Tony Benn’s Funeral

 

It was a real honour for me to have been invited to Tony Benn’s funeral at Westminster Abbey on Thursday. He made some enemies over the years but a lot more friends so the more intimate St Margaret’s Church in the Abbey was full to the rafters. It looked more like a demonstration outside as we went into the church with miners strike banners from the 80’s and Stop the War Coalition banners from the noughties , a huge crowd that he had encouraged and inspired over the decades. I found myself sitting next to , or in close proximity to Alastair Campbell, Peter Tatchell and George Galloway, quite a formidable trio.

As Tony Benn became almost a “National Treasure” in later life, after he had retired, it’s easy to forget just how radical his politics was with mourners like Arthur Scargill, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness in the congregation. In fact I remember the afternoon after one of our morning sittings Gerry Adams was due to have a meeting with Tony Benn in his basement office.  This would have been back in 1997 , still the very early stages of the peace process and I seem to remember shortly after this Benn was the first politician to invite Adams into the House of Commons for which he got a lot of stick from the press at the time.

I also thought it was interesting to see Shirley Williams and David Steel there too after Williams , one of the Gang of Four who broke away from the Labour party in the early 80’s to form the SDP , largely due to the direction Tony Benn and Michael Foot were taking the Labour Party which caused a huge rift.  Tony Blair didn’t make the funeral , he sent Cherrie but something tells me Tony Benn wouldn’t have missed him.

His 3 son’s and daughter made extremely emotional and articulate speeches towards the end of the service , the Benn spirit of oratory was in them all.

Although I was only really an acquaintance of the family Hillary Benn made me feel like the closest family friend  when he greeted me which is quite a skill. It certainly felt like the end of an era in many ways but he definitely lives on through his family. Photo’s courtesy of  The Guardian.

March 31st, 2014

TONY BENN

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was very sad to hear the news about Tony Benn’s passing.   I knew that he was unwell and was kind of expecting an announcement but it still comes as a shock. It’s been a huge news story, as he got older he became a national treasure which is in stark contrast to his political hay day when he was hated by many. But ultimately  he was  a man of huge principal , conviction, passion  and belief which the nation respected him for. Certainly I felt that he had a very purifying presence when you are in his company and you felt that there was a lot of good within him. The last time that I saw him was just before Christmas when we made a film about the portrait that I painted with him for the Palace of Westminster archive and website. I could tell then that he was getting older but bless him he still tried to light up his pipe in Portcullis House on 3 occasions during the filming to the dismay of the fire security man who very respectfully asked him not to.( There’s a link to the film below).

I first met Tony back in 1998 when I went for a series of sittings at his home in Notting Hill which he had moved into way way before the area became gentrified. The office was very busy with lots of papers on his desk, lots of technical gadgets on a table , mainly for recording purposes because he always recorded interviews. There was a sense that he lived and breathed socialism and there were lots of socialist/ Labour objects that people had given to him over the years and he had kept them all,  the plavce felt a little like a museum. I remember one room was completely taken over by a huge miners banner given to him by Arthur Scargill. We sat in his white plastic lawn chairs in his office and talked about how we might like to compose the portrait and what we could put in it that reflected him as a sitter. many of the things were already in place and others we brought down, like chair which he is sitting in which was once owned by Kier Hardy and he loved the idea of getting a small statue of Karl Marx into Westminster which is on the shelf.  His wife , Caroline would often pop into the sittings for a chat and his brother would come for soup at lunchtime sometimes. He gave me a little socialist pin badge which I have treasured after the last sitting. My Dad was a big fan of his and he came into the sittings the one time and was made extremely welcome. I had a number of sittings and unveilings with him and we became  friends. When my Dad died and he found out he telephoned my mother straight away to offer his condolences and he wrote to me and when he say my work in the broadsheets he would often write to me and when Anne and me got married he wrote a little  piece for the day. A measure of the man I think, somebody who was always interested in people and something he always said , which I haven’t heard many people mention in the tributes  was ” Always encourage people”

It was a privilege to meet Tony and become one of his many many friends and his contribution will never be forgotten.

