AS: Wendy, when we were first introduced, you were working in PR, could you please give me a brief summary of your career?
WB: When I was 16, I ran away from my all girls convent school, the Ursuline Grammar School in Brentwood. I changed out of my school uniform in the High Street toilets and into jeans and jumper.
I studied Drama Performance – because I wanted to be an actor. I also took Art – for theatre design and because I loved it. My first job was as Scenic Artist in the theatre.
I had 3 children and became a full time mum, still doing the odd theatre set scene painting when asked. On one show, the sound designer asked me to test the mike – which was near me. When I’d finished saying a few bon mots for level checks, he slipped off his headphones and asked me if I had ‘done much broadcasting?’
‘No’ I replied, somewhat puzzled.
‘Well, you should. You’ve got a great voice’ and put his ‘cans’ back on.
His words kept repeating and repeating in my head. I love radio – perhaps I could get a job on BBC? Reading the news? Doing announcements? Reading stories? I hadn’t a clue where to start but I rang BBC in London. Everyone was very helpful, each passing my enquiry on to another.
Eventually, someone suggested I should try contacting my local radio station, which was Radio Orwell in Ipswich.
I was invited to see around the radio studios and become a volunteer Art Show reporter, eventually landing a full time job and stayed there for 10 exciting years.
I commuted to London for the next 8 years, making radio programmes, documentaries at BBC World Service, BBC Radio 2, BBC Radio 1, BBC Radio 4 and also did Voice Overs for Open University and many corporate clients like BT.
In 1998 I was in charge of BBC Radio 2’s programming for BBC Children in Need. By this time I had extensive experience working with celebrities – booking the stars for Michael Parkinson Show, Steve Wright Show and making music documentaries.
One morning on the train going to work, I saw a job advert in The Guardian ‘Save the Children are looking for a Celebrity Co-ordinator’. I applied and was offered the post.
My work involved securing celebrity supporters for events and often travelling overseas with celebrities to make films about the work of Save the Children and other charities such as Christian Aid & ActionAid, where I was PR Manager.
Overseas field trips I have undertaken include travelling with these celebs, making films and arranging media coverage
-Julie Walters to meet children affected by war in devasted Kosovo
-Joseph Fiennes to Angola, another war ravaged country with serious poverty issues
-Kwame Kwei Amagh to Senegal to see how unfair World Trade Rules have destroyed local food markets and ruined rural farmers crop production
-Fay Ripley to Tanzania to see how Child Sponsorship Programmes benefit children in remote rural villages.
I also worked on campaigns for Oxfam, Amnesty International, and Disasters Emergency Committee.
When people asked me what my work was about, I summed it up with ‘I’m saving the world with Celebrities’.
AS: Your current exhibition is called A SENSE OF PLACE. Do you feel a sense of time also, with regard to your work? I know you went to Art School prior to your PR career. What has brought you back to art at this time in your life?
WB: Life is all about time and place. I have been fortunate being able to travel to many places for my work in developing countries – across Africa – one of my fave places. But it’s the people that I love. I have found kindness in the most remote places, people who had nothing but were willing to give all they had.
I once complimented a statuesque African woman proudly dressed in a pale blue dress layered with bright frills from head to toe, who was part of the welcoming party at a Gold Mine in Mali, a project supported by Comic Relief.
‘I love your dress’ I smiled, thinking she would like that I had noticed the tremendous effort she had obviously gone to.
A look of horror swiftly crossed her face, she quickly recovered herself and started to undo the zip at the back.
‘I will give it to you’ she said.
Realising that I had unwittingly made a cultural blunder, I quickly thanked her, reassuring her that the dress looked lovely on her, that I want her to keep her dress – please. She had done the right thing and honour was saved. I would be careful with compliments in the future.
In another village, a chief gave me to honour gift of a live chicken. Our guide told me that I had to take it, it would be totally wrong to refuse the gift. So I took the bird flapping, hanging upside down, and got into to the Land Rover Discovery, smiling gratefully.
I loved my work, being at the highest level of PR at major NGO organisations with whom I have had the privilege to work. Making things happen and informing people in the UK about issues that need their help and support.
These past 10 years has, not only, been a life changing experience for me, but hopefully has also made a difference to people’s lives in some of the poorest countries in the world.
After 18 years of commuting to London, I decided to work from home for various clients, including becoming a Talent Agent/ Manager for High Profile clients including Ann Widdecombe, Edwina Currie and Alastair Campbell. Skype and Facetime made working from home a delight – virtual ‘face to face’ – meant no need to travel up to London, New York or anywhere. It also meant with an iPad and iPhone, I can work virtually anywhere – including my favourite places – the sun drenched beaches at Mersea Island and Ibiza!
This freedom to work wherever and whenever means I can now respond positively to the growing desire to rediscover my love of creating art. The four hours a day I used to spend commuting, could now be used more productively to draw, paint and rediscover my creative drive.
