Artistic openings for Head
Sheilagh Head’s studio is chaotic. Mixed in with paint tubes and canvases are bits and pieces the artist has brought home for inspiration — leaves, bits of glass.
“I’m bursting at the seams,” said the 73-year-old. “Once I got a call saying Kofi Annan, then Secretary-General of the United Nations, was coming to visit my studio. I didn’t really believe he was coming. I said, ‘Well, I don’t clean up for anyone. Not even Kofi Annan’. I was shocked when he turned up an hour later.
“He didn’t buy any art, but only because I talked him out of it. He was going to buy a piece for his wife, who was an artist. I said: ‘The worst thing you can do for an artist is to buy art for them. They’d rather pick it out themselves.’”
The Nobel Peace Prize winner, who was here in 2006, never returned with his wife, Nane; Mrs Head was “chuffed” that he bothered to visit her studio at all.
Typically, her work does not hang around.
Her draw as an artist here and overseas is what led to the opening of Sheilagh Head at Bluck’s; three years earlier she had vowed she “was done with galleries”.
“To be honest, when Peter Darling at Bluck’s approached me about opening a space I was a bit reluctant,” said Mrs Head, who in 2015 closed Windjammer II, a gallery showcasing local artists that ran for six years at the Hamilton Princess. “I just wanted to paint. Without a gallery to run I have so much more time to paint.”
However, the owner of the Front Street store promised that all she had to do was provide the art. He would do the rest.
“We put a few paintings in the window in February and they sold immediately,” Mrs Head said.
Some of her Bermuda landscapes and several of her abstract reef works will be on display.
“Seeing my interest a couple of people offered to take me on diving trips to the reefs but I am claustrophobic and couldn’t put the scuba tank on. So I prefer to paint the reefs from what I see in my mind’s eye. I’m really concerned that a lot of the world’s reefs are in a state of crisis.”
She was born in Prestbury, Cheshire, England, and likes to say her art career started when she was 3.
Her first materials were her mother’s make-up — eyebrow pencils, rouge and lipstick.
“I used them on any convenient surface,” she said. “White sheets had a great appeal. It was 1946. Rationing was still in effect and things like rouge and lipstick were difficult to get so I was not a popular person with my mother for a little while.”
Her artist grandmother, Irene Heighway, always encouraged her interest, always making sure she had good quality art supplies.
“Now that I have three grandchildren of my own, I do the same for them,” Mrs Head said. “We have grandma’s art camp in the summer.”
She went to Manchester College of Art in Manchester in the 1960s. According to the artist, it was the worst time to go to art school.
“Everything at that time was about having no structure,” she said. “I had come from a very strict girls’ boarding school and all of the sudden I was let loose. I was utterly lost. I didn’t want to do all of this conceptual art and contemplate my navel — I loved to draw.
“Today I am painting abstracts and absolutely love it.”
Her first job as an artist was creating colour schemes for council houses in Manchester. She found it so boring she quit and became a flight attendant on TWA.
Her husband, Peter, was a pilot she met on a flight in 1965. The couple moved to Bermuda in 1969 and married the next year.
“The intention was to stay just six months as our jobs allowed us to commute from anywhere,” she said. “Instead, we fell in love with the island. Everyone was just so friendly.”
She recalled how the mailman showed her how to bathe her daughter, Meredith, back in 1971. By the time her son, Patrick, was born she was a pro.
“We were living on Ord Road,” she said. “I came to the door and I was in tears. The mailman said: ‘Don’t worry, I’ll show you how to do it’. I think he had a few at home himself.”
She sold her first painting in 1980 at the late Susan Curtis’s gallery, Windjammer, on King Street. She was thrilled that someone thought it was worth $400; today her paintings can cost as much as $8,000.
“Sales are nice but they are not the be-all and end-all of painting,” she said. “There are easier ways to make a living. You never really get rich.
“My sales have always been good and I’ve always had more commissions than I could handle but at the end of six years [of running Windjammer II], I’d made maybe about $1,000 a year. Everything I made on sales I put back into the gallery to keep me going.”
The grand opening of Sheilagh Head at Bluck’s takes place on Thursday from 5pm to 7pm at 4 Front Street. For more information, call 295-5367
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