I went to see Rosie in her new studio. One she admits is really only used to do relatively clean work. Light and airy with a high roof and sliding glass doors that look straight out onto a small magical garden. At the back of her garden is a shed filled with paint and canvases, “mostly old”, she confesses, used to practice on over the 40 years she has lived in Oxford. Recently retired after creating and running Oxford Professional Education Group, an independent post graduate college. She is also a Tavistock trained organisational consultant.
As she made the coffee she said, “Every material is a medium that can be used for self expression. Including creating a business. It gives one a way of transcending the outside world. The medium, or indeed the ideas, becomes part of one in a way where one can feel love and a deep sense of relatedness to the world outside. A sense of equanimity. The paint on the paper creates what feels like a living being that takes one into a relationship with oneself. The deepest aspects of oneself. And then extends towards the outside world.”
She explained to me that the process of painting demands an emotional flexibility. The tolerance of the spoiling and imperfections of a creation for long enough so that one is able to delay destroying it in order to be able to take in a new point of view. Sometimes one can destroy what has been created, but the real purpose is not to tear it up, the real purpose is to be able to look at the imperfections for long enough so that they can be viewed in a different way. Sometimes this can take years. It is like the way one runs one's life. The liquid puddle of paint becomes an eternal presence from which new possibilities can be reached.
She said, “The canvas, is like bringing up a family , I work on it until it reaches the perfection I think is possible . And like a family it would never be abandoned, it would always be there. Something that I could never be able to walk away from.”
I looked around her studio and noticed the paintings that lined the walls. Others stacked up on the floor. “Yes, “ she admitted ,”The paintings stay on the easel until they reach in my mind, or rather create, in my mind, or heart the sort of equanimity I look for in real life." She laughed, ”A relationship that I can rely on. One I am able to retreat to when all relationships began to exhaust me. A unity. An eternal bond to the process of painting, to creation. A visual diary of my life.”
The subject turned to Rosie's choice of mediums. “I love the smell of turpentine and oil paint and the texture of gouache and watercolor. I sometimes say to myself, Why not try felt like Beuys, or straw like Anton Kiefer, or emblems of my body like hair like Barbara Kendrick, or blood ( Heman Nitsxh)."
When I asked her if she had exhibited many of her paintings, she replied to me that most of them had rarely been exhibited. “Never good enough.” She said she wanted her paintings to have “legs”, such that they would walk into another’s imagination and create an eternal presence. Perhaps even experienced by them as something that in the looking, or rather in the process of gazing would transform them as well, and reach a point when the atmosphere in the room in which the painting hung became one of contemplation.
Though Rosie said she liked her surfaces smooth, unbroken and unflawed, like skin, I noticed that some were painted on crumpled paper. She said she likes to start with disorder and chaos. But all were patterned, mostly deeply patterned. “Light creates the brush strokes and the forms, I follow those.” The broken surface of the collage did not attract her and she found them rather disturbing as she was required to bring the shattered pieces together, but she felt they always showed some area where the pieces could be pulled off. “Like some damned itch waiting to be scratched and always reminding one that the beauty that could be created could also be pulled apart. Exposing not mere skin, but the flesh behind it.” Peeled apart, what was she worried about? I understood from her that that what looked so good was merely a temporary state before decay set in. The boundary to the world was not complete and would face disintegration. A world glued together. An absurd fragmented world where the parts did not always fit. Her paintings did not remind me of this. she was concerned with wholeness and tranquility. She wondered if this was why people liked jigsaws. The disorder and then the satisfaction of seeing it all fit together. Painting had the same quality only nothing for her had to be preformed - but there again perhaps she needed a different sort of chaos and intensity to create her own finished jigsaw. A making sense of her life.
Currently Rosie is working on vases of flowers. "Like the flowers of life, growing, decaying. I feel the abundance of life. Life at 74 is full of beauty. A celebration. I have had a wonderful time living in Oxford with more flowers raining in on me every day.But they are also a reminder that the same flowers will soon decorate my grave." I asked her then about the landscapes. Small paintings in stunning white frames. “Ah, the landscapes. The pleasure of sitting in a field all day staring at the way the fields are shaped by the contours of the earth. And shaped again by the shadows of the clouds that tumble across the sky. Always changing. And always there giving one a sense of familiarity and stability. The Cotswold's. So different from where i was brought up. The wild and endless landscape of the Transvaal in South Africa. No neat fields.”
What are Rosie's next plans... “2019 Oxfordshire Artweeks. All my energy is now placed on preparing for the opening of my studio. I also belong to LiterArties and we have exhibitions coming up over the next year, and there are the Oxford Art Society exhibitions. So, I concluded, a full life and one filled with peace.