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‘No, definitely no art at school!’ comes Alison Chandler’s quick reply when you ask her when and how art came into her life. There was a brief brush with German art in the shape of art history modules while studying German and French for her BA degree at Southampton University – and then in her twenties a couple of adult education art classes when Hertfordshire-born Alison moved to Gravesend. This, she admits with a laugh, may have been partly because she wanted to meet people, being new to the area.
Then two children and a career teaching languages, with the added responsibility of Head of Faculty for many years, took over all of her time. So instead of actively producing pieces, the glimmer of Alison’s interest in art had to take a different, passive form: she avidly attended art exhibitions in London whenever she got the chance.
FANNING THE FLAMES
Then, after a hiatus of almost 30 years, the initial spark of art was fanned into a proper flame – by Alison taking early retirement from teaching. She started going to printmaking classes and soon felt she wanted to return to painting. Her move to Tenterden in 2016 brought a welcome bonus: the new house had a large attic room where she could work and leave all her art materials out ready for use. A further bonus came in the shape of WOKAS, the Weald of Kent Art Society, which was just on the doorstep. So soon after arriving in Tenterden Alison joined the society to mix with hobby artists of all abilities and to learn from them. To continue the fire analogy, the combined effect of having her own designated art space to work in and getting inspiration from WOKAS workshops and demonstrations was like pouring petrol onto Alison’s artistic streak. Now there was no stopping her.
“Each art course brought new insights”
Just talking to Alison you sense that when she puts her mind to something she pursues the matter with focus and intensity. She did not just want to dabble in painting, she wanted her work to amount to something. She clearly had a quest to learn, to improve, to develop and gain confidence in her own ability. What better than to attend a wide range of art courses where each tutor brought something new that Alison could integrate into her skillset. She mentions Nick Archer in Rye and two very well organised residential courses with the Norfolk Painting School which were exhausting and hard work but very much worth it. Alison feels she improved with each course, gaining valuable insights and skills. Is there anything she has learned that she would like to pass on to others? Yes, Alison says: ‘Just go for it, don’t worry about mistakes’, ‘Always use the largest brush you can possibly manage with: it does wonders to help you loosen up your painting’. And: ‘Think about the importance of tonal values’ – something she was slow to grasp in the beginning but is vitally important for a painting to succeed.
“Think about the importance of tonal values”
What evolution does Alison see in the way she works? She has become more assured in paint handling and she works more quickly, a clear sign of developing confidence. And she is gradually able to work in a looser style which is what she is aiming for.
As far as motifs are concerned, Alison has no favourites. She is good at drawing so initially was drawn to motifs that lent themselves to that treatment and avoided landscapes. But that is changing now. Her oil ‘Arran landscape’ for example, a free interpretation of a photo, is proof of a more sweeping style. Alison mainly works in oil and acrylics, sometimes purely in one of the two mediums but over the last year, she has experimented with combining the two. As in ‘Dawlish Warren, for example, she applies a first quick base in acrylics which, when used thinly, dries quickly and then you ‘do what you like in oil on top’, she says. It’s up to you whether you want to obliterate the first acrylics sketch or let it shine through.
“Using the largest brush you can manage helps to loosen the style”
Is there an ‘Alison Chandler style’? No, she says laughingly, not yet. It might come. At the moment it is just a case of experimenting. She has recently bought some coloured inks and is looking forward to trying these out. The use of colour is something that she is still grappling with, saying that she uses colour more ‘literally’ than she would like.
Having attended many major exhibitions, Alison is torn when asked about her favourite artists. The classics like Rembrandt, also the German expressionists – she likes many different styles. In passing, she mentions a Lucian Freud exhibition and says it was the best exhibition she ever saw. Why did it impress her so? It was seeing first-hand the development of his style, from his early more realistic paintings to the mature style that we associate with him now.
Alison’s involvement in WOKAS these days extends beyond taking part in the painting challenges and exhibitions. In 2018 she was asked to join the committee and it is no exaggeration to say that the society is greatly benefiting from her clear ideas, methodical approach and drive, indomitable spirit and occasional straight talking – with a good dose of humour thrown in. She is the driving force behind the society’s newsletter ‘Brushstrokes’ which aims to increase communication and interaction with all WOKAS members.
“Real artists aren’t afraid of making mistakes”
What role has art played in Alison’s life? She feels art has been peripheral for a great part of her life, only coming more to the fore in the last five years. During the 2020/21 coronavirus lockdown painting has played a crucial role in helping her to remain active and keep a stable outlook. It is clear that Alison applies high standards to herself, still questioning at times whether she can be rightly called an ‘artist’. Being a member of WOKAS, watching the demos with other artists at work, has yielded an interesting lesson: real artists aren’t afraid of making mistakes. Alison is slowly getting there – she has now reached the stage where she doesn’t mind other people seeing what she has painted. That, she feels, is definitely a step in the right direction.
Alison Chandler is based in Tenterden.
Gunda Cannon was in conversation with her in March 2021.
Alison Chandler, March 2021
Into the woods – monoprint with photo collage
Dawlish Warren – acrylics and oil
Arran landscape – oil
Autumn 2020 - acrylics
En plein air