April 23-24, 2015: Joan Eardley: Another Look (latest working title) develops.
Actor Alexandra Mathie and I, Angela Cairns the playwright, have had a most heart-warming and fascinating research and development visit to Glasgow. It began with a pre-arranged visit to the Lillie Gallery in Milngavie (not far from where Joan lived in her late teens) where the curators Peter McCormack and Andrea O’Neill dedicated an hour of their time to us to show us all the 54 drawings and the one painting by Joan Eardley that they hold in their permanent collection. We were overwhelmed by the beauty and intricacy of these rarely seen works and felt enriched in our understanding of her work.
We broke our train journey back to Glasgow at Bearsden and we laboured up the hot and car-busy Drymen Road till we reached no. 140: Joan’s family home for some years of her young adulthood.
The evening held a special treat for us: a pre-arranged meeting with two of the Samson girls, the very subjects of Joan’s 1950s’ portraits of Glasgow street children. Most generous with their time and insights, Pat and Ann – whose eyes above all made them instantly recognisable – took us on an extensive walking tour of what was once the Townhead district where they lived as children and made the warm acquaintance of the woman with the pram who pushed her painting things through their streets. Pat and Ann were engaging and easy company, and we could instantly see – even fifty-five-odd years later – the appeal they must have held for Joan. We got to understand why the Samson children – and not others – responded to Joan’s requests that she paint them: physical warmth, food and payment of threepence for their pains (which meant a cinema visit could be on the cards!) had a good deal to do with it – in addition to knowing in their bones that they were in the safe hands of a ‘lovely woman’.
Yet another ‘crowning’ experience of the research visit was a meeting with Christopher Andreae, Joan Eardley’s biographer, whose work on Joan famously features transcripts from her letters to Lady Audrey Walker. Christopher’s unprecedented focus on Joan’s private life meant that our very relaxed conversations with him also tended to explore the woman as well as the painter and to lend complexity to her personality: helping us to understand better that she who flung all her energies into colourful and passionate painting could only also be she who flung her energies into colourful and passionate relationships.
Our next posting will detail our next R&D visit to Scotland: this time to stay for a week in one of the cottages on the north row in Catterline (meaning, amongst other joys, that when we open the door in the mornings, we shall see exactly the same view that Joan saw every day!), detouring en route to Jedburgh where we are due to meet Matilda Mitchell and Douglas Hall, vital figures in the promotion and preservation of Joan Eardley’s work and of her place as one of Britain’s finest painters.
We look forward to giving you news of this at the end of May.