Art & Design Sunday, March 30th

Amanda Hamilton: No straight lines for Herefordshire artist

Amanda Hamilton’s pictures will cheer you up. Though largely a painter of buildings she manages to put personality into their very being. They are quirky, colourful, and her lack of straight lines almost makes them bounce off the page.

Sometimes her images look as if they are seen through a fisheye lens, or an inverted one, and sometimes they look stretched suspending a sense of reality.

Ross on Wye composite large

Having met Amanda, who lives in Hildersley, Ross-on-Wye, I think it’s safe to say her paintings reflect the artist. She is welcoming, friendly, and fun to be with. It’s also obvious just how much passion she has for her work and her thought process behind each painting is a deep and considered one.

Born in West Germany in 1965, Amanda is the daughter of a military family on both sides. She went to the Haberdashers’ Monmouth School and later the Tante Marie School of Cordon Bleu Cookery.

She has worked as a cook for the Parker Bowles family, before they rose to prominence, finding them ‘absolutely delightful’.

Surprisingly her ability to paint was not noted until her 30s. This happened with the guidance of an adult education tutor who helped her develop her passion.

Amanda and her son spent five years living in Spain, creating what the Spanish tourism authorities called the 'Best English Owned House they have ever seen'. The Spanish home had other advantages - its huge kitchen table allowed her to build up a body of exhibition work which proved to be very useful when she came back to the UK in 2010.

Away from art she teaches Yoga and the rest of her time is spent working on commissions, painting houses in her unique style.

Her dedication has paid off - her work featured in Vogue in February 2015 and she has worked alongside the National Trust in Gloucestershire.  She will soon feature in World of Interiors. 

She has now become artist-in-residence at Woods of Whitchurch where she is launching her innovative Quirky Quickie project.

You started painting in 2003 during a holiday in Cornwall. Can you tell us a little about the circumstances in which you began?  Is it true that your first painting appeared in Vogue in 2015?

I was in the throes of a difficult divorce with court case after court case, raising a three-year-old as well as holding down seven part-time jobs while not managing to earn enough money to stay afloat.  We were literally scavenging under fruit trees, nut trees, and my mum would cook us Sunday lunch after some hours of gardening.  It was a very tough time.

A school mum who lived on the same estate as me in Monmouth took pity on me - I was totally exhausted - and asked me to take a week for no charge at her holiday home in St Ives. 

I took my paints and my exhaustion and went, and during that week began to take charge of my life again and paint again.  ‘Birds Eye View' and ‘Room With A View’ will always represent to me that even in the most terrible of times there is beauty, laughter and joy.

And yes, the painting appeared in Vogue last year - Feb I think.

Looking at your work it seems that you see architecture in a unique way. You seem to find human qualities in buildings. For instance, you've written about finding the Brook House in Ross as 'warm, friendly, with open arms'. What is it that you see in buildings that gives them 'personality'?

When I walk down a street, I don't sense bricks and mortar, I sense personality.  Possibly as a yoga teacher with years of training in energy work, Shamanic techniques and healing arts I am more inclined to perceive the character and energy of matter that isn't in human or animal form, I don't know.  All I do know is that the faces and characters literally jump out at me and "talk" to me, and my job is to faithfully represent the charm and delightful nature of the buildings around me.

The lack of straight lines in your paintings seems to be key to them. Why is this?

Again I think it's to do with the nature of the energy of the building.  When I see a building I like the idea of sketching or painting, I stare at it for a while. Allowing the building to "tell me" how it wants to be seen.  I then take a photograph, come home and begin to explore with lines.  I know when the lines are right as I tend to hear music when it's spot on - like a perfect chord being played - it's very subtle, but until that happens I know I haven't got it right.  A key part of the perfect chord is getting the undulations just right and it seems as though the lines must also work within the rules of architecture and perspective.

Castle Street Red Brick House Composite Large

Your artwork is fun and joyful to look at. Is this one of your aims when you are painting?

No!  My aim is to create something that the music likes believe it or not!  Until the painting is "right", I feel physically uncomfortable and slightly obsessed by it as the music is discordant and ugly ‘til then.  The answers to questions I ask through the painting process come to me while out walking, cooking, sleeping or in the middle of a conversation with someone about it.  It's a totally inspired process. 