At Art school, I had always loved life drawing. Asking other artists, this one was recommended – a weekly ‘drop in’ Life Drawing class at Prested Hall. No booking – just turn up. As it was about 30 years since I had picked up a pencil ‘with intent’ to draw, I was very, very nervous. However, the class were very, very nice and encouraging, and the tutor was brilliant too.
Over the past 4 years, I have practiced art, taken art classes, art courses in water colour, acrylics, print making, drawing, oil painting and read much and watched TV and You Tube – all great resources available to the emerging artist.
AS: The title of the exhibition makes us consider places / locations yet I’m very drawn to the people in your work. Do you picture them in their real setting or do you place them somewhere imaginary once they have been painted?
WB: I am inspired by my surroundings – and love drawing from life. I like to paint what I see. Living where I do – in East Anglia – we are blessed with beautiful countryside, buildings and best of all our coastline. I take thousands of photographs for inspiration – but draw from life. I love to sketch people in cafes, in waiting rooms, pubs.
AS: BE AN ANGEL has sparked lively conversations in the gallery space, including the gender of angels as well as ‘Is it ‘right’ to impersonate an angel?’. What do you have to add to these comments?
WB: I created Be An Angel as an interactive art installation where the art is only complete when someone sits on the ‘Golden Angel Throne’. Participating Visitors have said how they’ve enjoyed the experience, feeling a certain sense of ‘tranquility’ and ‘joy’ posing in front of the gold glittering wide span wings and beneath the halo.
Some say Angels – Archangels, Cherubins and Seraphim and Guardian Angels – can be either gender or none – perhaps hermaphrodite?
Surely we all know people who are living angels? Men, women, boys, girls who possess high qualities of goodness, purity, selflessness, intelligence, and/or beauty? I definitely know real life angels.
AS: Is there a religious influence?
WB: I painted and created #BeAnAngel as an artistic expression of beauty – inner beauty. By sitting in front of the angel wings the painting has the ability to remind the sitter of their potential for goodness – to experience a moment of stillness and calm.
#BeAnAngel – I was strongly inspired to create my Golden Angel Wings by the work of LA street artist Collette Miller who launched her Global Angel Wings Project in Los Angeles in 2012. Miller says, ‘I created the interactive street art angel wings project to remind humanity that we are the angels of Earth.’
AS: I have heard people asking you to now paint the photographs of the people who have been angels. Do you think you will pursue this?
WB: #BeAnAngel is primarily devised to live on in legacy as photographs, or selfies on in Social Media – on INSTAGRAM, Facebook and Twitter.
Hundreds of Angel portraits have been photographed and posted on Instagram with the hashtag #BeAnAngel.
AS: What memorable responses have you had to your work?
WB: ‘I feel so relaxed’
‘This is actually a really lovely thing that you have created’
‘Thank you – what beautiful wings!’
‘Is my halo straight?’
AS: When are you more likely to paint?
WB: I have to paint all the time. It’s a compelling feeling. I must paint or draw.
I constantly paint in my head. I ‘see’ in my head a landscape, or a face, I want to draw – I work out compositions, images, colours, brushstrokes. Sometimes I see people that I just long to draw.
AS: I think your strength is in your portraits. Do you feel an easier / more natural connection with the people you paint or the nature you see?
WB: I think you’re right! I love drawing people. Faces are tough – but a person is not just a face. It is hands, feet, bodies, hair, sitting, standing, any position.
I love landscape too, the sea, water, waves, movement, skies – so much to paint – so little time!
AS: Given your career in politics do you think your future work will be politically motivated?
WB: I feel art has the ability to communicate and change people’s perception. If a painting creates joy in your heart, changes your mood, makes you think about how beautiful our world is, or a person is – then art has created a powerful reaction – and that is important.
I am motivated to change the world. I feel I have to do something to make a difference. I cannot tolerate injustice. I am driven to speak out for the greater good.
As Head of Communications for the All Party Parliamentary Group on Conflict Resolution, I managed media promoting the important work of the group.
UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on Conflict Issues was set up to encourage dialogue on how to prevent, transform and resolve violent conflict.
The APPGCI has given a voice in Parliament to those working in peace-building and conflict management.
The APPGCI has put conflict prevention firmly on the UK political map. In 2010 we secured the first-ever Parliamentary debate devoted to conflict prevention. Additionally, six UK parties – including the three main ones – have now made commitments to conflict prevention.
AS: What are you working on next?
WB: I am exploring so many areas of creating art.
I will continue life drawing – because it hones my skills. All painting begins with drawing. Drawing is the magic.
I have some ideas for more large scale works like the Angel Wings – because at heart I am still a scenic artist! I like the interactive concept which will include more paintings with the participation of people to complete the art work.
I enjoy painting and drawing on a large scale.
I have had favourable reviews of my tiny landscapes – so I might do some more.
I enjoy watercolour painting – such a fabulous medium.
I want to do more oil paintings.
I see paintings everywhere.