 

March 15th, 2014

STORM IN A TEA CUP/ slow news day – MP’S PORTRAITS AT THE PALACE OF WESTMINSTER

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jan/14/mps-portraits-scandal-britain-hatred

 

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jan/14/mps-portraits-scandal-britain-hatred

I can’t believe how this story about the portrait collection at the House of Commons has escalated. It’s been on every TV news channel , radio, broadsheet and even tabloid. I think the most balanced and truthful piece was in yesterdays Guardian (which is attached above) by Jonathan Jones and it was very nice of him to focus on my portrait of Tony Benn which is in the collection.
I imagine a journalist was invited to Portcullis House for lunch and was shown the collection and had the germ of an idea to gently massage a nerve. In truth it’s a none story, £250,000 spent over almost 20 years is actually peanuts in the scheme of government spending. And from it they have some great depictions and a few exceptional portraits from some of the best portrait painters in the country. Again, in truth many of the artists did the portraits very much in good will because in the early days of the collection there was very little funding so back in 1998 I took the view that it was a great project to do and other work would come from it which indeed it did.
It’s a shame when issues like Syria have dropped off the news agenda in recent months this kind of inflammatory journalism can steal the headlines.

January 15th, 2014

Plus One at Andorra Museum

Plus One gallery who I show with in London are currently holding an exhibition at the main museum in Andorra. We’ve all got a few pieces in the show ( the gallery artists) and I believe that it is moving on to Barcelona afterwards. Here’s a photo from the opening,unfortunately I didn’t go.

August 1st, 2013

SKY ARTS PORTRAIT COMPETITION

Sky Arts are making a series about portraiture. It’s a competition based programme, I guess a bit like the X Factor but without the cruelty. They invited me to a screen test with  the magnificent artist Tai Shan Schierenberg  to be a judge and they rightly chose Tai who is not just a wonderful painter but a natural on TV, I remember a show he made for BBC2 on Titian which was excellent. I think Kathleen Soriano is the other judge, formerly of the National Portrait Gallery and now head of exhibitions at the RA. It would have been a giggle with those two but Sky, you made the right choice, my accent isn’t made for TV. 

August 1st, 2013

Tony Benn Film

Some time ago now I was invited to make a short film with Tony Benn about the portrait that I made of him 15 years ago for the House of Commons.  We’re sat infront of  the portrait with his son Hilary who was asking the questions.

Here is the youtube link.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RXcoYZ_MzUw

I’m doing another portrait for the Palace of Westminster , this time for the House Of Lords, of Lord Carrington. I’ve had a few meetings and sitting with him at the Commons and  at his home but I won’t be starting it until next year. I’ve been doing quite a few paintings which I can’t talk about at the moment until they have been unveiled which is why I haven’t posted many lately. I’m currently working on a portrait for the National Portrait Gallery and have been since January but again I can’t say who yet…watch this space.

August 1st, 2013

TWO NEW DRAWINGS

I was commissioned to do 2 portraits of Sir Adam Roberts, president of the British Academy on the Mall and also principal of Balliol College, Oxford. Both institutions had one image each. Here are the two drawings, roughly A2 in size in charcoal, carbon, graphite and ink.

August 1st, 2013

Eric Sykes on display

My portrait of Eric Sykes was unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery last week and is on show now for a while in their new re-hang to coincide with the Man ray exhibition. It is on the ground floor gallery space .

February 17th, 2013

WILKO JOHNSON


I was sad to hear the news that former Doctor Feelgood guitarist and latterly solo artist Wilko Johnson has terminal cancer. I loved his attacking guitar technique but also his down to earth, working class attitude. I saw him on a BBC4 recently about 70’s rock music mimicking the pomposity of the keyboard players with arms at full stretch either side of them pawing over their banks of keyboards. He hated David Bowie’s arty image preferring his local gangster style sharp suit. Anne and me were watching Game of Thrones over Christmas ( thanks Nige) and I thought ” That Looks like Wilko Johnson” and it was. I saw him a few times with my friend Matt and he was brilliant. I wish I’d got a ticket for his farewell tour but they sold out in hours, and what a great sitter he would make too.
All the best Wilko

February 10th, 2013

ERIC SYKES’ MEMORIAL

width=”1024″ height=”768″ class=”alignleft size-large wp-image-776″ />

I was invited to Eric Sykes’ memorial at St. Martins-in-the-fields, just off trafalgar square last week. It was an upbeat memorial , Eddie Izzard made a speech and set the comedy tone and Robert Lindsay , Peter Alliss , Tim Davie and Bill Kenwright also spoke. It was full to the rafters with family and friends and lots’ of actors and comedians. The service closed with the RAF band playing the theme tune to his 70’s sit com “Sykes” .

February 10th, 2013

Next Posts Previous Posts


Categories

Links

Feeds