Click on images to enlarge
For someone who describes herself as ‘eclectic, hectic, peptic and occasionally septic’, Christine Hopwood sounds pretty normal when you talk to her. Yes, there is no mistaking her curiosity, vitality and loathing of being pigeon-holed but that is not surprising for someone who has explored the boundaries of creativity further than most of us. A self-declared ‘Renaissance girl’ at heart, Christine hasn’t stopped short of gazing at the stars.
A LOVE OF PATTERNS
Christine Hopwood was born in the fishing port of Grimsby but moved to the South of England when she was eight. A couple of years later, as a 10year-old in Folkestone, she remembers using a spirograph and thinking that it ought to be her making these amazing patterns, not a mechanism. She got her first set of oils aged 13 and painted on hessian.
She became a computer analyst/programmer and stayed in the industry for 25 years. Computer programming, says Christine, is intensely creative, computer software has structure and the design is really quite artistic. You sense that Christine enjoyed her job while ‘on the side’ she took Adult Education classes in watercolour and oil, as well as raising three children.
She decided to retire early and immediately embarked on a Fine Art BA at Ashford School of Art & Design, with the 2nd year spent at Canterbury Christ Church University. This, she says, was a really exciting experience: she feels she discovered herself then and gained a lot of confidence.
In the middle of her course, Christine had a motorcycle accident which forced her to take some time out. Never one to rest, she used the pause to set up her own gallery, the Garrett Gallery in Tenterden, finding her artists via the Open Studios brochure. The financial crash in 2008 put an end to the gallery venture and soon after finishing her degree in 2010, Christine joined the Rye Creative Centre where she rented space until 2017. This vibrant hub with its diversity of artists was the perfect place for Christine’s enquiring nature, all the while she was studying art, astronomy and photography with the Open University.
“What’s in you has to come out”
What is crystal clear is that Christine doesn’t like to do just one thing. This can be a bit of a downfall at times, Christine admits, as the body of your work doesn’t scream ‘Christine Hopwood’. Not enough coherence, she has been told. But she is doing her art mainly for herself, not with the foremost intention of selling. ‘What’s in you has to come out’, she reflects.
Astronomy and photography are two of her other loves, and she combines them in her astrophotography. She is the proud owner of a motorised telescope with camera attached which allows her to take stunning pictures of the moon and stars. These astrophotos lend themselves to interesting experiments and manipulations. And they led Christine to digital art. It was a little bit of fun, Christine sums up this particular phase, sitting in the V & A and drawing on a tablet.
As her inquisitive nature has led Christine in so many directions with her art, the answer to the question about favourite mediums is tricky. It would have to be sculpture in clay and stone, painting in oil and drawing in any medium, says Christine after some reflection. Drawing is her strength. She loves working with artists’ pencils: they are versatile, you can blend them and get effects like with oil – some papers can take 15 coats – , you can be precise with them or use them loosely to glaze. ‘Pepper and Russ’, the two dogs, are drawn on vellum (Hahnemuehle) which gives them an even more realistic appearance. More recently, Christine has been concentrating on life drawing, still life, people and pet portraiture. She receives commissions but on the whole, selling is not that important to her.
It is when you look at her more observational and realistic drawings that you understand why Christine considers herself a Renaissance girl at heart, strongly influenced by Leonardo and the Northern Renaissance painters of Holland and Belgium. Life drawing in particular has been a ‘delight’ for Christine. As a college student, she had free access to a model and was drawing weekly, if not daily, encouraged by one of her tutors, the sculptor Patrick Crouch, who considered life drawing ‘pure form’.
EXPLORATION AND EVOLUTION
Talking about her college days in Ashford and Canterbury, Christine is aware and grateful that those days gave her the opportunity to head off in all sorts of directions. She was able to explore what she calls ‘the dark side’ in her work – body image, self-worth and depression. At the same time, having access to no longer needed stone fragments from Canterbury cathedral in her sculpture classes led to exploration of a religious nature for a while.
“Everything is a big melting pot where
all the different creative threads
weave into each other”
When you ask Christine about the evolution of her creative output, she says there is always an evolution, you are always moving forward. If you start something, you need to build the skill for that particular something. But everything is also a big melting pot where all the different creative threads weave into each other. Christine says it’s worth getting as much input as possible from others as well – in her case workshops, online courses, tutoring from Nick Archer and sculptor Steph(anie) Rubin at the Rye Creative Centre. Now the flow goes in the other direction as Christine teaches structured drawing courses in Bethersden herself.
The importance of art in her life? Huge, without doubt. Christine seeks depth, a different aesthetic and to convey emotion in her work. Her drawings catch the feeling of the moment, the character of the sitter. There is a small flicker of regret in Christine’s voice that she hasn’t been able to establish herself as a fully-fledged artist with more recognition – but there is still a strong drive to be successful. Maybe she needs to go bigger, format-wise, to be noticed with large, luscious canvases: she is still brooding about this particular bit of advice.
“Don’t let people categorise you”
The Weald of Kent Art Society entered Christine’s life only fairly recently, about two years ago. She says she needs to be with like-minded artistic people. And she is desperate to paint again pieces of substance which is difficult at the moment as she hasn’t got a dedicated studio space for her materials. So she has turned to sewing, one of her other loves, and is now in the process of making an art quilt: creating a Renaissance landscape out of little scraps of fabric. It’s different, she laughs at herself.
Christine is the best ambassador for the advice she would give to others: ‘Follow your heart; do what you want to do; don’t let people categorise you.’ Her dream would be to own a studio-cum-gallery where she can showcase her own and her fellow artists’ pictures and teach as well. Quite simply, as she puts it, ‘to live the life artistic’ and savour the beauty of it all.
Christine Hopwood is based in Bethersden, Kent.
Gunda Cannon was in conversation with her in April 2021.
Flesh Mesh – Sculptamold sculpture and 9 oil paintings
Lorena – glazed oil painting
Martyrdom - 9” Conte drawing
Pepper and Russ