Art UK has updated its cookies policy. By using this website you are agreeing to the use of cookies. To find out more read our updated Use of Cookies policy and our updated Privacy policy.

In the Spring of 2020, weeks before lockdown, I met up with my secondary school art teacher, himself an artist, for the first time in nearly 35 years. Talk quickly turned to his paintings, and it reaffirmed how inspiring I found the privilege of encounters with artists and talking to them about their art. After this teacher my first encounter was a long chat with my grandmother's friend's husband, 'Mac' who won medals from the Paris Salon in the first half of the 20th Century. The latest encounter, during lockdown, has included being in contact with the Surrealist Desmond Morris and the portrait painter Peter Edwards. This Curation includes most of those between those dates, and is currently under development.

13 artworks
  • Frank Auerbach (b.1931)

    Frank Auerbach was incredibly generous with his time for an interview that took place over a cup of tea in a British-Rail-Days-Cafe at Paddington train station. I remember Auerbach insisting that he liked such places when I had suggested somewhere a little more upmarket. I got to sit down and talk to him about his paintings of JYM, his model Julia Yardley Mills, as one of my friends at the time ran a fanzine for the pop group Japan, and their album 'Oil on Canvas' featured a JYM painting on its cover, and somehow Auerbach was happy to be interviewed for a music magazine article. I particularly remember him saying that his studio floor was far more encrusted with paint than Francis Bacon's.

    Head of JYM III 1980
    Frank Helmuth Auerbach (b.1931)
    Oil on board
    H 71.1 x W 61 cm
    British Council Collection
    Head of JYM III
    © the artist. Photo credit: British Council Collection

  • Wilhelmina Barns-Graham (1912–2004)

    I like to feel prepared when I meet artists, but on this occasion it was not possible. I was attending an art fair at Olympia in the mid-1980s with a friend when this lovely older lady with white hair asked if she could join us for lunch at our table. Willingly accepting the request, the lady turned out to be Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, who transformed a normal lunch into an absolutely fascinating experience - but I wish now I had been able to remember more about her life's work when asking her a multitude of questions!

    Passing Over 1982–1986
    Wilhelmina Barns-Graham (1912–2004)
    Oil on canvas
    H 91.5 x W 122 cm
    Government Art Collection
    Passing Over
    © Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust. Photo credit: Government Art Collection

  • Glenys Barton (b.1944)

    I interviewed the sculptor Glenys Barton at her studio in Essex for a film used in the National Portrait Gallery's digital space, called the IT Gallery. Barton talked about her portraits of Michael Stipe of REM she was then working on, and recollecting the portraits of Jean Muir and Glenda Jackson in the Gallery's Collection. Of the latter she said:

    ' the foreground in high relief, almost three dimensional and in the background the young Glenda from Women in Love in very low relief. In fact, the piece looked almost in a way like a film poster but that wasn’t intentional, it was just one of the things that came as it went along'.

    Glenda Jackson (1936–2023) 1993
    Glenys Barton (b.1944)
    H 40 cm
    National Portrait Gallery, London
    Glenda Jackson (1936–2023)
    © National Portrait Gallery, London. Photo credit: National Portrait Gallery, London

  • Peter Blake (b.1932)

    An interest in the Beatles and in particular the Sergeant Pepper's album cover, led me to Peter Blake's work, and as organiser of the Young Friends of the Tate events programme in the mid-1980s trying to get a visit to talk to him was always going to be a priority for me. Blake was generous enough to allow a visit of 10 of us into his house in Chiswick and talk to him about his art one Sunday afternoon. It was particularly fascinating to hear from Peter how he incorporated many of the objects still in his studio into his paintings, popular culture, as here, and of course his interest in wrestling.

    On the Balcony 1955–7
    Peter Blake (b.1932)
    Oil on canvas
    H 121.3 x W 90.8 cm
    On the Balcony
    © Peter Blake. All rights reserved, DACS 2023. Photo credit: Tate

  • The Boyle Family (active since mid 20th Century)

    A visit to the Greenwich home of Mark Boyle, Joan Hills, Sebastian Boyle and Georgia Boyle, aka the Boyle Family, was another choice as organiser of the Young Friends of the Tate events programme. I'd been endlessly fascinated with how they had created these works, after Mark and Joan came up with in the late 1960s with their 'Journey to the Surface of the Earth' long-running series of replicating sections of the surface of the earth identified by darts thrown or short by blindfolded people on large maps. I mostly remember the recollection of their antics. By the end of the evening it seemed perfectly normal to evade authorities and drive across an airfield in a Landrover in order to not miss a plane home.

    Street Corner Study: London Series 1967–1969
    Boyle Family (active since mid-20th C)
    Synthetic resin on wooden frame
    H 181.3 x W 180.4 x D 10 cm
    National Museums NI
    Street Corner Study: London Series
    © Boyle Family. All rights reserved, DACS 2024 . Photo credit: National Museums NI

  • John Bratby (1928–1992)

    In the Spring of 1991 John Bratby held an exhibition of portraits at the National Portrait Gallery just a year before his death. I was an assistant helping the Press Officer on exhibition publicity, but met him and his second wife Patti during the course of the show. The encounter was not profound, but my sense was of a couple in love and a colourful life lived together. Many think of the kitchen sink and toilet subjects when considering Bratby; I recall the bright colours and vibrant sunflowers in his paintings.

