From The Forks of the Thames, by Alice Gibb. Originally published March 17, 1976.
Kerry Ferris, a 26-year-old London artist conducted a workshop at the London Art Gallery this week, and shattered my final illusions about artists.
Art, at least for the professional, is as much discipline as talent, with long hours, hard work and little glamour.
Miss Ferris has been working from a studio in an old red brick on King Street for the last five years. She admits that painting is a hard way to make a living. Last year, her best from a financial standpoint, she earned about $2000 from the sales of her work.
Miss Ferris however, seems to have the art of being a painter honed down to fine discipline. She works every day and has for a number of years. Even an annual vacation, usually in the spring of the year, is a businessman’s holiday. She uses the time in the country to “go out and start over again” so her work doesn’t get stagnant. By July, she’s back in the studio, ready to spend the next nine months of the year working on a series of work inspired by her holiday.
Miss Ferris’ paintings are expressionist portraits of cats, chickens, or the landscapes and peoples she meets on her travels.
They aren’t representational pictures; the eyes are often captured at an odd angle, and the colours in the painting are thickly piled layer on top of layer.
Pictures, says Miss Ferris, must be an “expression of your own realism.”
One of the artist’s first working excursions was a trip to a village in Yorkshire, England four years ago. The artist went intending to study sheep. Instead she found the hills were wild with chickens, and so returned from her holiday with a series of pencil and crayon sketches of chickens.
The result is an exciting explosion of chicken portraits, brilliantly coloured birds of turquoise and blue, with personalities all their own. One painting in the series is the Virgin Hen, and although Miss Ferris later found out her subject was a rooster, the title stayed.
The painter’s canvases are full of life, and she says she attempts to put animation in to everything. Even landscapes, she starts with the personality of the tree draws in basic lines with a fine paintbrush and then paints in the colours in sections. Often her portraits fragment the outline of the subject to the extent that is blends with the background.
Her acrylic works are a long process, and most take about three weeks, with large canvases taking up to three months. One of these is 13 Cats a la Maison, a brilliant picture of the number of cats which gradually evolve from the background.
The portraits Miss Ferris paints are also colourful since the artist paints in the colours she feels people represent.
A portrait of one of the Portuguese women the artist met on a holiday includes the picture of a squatty little woman with a brown face and skin.
The artist says she always sees colours in the face. Old men’s faces she portrays in strong colours, because they’ve already lived through a number of experiences.
The faces often seem distorted to the viewer, with eyes on two different levels, or lips that seem to take up most of the face. But Miss Ferris says when she looks at a person’s face, she sees the exaggerations she paints.
If she copied only what you see when you look at a face, then she would be a machine, and not an artist.
Kerry Ferris, is also unique since her art training is largely self-imposed. She spent two years drawing before taking up a paintbrush. Then she planned to do sculpture but found the medium too expensive. After spending three months in art schools, she found it was stifling her own creativity. She changed to cinematography and began painting on her own, experimenting and changing until her expressionistic style evolved.
My own romantic picture of the artist as an occasional creator is gone. However, I’d like to thank the artists who have taken part in the Six London Artists series at the gallery, for giving audiences a better understanding of the world of the artist.
Kerry's work will be on display in a one-man show opening at Forest City Gallery, 432 Richmond St., April 2 1976.