buried passion for art.

Annie, who lives in Valley Road, Henley, said: “I grew up in West Wales and was a member of the National Youth Orchestra of Wales.

“I had to choose between art and music at school in Aberystwyth, sadly, and in the end music won.”

Before starting to make her living as a musician, Annie did a degree in zoology at Nottingham followed by a performing arts degree at Middlesex Polytechnic.

In between, she worked as an au pair in Switzerland for the textile artist Christine Aymon. Later, she returned to work as her assistant for short periods, an experience she credits as helping to influence her new direction.

Annie said: “Christine opened up my eyes to contemporary art and also gave me the confidence to be open-minded about materials.”

This approach came in handy at the start of lockdown, when Annie found herself experimenting with painting on doors, furniture and old bits of cardboard.

But having nurtured artistic ambitions for a number of years, it wasn’t long before she realised she needed a proper studio.

Annie said: “When we went into the first lockdown I thought, ‘Right, this is my chance to do some work’.

“I basically had to move a whole load of stuff that belonged to my parents and created a studio in my house. Doing that as well as the artwork, it was all quite cathartic.”

With the outside world effectively off-limits, except for necessities such as food shopping and exercise, Annie decided to give full rein to her creativity.

She said: “Looking back through my photos the other day made me realise how I suddenly really got going in lockdown, with a chance to explore and try out ideas. I felt very free about it.

“It was also when I started to use canvases, although lockdown also provided more cardboard for collages as well.

“The local WhatsApp group provided a way of obtaining a few materials from neighbours too as well as getting rid of the clutter to make way for my studio.

“I feel a bit like something unlocked in me during lockdown.” When it came to sourcing other materials for her artwork, Annie opted to make the most of what was already in the house.

She said: “When anything arrived in a cardboard box I was keeping the box and making it into some sort of painting or collage.

“I’m quite interested in texture so I’ve been saving coffee grounds as they can add texture to pictures and you then paint over them.

“I think I even used beetroot in one picture and my dad’s old swimming towel.”

Having enjoyed a prolific period of creativity over the past year, Annie now has to choose which artworks to include in her show, which opens on Thursday (October 21) and is titled Off the Wall.

She said: “I think a lot of the works in the exhibition will be more acrylic paint on canvas, but I’ve got one I’m going to include that is made with the really large-size bubble wrap that you get in some packaging. I’m calling it Bubble Rap.”

Looking back over the past 18 months of experimentation, the varied list of materials that have made it into Annie’s artwork includes vegetable oil, rubbing alcohol, twigs, rope, fabric, cumin and poppy seeds, black peppercorns and newspaper.

Annie said: “I am basically self-taught, although in the past I have attended a few evening classes. When it comes to applying the paint, being untrained, I don’t find brushes very easy to use. I have used twigs, fingers, big household paintbrushes, rollers and palette knives — and these days I mainly use old credit cards.”

Despite having lived in Henley for more than 20 years, Annie still remembers the first time she caught sight of the Old Fire Station Gallery.

She said: “I thought what a lovely space, with the light coming from above from those windows in the roof and I thought I’d love to do something musical in there one day.

“Then about three or four years ago I walked past and thought one day I want to fill that space with great big brightly coloured pictures, so it has inspired me in different ways over time.”

When it comes to installing her exhibition on Wednesday, the day before it opens to the public, she has decided to wing it.

She said: “I was googling this the other night and there’s this common sense approach that you have a model or measurements of the space and all this sort of thing and I thought, ‘No, this is really going to be a case of going in and feeling my way’.”

Off the Wall runs from Thursday until Tuesday, October 26 at the Old Fire Station Gallery in Upper Market Place. Opening hours are 10am to 5pm daily and entry is free.

For more information, visit Annie’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/anniefluteparker

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