Why did I paint the Ipswich Mayor in 2014?

On 13th June 2013 I attended the Drawing Prize at Suffolk New College to give it out (some very good winners too) and afterwards I went round the Summer Show. I went past Shelley’s Restaurant, the excellent restaurant run by the students on catering courses. There were several people outside I knew involved in the Ipswich public sector and business communities about to enter for a meal and they very kindly invited me to join them. It turned out to be a meal of the Ipswich Corporation, which is the governing body of the College, and others involved in its operation. One of the guests on my table was Hamil Clarke MBE, the Ipswich Mayor 2013/14.

We got on well and amongst other things chatted a bit about art (being the occasion of my being at the College that evening of course). On a complete impulse, after the end of the meal as we were departing, I asked Hamil if we would agree for me to do a portrait of him. He was probably a bit taken aback and no doubt, I put him on the spot, as he knew nothing about my skills, or, indeed, whether I had any at all. However, he agreed, perhaps thinking I may not have been serious. I later followed it up with his Office and he remained ok with the idea after hopefully checking me out a bit! Anyway, he did attend my Lame Deer exhibition and talk in the Town Hall in November.

Due to other commitments, I wasn’t able to start serious work on the project until February 2014. But I kept thinking about it, off and on (and certainly, whether I was overreaching myself as an amateur artist!) I wanted to a painting in the same style as Lame Deer with some symbols which represented the Hamil’s life, around his face. I also wanted to try to celebrate somehow a theme of diversity, which Hamil has established as a theme of his term. One bit of serendipity is that Debbie and I were going to Barbados in September, that being the country of Hamil’s origin. I picked some ideas there and some colour schemes I wanted to use. My work colleague Thara Thangavel is a good photographer and we had a visit to the Parlour to take some photos.

When I started serious work on the project in February, I was having classes with excellent artist Ed Cooper and he helped me a lot with the techniques of painting the work and led to me discarding some ideas that would not work so well artistically.

In the end, I did two paintings, one provisionally entitled ‘Mayor Civic’ and the other ‘Mayor Dreamy’. As indicated by these titles, the former is more of a celebration of the Mayor in his public duty, the second a more reflective piece on a man who became a Mayor.

On March 10th 2014, Hamil came to visit the works in my studio. He preferred ‘Mayor Dreamy’ version. The work was installed for a while in his Parlour on April 8th 2014.

On April 28th 2014 about 25 guests attended an informal unveiling with the Mayor and Mayoress present. The film on my site of this event is by Elene Marsden with graphic animation by Mike Cheal and stills by Gavin King.

See a video of the unveiling here

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