Last autumn I found myself travelling to more-or-less exactly the other side of the world. A 40 hour journey took me to the Tiapapata Art Centre in the heart of the Samoan hills, where I was to be staying for the next ten weeks.
After I left LARA, I felt I should put my newly learnt painting skills into practice somewhere out of my comfort zone – and hopefully somewhere where I could start trying to figure out where on earth I was going to take my artistic career. I decided to apply to an art residency somewhere ‘abroad’ (a.k.a anywhere in the world) and armed with this remit I started trawling the internet. Surprisingly, the Tiapapata application was the first I applied to (while also googling which ocean Samoa was in) and the first to respond. A remarkably short time later, I was being welcomed by Wendy and Steven Percival as the Artist in Residence in the extreme Samoan humidity.
The concept behind art residencies is wonderful. Avoiding dodgy ads and suspect ‘organisations’, you can find hugely supportive and generous people, looking to put back into the artistic community and help entrepreneurs establish their craft. I certainly found that in Samoa. I cannot recommend an art residency enough, and suggest the Res Artis website as a place to start. The Percivals run their art residency as a non-profit enterprise. In return for teaching some oil painting lessons at their art centre, they gave me accommodation, studio space and even held an exhibition of my work at the end of my stay.
Every morning I’d wake up in my self-contained apartment, contemplate where on the island I fancied painting that day, pack up my materials and off I’d go. As an artistic experience it was more informative than I could have possibly imagined. I wrestled with painting entirely new scenes – imposing landscapes, bustling marketplaces and a lot of palm trees. I spent much time pleading with new-found friends to sit for portraits or attempting to say in Samoan ‘please don’t crowd around my easel’; ‘yes you can watch me but I’m very British and feel a lot of shame and embarrassment’; and ‘no I’m not married and don’t really want to be thanks’. I learnt how to pack up a painting in a tropical storm, what to do when sand gets all over your brushes, how to apply suncream with oil paint on your hands, and to love all of the insects before they drive you crazy. (However, I may have taken this too far, by naming all of the cockroaches around and going mad anyway!)
By the end, I had more paintings than I knew what to do with. But more importantly I had a shed-load of new found confidence and experience, with which I felt I could contemplate embarking on a career in London..