    John Randall Bratby; Josephine ('Joey') Pleasence, née Crombie 1967
    John Randall Bratby (1928–1992)
    Oil on canvas
    H 167.6 x W 91.4 cm
    National Portrait Gallery, London
    John Randall Bratby; Josephine ('Joey') Pleasence, née Crombie
    © the artist's estate / Bridgeman Images. Photo credit: National Portrait Gallery, London

  • David Buckland (b.1949)

    I interviewed David Buckland in his home for a film in the IT Gallery of the National Portrait Gallery in early 2000. He's very much an artist working in a photographic medium, and inspired by his love of theatre. This image was created through front-projection, as he explained

    '... what you do basically is create the whole image in one shot in a camera, and what you have to do is project an image on to this very incredibly intense screen and then put your person in front of the screen and you then photograph down the same path as the projection so then you don’t getoverlap, then you have to light the person but not light the screen.'

    Daley Thompson 1986
    David Buckland (b.1949)
    Cibachrome print
    H 100.3 x W 76.2 cm
    National Portrait Gallery, London
    Daley Thompson
    © National Portrait Gallery, London. Photo credit: National Portrait Gallery, London

  • Bernard Dunstan (1920–2017)

    I wish I could remember more about the meeting with Bernard Dunstan. It was at Camden Arts Centre, in the mid-1980s and Jenni Lomax led a discussion with him and a small number of students in education, and I was there through studying a PGCE in Art and Design at the Institute of Education. He was very engaging but that's it in terms of the memory of it.

    Auberge belles choses, St Cirq-Lapopie 1985
    Bernard Dunstan (1920–2017)
    Oil on board
    H 31 x W 26 cm
    Maidstone Museum & Bentlif Art Gallery
    Auberge belles choses, St Cirq-Lapopie
    © the artist's estate / Bridgeman Images. Photo credit: Maidstone Museum & Bentlif Art Gallery

  • Photographers

    Through my work at the National Portrait Gallery I inevitably met and sometimes interviewed a number of photographers and all were fascinating in different ways. Most charming of all was Terry O'Neill, who was very generous with his time during a photoshoot with A.A. Gill at the Atlas Gallery for an interview in a film. He talked engagingly about photographing his wife Faye Dunaway after she'd won an Oscar the night before, David Bowie and The Queen. Lewis Morley was a natural storyteller during a wonderful afternoon spent at his home in Sydney, where he talked candidly about Christine Keeler. Most terrifying was a simultaneous French | English translation for a Q&A session with the Malian photographer Malick Sidibé!

    The Photographer mid-20th C
    Betty Miller (1926–2023)
    H 12.7 x W 10.2 x D 3 cm
    National Coal Mining Museum for England
    The Photographer
    © the artist's estate. Photo credit: National Coal Mining Museum for England

  • André Durand (b.1942)

    I always liked this one portrait by Durand of the novelist Elizabeth Bowen, both for the colourful dress and the mystery of what is behind her. The artist emailed and phoned me on several occasions trying to get the National Portrait Gallery interested in projects he was involved with, including allegorical portraits of Diana Spencer in a Dorset landscape.

    Elizabeth Bowen 1969
    André Durand (b.1942)
    Oil on canvas
    H 101.6 x W 91.4 cm
    National Portrait Gallery, London
    Elizabeth Bowen
    © the artist. Photo credit: National Portrait Gallery, London

  • Peter Edwards (b.1955)

    Whilst only in his mid-30s Peter held a major exhibition of 20 life size whole-length portraits of different poets at the National Portrait Gallery. His absolute determination to complete the project of poets sitting or standing in their homes or local environment was astonishing. He followed this up with a major portrait of the footballer Bobby Charlton, accompanied by an unveiling event with half of the 1966 World Cup Winning team, then winning the annual Portrait Award prize - leading to a commissioned portrait of the novelist Kazuo Ishiguro - all before the age of 40. Our contacts over the years have been sporadic, taking a painting to him in Shrewsbury, meeting at the Chelsea Arts Club, and one artist I'd still love to interview.

    Seamus Heaney 1987–1988
    Peter Douglas Edwards (b.1955)
    Oil on canvas
    H 198.1 x W 137.2 cm
    National Portrait Gallery, London
    Seamus Heaney
    © National Portrait Gallery, London. Photo credit: National Portrait Gallery, London

  • Stephen Finer (b.1949)

    Most of my early encounters with Stephen Finer were initially around how the colours in his abstracted portrait of David Bowie were not quite right on the National Portrait Gallery website and with the artist wondering how print sales were going. Over the years the image has grown on me. David Bowie was a regular visitor to the Gallery in the mid 1990s when he was heavily involved with Modern Painters magazine and the singer admired Finer's work, and I wish when I had the opportunity I had asked him about a photograph in the Gallery's collection showing him, Auerbach, Freud and Kitaj having dinner together - I would love to know what they talked about!

    David Bowie 1994
    Stephen Finer (b.1949)
    Oil on canvas
    H 56.2 x W 45.4 cm
    National Portrait Gallery, London
    David Bowie
    © the artist / Bridgeman Images. Photo credit: National Portrait Gallery, London

  • Simon Frederick (b.1965)

    Maggie Aderin-Pocock (b.1968) 2016
    Simon Frederick (b.1965)
    Archival inkjet print
    H 38 x W 26 cm
    National Portrait Gallery, London
    Maggie Aderin-Pocock (b.1968)
    © Simon Frederick. Photo credit: Simon Frederick / National Portrait Gallery, London