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‘How could you not be inspired by the Heath?’

Artist Jean M Gardiner sifts through a lifetime’s work for a retrospective, and reflects on the shifting Hampstead landscape

31 August, 2017 — By Jane Clinton

Jean M Gardiner’s work is set to go on show at Lauderdale House, Highgate Hill, from September 6 to October 2

FOR half a century, artist Jean M Gardiner has been painting the ever-shifting landscape of Hampstead and the people and places she has seen.

Now a retrospective of her work, which includes pen and ink drawings, litho chalks, watercolours and oils, is to go on show at Lauderdale House.

It brings together a stunning and diverse collection of her mainly figurative work that centres on light and shadow and takes in the buildings, streets and landscapes of the places she has visited (including Australia, New York, Jersey and France) as well as her home.

There are numerous paintings and drawings of the Heath, of Hampstead – including an exquisite pen and ink drawing of Perrin’s Court – and the wider area.

Born and brought up in Wales, Jean could only ever imagine drawing and painting. She studied at Wallasey Art School and then went on to the Liverpool College of Art in the 1950s.

Jean’s work, ‘Looking into Netherhall Gardens, Hampstead’

Jean admits she would go to classical concerts rather than the Cavern Club.

“I was quite middle class and proper back then,” she says from her Hampstead home, an area she has lived in for the past 50 years.

After a time in Somerset with her then husband, fellow artist Frank Anderson, Jean moved to London in 1963.

It was the swinging 60s and Jean became friendly with artists and poets including Kenneth and Mary Martin, Adrian Mitchell, Bernard Canavan and architect Sir Richard Rogers.

“It was an exciting time, there was always something going on,” she says. “Although I had very little money.”

As a single parent to a young daughter, however, she would often take commissions she was not keen on to make ends meet.

‘Emily in the Sunshine’

She notes a portrait of Princess Diana and some landscapes that she did purely to earn money and laments that the drive to earn meant that she did not fully realise her own distinctive style.

“When you look at my work it is all so different, there is such a variety,” she says. “I never had any money so I was often doing work that I thought, or at least hoped, would sell. I often think if I had gone on painting and developing my own style I could have been a well-known artist by now.”

There is one painting, she says, that is “really me” but that isn’t for sale. “It’s the only one that I look at and really see as truly my own style.”

‘Top of Hampstead Heath’

A fan of David Hockney, Jean, along with fellow painters including Pop Artist Patrick Hughes, became involved with the prestigious Barry Summer School Programme in Wales which saw pioneering new approaches to art and education and attracted notable artists including Roland Miller and the jazz musician Larry Adler, who all taught at the school.

As well as raising a family, which now included another young daughter, she lectured at North-East London Polytechnic, and taught art at Hampstead School, Athlone House Nursing Home and at the Charlie Ratchford day centre in Camden.

She later worked as an individual support teacher at various primary and secondary schools in Camden, where she developed an interest in special needs education. “Through teaching you discover how you use your creative ability. You learn such a lot about yourself. People think they can’t draw and it is just not the case.”

Pen and ink drawing of Perrin’s Court, Hampstead

Sifting through a lifetime’s work, that began when she was a teenager, to put together this retrospective was, she admits, “weird”.

“There was stuff I didn’t even remember doing, it really was strange. It was also quite emotional to revisit some works.”

While charting the ever-evolving landscape of Hampstead, she admits she finds it greatly changed since she first set down roots. “There used to be such a mix of people – rich and poor, side by side. You knew your neighbours and it was far more bohemian. Now it is so different – full of the very, very rich and no one seems to know each other.”

The constant, however, has been the Heath, which remains a subject to which she returns.

Aged 85, she continues to paint. “I am not as mobile as I used to be, and I find it harder to get about but it is wonderful to have the Heath on my doorstep. How could you not be inspired?”

Jean M Gardiner: A Retrospective is at Lauderdale House, Highgate Hill, N6 5HG, from September 6 to October 2. Visit www.jeanmgardiner.com

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