Please share a bit about yourself & your artistic background.
First of all, I was 60 years old this year - a milestone birthday. I ran my own Market Research business over the last 30 years but that’s petered out a little bit over the last 5 years. I’m able to make art full-time now.
I used to do a lot of art when I was young at school. Art was my best and favourite subject. When I left school I let art slip and got involved in other things. When I was young I used to say I’d like to be an artist or an actress. I let them both slip and then went back to them in my 40s. After quite a large gap I thought ‘I wonder if I can still do art, I wonder if I can still act,’ and it turned out I could. So then I’ve spent a lot of time acting, directing and making art.
I seriously started painting about 10 years ago. I’m largely taught as I didn’t do an art degree or go to art college but I’ve done quite a few courses with some fantastic artists. I’ve also watched a lot of YouTube videos and read a lot of books. However, I think the main thing is just painting, just getting in there and just doing it. The only way you really learn is to put in the hours. I remember when I was starting out, someone said “you have to do 10 thousand brushes before you’re competent.”
How was the transition from running a business to becoming a full-time professional artist?
It was imperceptible really. I didn’t have one day where I stopped doing one thing and started doing another. I just found that I wanted to spend more and more time painting. When you get into it, it’s quite addictive. You’re working on something and you don’t really want to do anything else. It sounds bad but sometimes even the weekends are a bit of an interference if you’re really enjoying working on a body of work. So I just did the move slowly, which I think is a good way to do it.
Could you tell me a bit more about your acting and directing experience?
I started acting again with amateur dramatics group in Essex and did quite a few things with them. We go to the Edinburgh festival every year and we saw a play we really loved. I thought I’d love to direct that because I really enjoyed it but thought I could improve upon it. I took it to the group and they were a bit apprehensive about it but they let me have a go. I really took to it and I found I was quite good at it. I really like the discipline of it, mentally it’s quite stimulating and challenging and it really absorbs your brain.
We took it to drama festivals and we won and then we took it to the UK National Drama Festival and we won that. We did it a couple years later and we won everything again. I never got my hat-trick though. Now I’ve moved so I’m not doing it anymore but I really liked it. It’s very different to painting because when you’re doing drama it’s a group activity and you have to be very aware of other people. Directing was interesting because it’s a bit like dealing with people with mental health issues or having mental health issues yourself in that you have to take it one step at a time. You know what the end goal is but you can't rush people to get there. I learned that when I started directing because I thought by Day 1 I’d get everyone doing what I wanted them to do and it’ll be perfect, but they can’t do that. Even though you’ve got the vision in your head and you know where you’re going, you have to take people with you slowly.
Could you tell me a bit about your own experience with mental health/illness and how it informs your artwork?
When I use the term mental health I think of it as how you are in yourself, how your brain is, how you’re functioning and how you’re feeling. Sometimes that’s good and sometimes that’s bad. I think whichever way I’m feeling it always affects my artwork.
I’ve chosen a few pieces to share in this interview, some of which were created in 2018 which was a really challenging year for me. I was supporting someone in my family who was going through a really difficult time. It took a while to find out what some of the causes were and to get treatment. It was really difficult to support them and to help them. They didn’t want my help even though I wanted to give it. It was really hard to see somebody that you love struggling and not being able to fix it. It had a knock on effect on me as well and I found I got quite depressed so I ended up needing counselling as well. Some people don’t realise the impact that poor mental health has on the whole family. It doesn't just rest with the person who’s really suffering, it just spreads out.
'Wish Upon A Star'
I’ve had depression in the past so I was familiar with the territory. It was quite a tough lesson to learn because as much as I wanted to help the other person I also had to protect myself. I couldn't help them and I couldn't help anybody if I was sick as well. I hated having counselling. Although it’s quite helpful, I found I was quite resistant to it and I didn’t really want to talk about it. In fact, what really helped me was painting it out.
My husband writes and he says he can't write anymore because he’s too happy. He seems to think you can only write when times are bad, but I don’t feel that way about art. I can make art whether times are good or bad, just the art itself may reflect that. I think the mark-making and the style is different which is interesting. It was hugely important to paint and express things that were really difficult to express in words.
I’d love to hear a bit more about some of the pieces you sent over to us - perhaps about your artistic process and meaning behind the work.
The piece ‘Waiting’ was created in 2018. How I created this piece is how I start most of my work. I randomly start putting paint down and making marks with no intention other than to have a painting session. There’s no real thought of the outcome. I’m not trying to paint anything, I’m just painting. Then what tends to happen is that you see something in the painting. In this case, I saw the figure. It clearly represents what was going on in my mind at the time but I didn’t paint that figure, I found the figure.
