Widely recognised as an accomplished painter and printmaker of engaging portraits, Kate Boxer (in her latest solo show 'Roll over Constance') has produced a visual feast of iconic works. Kate is known for her portraits of both man and beast and her sitters are often portrayed with their dogs: traditionally a sign of fidelity and faithfulness. Thomas Hardy is immortalised with his terrier, Wessex (a dog so feisty that the local postman was forced to knock out two of the dog's teeth in order to protect himself). Edith Sitwell, the avant-garde poet dazzles; resplendent in flowing robes - with a turban and a huge ring adorning her finger, she demands attention. Poets, playwrights, actors, writers and singers from England, America, France and Russia are depicted smoking with sublime confidence, and even the goddess Venus makes an appearance, triumphantly riding on her chariot drawn by four elephants. Kate also pays homage to Aretha Franklin, with a painting of the singer looking unruffled; wearing a striking coral dress, Aretha is set against a tangerine-orange background: 'The Queen of Soul', R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
A few days ago Kate generously agreed to answer some questions about her penchant for portraiture and more …
Where did you grow up and when did you decide that you were going to be an artist?
I grew up in the country in West Sussex. I took up drawing and painting because I really couldn’t do anything else.
Are there any classical or contemporary portrait painters whom you particularly admire and why?
Oh yes - I love portraits, photographs, paintings, sculpture. Any likeness in any form. I couldn’t single a bunch out; they are all fascinating.
Where do your ideas come from and what is it that inspires you to paint the people you choose?
I don’t know where ideas come from but if I have one I hang on tight to it. The most confounding thing is when you have an absolutely brilliant idea. The best. And you just can’t remember what it was. And it never comes back.
Acrylic inks or oil paints? In this exhibition you oscillate between the two – is there a reason for this and is there a colour you can’t live without?
I use whatever kind of paint seems to lend itself best to what I am trying to do. All the paraphernalia of drawing, painting and printmaking, which is what I do, is fantastic. It would be good for me to include more of it. Umm, I could live without a colour but I would miss it very much.
What do you find is the most challenging aspect about being an artist?
Well, I don’t think I am an artist as such. Artists take on the world and transform it for us. I love doing what I do - painting pictures and making prints and the worst thing that can happen is if I don’t enjoy it because then I can’t expect anyone else to. And the nicest thing is if someone enjoys something you do. I think anyway.
And lastly, would you be happy to talk about your cryptic titles and also to elaborate on the title of your show?
I don’t know myself! Most of the time it’s just because I like them. This title came about from a glorious flower arrangement made where I live by Jeremy Lee, which was the best ever, so I took a picture and called it, ‘Roll over Constance Spry. It’s Jeremy Lee!”
HOW THE 'DOG ON ORANGE AND PINK' GOT ITS TITLE
Rather prosaically, one of Kate’s paintings (for identification purposes only) had been given the name ‘Dog on Orange and Pink'. Just before the catalogue went to press we emailed Kate to ask her for the correct title. Here is a transcript of our correspondence:
Cricket: Please can we have the correct title for the Dog on Orange and Pink?
Kate: Oh yes – the dog. I am coming back to you with a title in five minutes.
Four minutes passes
Kate: Oh Mrs Bennett Smith!
Cricket: Oh Mrs Bennett Smith – is that with or without the exclamation mark, sorry to be pedantic.
Kate: As soon as I sent it, I thought should I have it or not - the exclamation mark … so important to get these things right! So NOT pedantry. Which is sadder? Or funnier do you think? Maybe after all, without?
Kate: Just gone to look at the picture - without an exclamation mark! Thank you so much.