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Wednesday 10 June 2020

In conversation with Louise Vale

In our latest interview from the Beyond the Frame exhibition, we meet an artist who is exhibiting for the first time professionally.

This week we speak with gardener, writer and photographer Louise Vale. Louise shows us how, despite the sometimes rigid framework of our education system, there is always a route to pursue something creative that you love.

Artist Louise Vale

Hi Louise, could you say a little bit about yourself and what or who got you into art? 

I always loved painting and drawing. I still have a portrait of my best friend from school that I did when I was 12. It’s quite good.

The following year I had to give up art in favour of more academic subjects. I remember how disappointing that was. I went off to do other things and it took 20 years for me to go back to art classes in my spare time, including some courses at the Stables Gallery. I am very happy to be able to take part in an exhibition here. 

Could you say what or who is your inspiration today and how is this changing your process, style or subject matter? I like to think that out of every challenging period in our history we get an amazing amount of creativity, whether that be in music, writing, performing or visual arts; is this the case with you and your work?

Yes, I think that flux is important and also freeing, because really anything goes now. It encourages me to have a go. I think part of my creativity now comes from having missed out in the past and that sense of wanting to make up for lost time. 

My other creative work is writing – poetry, screenplays and literary translation. Again, these are things I’ve come to in mid-life. I’m inspired by other art forms – I see a painting, I want to write a poem about it. I read a gripping novel and want to adapt it into a film. Mainly I need space just to go out and enjoy nature and art and free up my mind. It is hard to find that space but, if you can, painting is incredibly good for your focus and mental wellbeing. 

I always thought I’d do more art when I retired, but last year I was shocked to be referred for tests for glaucoma. In fact, my eyes are fine but for two months I thought I might go blind. That really shook up my thinking because I realised art couldn’t wait until I retired – I had to get on and do it now. It pushed me into putting forward a proposal for Beyond the Frame. 

Girl with a Green Scarf, 1960 - Anne Finlay

Finally, why did you choose Girl with the Green Scarf, 1960 by Anne Finlay from the Borough Collection for your piece, Woman in the Green Dress in our current Beyond the Frame exhibition? 

Initially I noticed Anne Finlay’s portrait because it looked a bit like me when I was younger and, as it happens, was painted in the year I was born. I found two things about it rather frustrating – the passivity of the sitter and the blank background. I wanted the girl to be active, looking more directly at us, and for the background to say something about her personality and interests. I thought perhaps I could make a portrait of that girl as the woman she is now. 

I decided on a self-portrait in Orleans House. This has always been a happy place for me, and I started painting in acrylics here. Like many people, I fell in love with the Octagon Room when I first saw it, so I chose that as the backdrop. It is full of frames. As a French-English translator, I can imagine myself back into the time of Louis Philippe, when I might have been able to make myself useful! And now in 2020, approaching Brexit, I feel a connection with France through this room. But what would I have looked like in 1720 – what would I have been wearing? How would that woman take charge of her portrait? If she had had a phone, she would have taken a picture. My interpretation of Beyond the Frame is about playing with time. A woman from 1720 and 1960 is here again now in 2020. Or is she just a reflection? 

It is such a pity that the exhibition has had to close temporarily. I had the idea that the characters in the paintings would get bored and come out of their frames to talk to each other, so I’m writing a poem about that. Here’s hoping the Gallery will be able to reopen soon. 

Woman in a Green Dress - Louise Vale

Woman in a Green Dress is an acrylic on board painting created in February 2020 by Louise Vale for the Beyond the Frame exhibition. Find out more about her ideas for the piece in her Artist Statement below.

Woman in a Green Dress - Louise Vale

“The artwork I have chosen from the collection is Girl with a Green Scarf, 1960 by Anne Finlay, part of the Finlay Collection. I was immediately drawn to this portrait. The girl looks rather like me when I was young and I think, like her, I was rather unworldly and innocent-looking at that age. By chance, the portrait was painted in the year I was born. It recalls that optimistic post-war period.  

I aim to create a new portrait inspired by Anne Finlay’s. It will be a self-portrait, something I have not previously attempted.” 

You can find a selection of Louise’s beautiful photography showing her love of colour and form on Instagram. 

You can also view the entire Richmond Borough Art Collection online, at the Collection link on our main navigation bar, or by clicking here.