It felt like the world was falling in on the person and it was really weighing them down so that’s what I tried to represent. There’s quite a lot of scratching in that piece and heavily drawn lines which I quite often like to do. It’s hard to explain but the lines connect things, but I couldn’t tell you what they connect but it’s about connection and maybe strength. Sometimes there’s a negative side to the lines as well, where you’re feeling like you’re pinned down. But there’s some light in there as well. There’s some bright yellow lights, shapes and links. Those circles are about linking things together.
'A Moment of Calm'
Around that time I painted 6-8 pieces that had a similar theme. I find it really interesting that it just comes out, you don't need to sit and plan it. If you allow it to, it will just come out. It's a nice way to work, it’s quite expressive and freeing.
The other piece of the woman holding the doll or baby is often interpreted in different ways. For me, that was a sad painting because it was about losing children and the barriers and problems that it can cause in families. However, other people often look at it and think it’s really cute and a happy painting. I think it’s absolutely fine that people see what they see in the work. The most important thing is that people look at it and it triggers something in them. If it touches them and it speaks to them then I think I’ve done my job.
The other piece is called ‘A Moment of Calm.’ I painted that earlier this year in lockdown at home because I couldn’t go to my studio. I thought it was interesting the difference between this painting and the other pieces from 2018. I was in a much more reflective mood I think. I wasn’t that well because I had an operation at the end of last year so I was recuperating. I didn’t have a lot of strength or energy but painting was really relaxing. It’s fascinating how you can see that the painting is much softer, there’s no hard lines or scratches. You can see that I was in a much more tranquil place. I think it’s fascinating how your mind affects everything you do and it shows in the work that you create.
You’ve also been involved in quite a few events and exhibitions, I was wondering if you could speak about one or two that stood out to you?
‘Waiting’ and a couple of other pieces were exhibited in the Mall Galleries in London in 2018. That was really exciting because it’s quite a prestigious gallery and it was the first time I had exhibited in london. It was lovely to see my work on the wall but I found it quite daunting when people were looking at them. I went with my family and close friends who were all saying to speak to the people looking at the painting but I couldn’t. Although I was so proud and wanted to be in the exhibition, I found I was quite nervous to speak to the visitors. Afterwards I thought I should have spoken with them because it’s better to try to go out of your own way and have the generosity to speak to them. But I was feeling a bit shy so I didn’t.
Another exhibition that I really enjoyed was in Suffolk. It was completely different to this work as they sent all the artists a set of Letraset. In the old days, when you wanted to print things, you’d use Letraset to transfer letters and you would literally scratch them out. So the artists got a bag of letters and we could make artwork in any medium with the letters. I did a piece about a telegraph pole with all the letters. I really enjoyed that process and it’s a really nice gallery.
I won an exhibition in 2020, early last year before lockdown. It was an open exhibition in the Gibberd gallery in Harlow. I put in a tiny little painting called ‘Just The Three of Us,’ which was a painting of myself and my two dogs from the back. The theme was 2020 and all the paintings had to be 20cm2, which was quite fun and I liked the restraint of it. I had all these clever ideas of what I was going to do around that theme involving numbers but it just didn't work. The day before I had to submit it I still didn’t know what to do. I remember I videoed myself painting, which I often do, and just painted this painting. I was quite pleased with it and I had a good feeling about it. We went to the private view and they gave out the prizes but nothing happened with mine. Then somebody else stood up and said they had two more prizes to present. They said “Best in Show: Chrissie Richards,” and I was shocked. I got prize money in a gold envelope, it was so exciting.
Any lessons you have learnt from your artistic journey and ongoing practice?
It’s just really important to show up and make art. Play with your paints, pencils or collage. Even some days when you don't feel like it or you think you can’t do it, it’s too difficult or you’re not very good. I think we all have that little chap sitting on our shoulder that tells us we’re not very good but just show up and get started. Not every piece of artwork is going to be brilliant and you won't be happy with everything you make, but it’s the art-making process which is the good thing. If you can’t make art, make a cake. That’s what I always say.
In the future I’m just going to keep painting. I’m working on a series of paintings about the lido. It’s quite cheery and fun but quite nostalgic as well. I’ve also done a bit of teaching and art workshops for people. I ran a group for a while called ‘Create, Relax, Repeat.’ The idea was that you create and chill out but then you do it again, it’s not a one time thing. I really enjoy sharing painting with people and encouraging people to make art. Everybody says it’s so relaxing and that it’s like therapy. People chat and make connections and you find things in common with people you didn’t know you had. It really helps my work as well as helping other people learn. It’s a complete two-way process.
'Which Door Leads To Happiness?'
'Fish Out of Water'