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.

When my mother died, I moved with my young son from our large family home into a small house in Cowes on the Isle of Wight. I took with me the chest freezer from the family home. The only place I could put it was in the kitchen diner, and it rather dominated the room with its plain white bulk.

I had met the artist Jo McPhilbin many times around Thorness Bay on the island. He painted wonderful pictures of the bay and the cliffs, and I admired his skill. My family commissioned a picture for my mother’s birthday. My sister still has the picture. Jo had some standing as an artist on the Isle of Wight and I went to several exhibitions that people hosted for him. I bought a picture of a fox and a crab on the beach, which I still have and love.

I remember that Jo once picked up a badger that had been hit by a car and kept it in his freezer, so that he could paint pictures of it, especially its fur. He was a keen runner and used to go out with the Isle of Wight Harriers to run. I liked him very much.

Jo was painting and living with his family when I was working in the Pathology department at St Mary's Hospital. I was sometimes needed to cover out-of-hours work and was on call during the night. 

I asked Jo if he would come and sleep in my spare room on these nights so that, if I was called out, there would be someone in the house with my son. I would give him part of my call-out fee to buy paints and materials.

Draught of Fishes

Draught of Fishes 1986

Jo McPhilbin

Healing Arts, Isle of Wight NHS Trust

I mentioned to him that I would really like some sort of picture on the freezer, so that it was more of a feature in the room. Jo painted the picture of the Draught of Fishes over a number of evenings and nights, while I was in the lab working. It wasn't quite what I was expecting! The very stylised figures are not at all like Jo's other pictures.

One evening, I came back from the lab to find that his style of execution was quite different from previously. He was working on the nets and was aggressively streaking through the paint. I asked him if there had been a problem and, after some time, he told me that a family member was suffering from an illness.

I believe that I know the models for the figures in the boat. The older, white-haired man resembles an island local, Ken, and the younger man resembles his son. They had a fishing boat out at Thorness bay.

Ken passed away a few years ago, and his son still lives on the Isle of Wight. He drove the Cowes ferry across the Medina for many years. I don't know if he still does. The brown-haired man resembles a man nicknamed Bigfoot (on account of his very large feet and sometimes bushy hair and beard) who was a frequent visitor to Thorness Bay at the time.

The painted chest freezer

The painted chest freezer

When the freezer stopped working I tried offering it to Tate as an intact piece. I didn't get a reply from them, so the picture was cut out of the freezer with a jigsaw and offered to Healing Arts at St Mary's Hospital. The collection accepted it, and it was hanging in Newcroft, the psychiatric hospital, the last time I saw it.

I don't know where Jo is now. I left the island over 20 years ago, and I made one attempt to find him to show him that the picture was in the PCF’s Hampshire and Isle of Wight catalogue. I bought a copy of the catalogue and I wanted to give it to him, but I couldn’t find him.

Marianne Hulse

Editor's note: This story was first submitted through Art Detective. If you know any more about the artist Jo McPhilbin, please start an Art Detective discussion.