I love the fact that somehow that "yes" moment comes about through a process of colour, life, joy and ‘Through the Looking Glass’ kind of madness, and I love exploring colours, splashes, flicks and swishes almost always with my heart in my mouth hoping that the inspiration given will work.

There are a number of local buildings that have been important to you personally such as the Market Place in Ross. When you painted it what were you trying to evoke?

You know my dear old Dad, who would have been 94 on Saturday, used to have a stunningly well presented antiques showroom behind Ross Market Place called Trecilla Antiques.  I have so many memories of the shop, and as I grew older of revising frantically in the library which used to be upstairs in the Market Place.

When the picture came about, I found myself creating something that looks like a stretched canvas, each corner being pulled away from the central arches which I made into heart shapes as it’s through those arches you see Trecilla Antiques.  Once the painting was finished it reminded me a bit of an old Dr Who episode with the baddie living inside a stretched skin!

I've subsequently layered up a print of the painting with white acrylic paint to create a Christmas card.

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You have painted two very different paintings of St.Mary's Church in Ross from the same vantage point. One is in your quirky style with a 'wobbly' steeple at its heart. The other is a more conventional watercolour with straight lines. Why take different approaches?

I'm smiling, good question ... I do believe in a God very much, and while I am not a regular church goer, I have total respect for people who do find what they're looking for in churches.  It was for that reason that the first (and only) straight painting happened - because I didn't want to make frivolous my connection or anyone else's connection to their God.

But a friend of mine said to me a while back "Amanda who do you think gave you this special gift of being able to see houses, views, boats and life in such a beautiful and unique way?  Don't you think the God you love would love to see you celebrate a building dedicated to Him in your unique style?"

That was an epiphany, and the quirky version of Ross flowed off my brushes with full organ music in my head in a matter of hours.

You have painted a number of buildings (such as the Red House and The Fosse in Hereford) which have never jumped out at me. Do you keep an eye out for those buildings that are not obvious subjects to paint?

I think on some level I probably must do, although my own take on it is that they jump out at me.  I think they know I'm coming and start to whisper or shout "Look at me, look at me!" I know for many people this seems hard to even imagine as a possibility, but with all the years of practicing yoga that I have done, it slows you down as a person to the extent that things I would previously have ignored or overlooked catch my eye now.  Maybe wisdom is beginning to kick in and a realisation that if you don't stop and look once in a while, you'll wake up dead having missed it?

Do you ever paint 'in-situ' or do you tend to work from photographs?

99% of the time I work from photos I have taken myself.  When you're dealing with a sheet of watercolour paper that's over a metre long, which is the usual size for most of my commissions, it's practically impossible to cart it around and not accidentally break the smooth surface.  Additionally when you realise that over 100 hours can go into a commission, I think I'd drive my clients nuts - I'd become an irritation lurking outside the sitting room window. I find it far easier to stick to my studio and revisit places if I've missed a detail.

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What is the idea behind the ‘Quirky Quickie’ project you will be undertaking at Woods of Whitchurch?

This is such a great initiative which Lucy Gardner (shop owner) and I came up with.  The reality is that commissions take so long to do beautifully that they come at an understandably high price.  The frames alone can be £200-£300 to do the piece absolute justice so there's not much change from £1,500-£3,000 depending on what's wanted.

The Quirky Quickie on the other hand is a totally different option.  It's a four hour start to finish painting which the client can stay and watch happen or can go away and come back. We will be offering within a package perhaps lunch, or a champagne tea, but the main thrust is you email the image you want captured the night before so my brain can get to work on it, and then you come at 10am to Woods if planning a lunchtime Quickie ready to collect at 2pm, or you come at 12 noon if you would like to collect over a champagne tea party.

My fee is £200 for the painting which includes getting it photographically mastered before you take it away.  This allows it to be turned into greetings cards, jigsaw puzzles, books etc which are a huge part of the fun of my paintings - all the extras they can become in our crazy technological world.

The QQs will be happening on the second Wednesday of the month initially, with a high res image emailed to me on the second Tuesday.  You can find me at Woody's most Wednesdays once we open officially sharpening my tools in readiness for the Quickies - we already have two booked in!

Visit here for more information about Amanda's work. 

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