Marr’s colourful comeback
Since his stroke, journalist Andrew Marr has moved north of the river and rediscovered his love of art
10 August, 2017 — By Gerald Isaaman
Political journalist Andrew Marr with some of his artwork
FROM Sunday painter to an artist with a growing international reputation is the remarkable progress Andrew Marr can now reveal following the sales success of his first exhibition, just closed in Liverpool.
The world of art – and being partially paralysed by a stroke in January, 2013 – have transformed the life of the 59-year-old political journalist best known as the presenter of his own BBC Sunday morning TV show.
There is undoubtedly more to come from his dramatic transformation following art sales in America, Switzerland, France, Holland and London with two more exhibitions now being planned, one in London next February.
And it has all happened since he moved three-and-a-half years ago to Primrose Hill after living south of the river in Richmond, where he enjoyed regular runs and cycle rides in Richmond Park to keep fit. It was a poignant decision too since he met his journalist wife, Jackie Ashley, there.
“Once I couldn’t run round the park any more there was not point in being there,” he said. “And Richmond is a long way in and out of town too. I like being in the middle of town.
“My wife and I met in Primrose Hill, so we’ve always wanted to live there. When we were young we couldn’t afford to. So we left our very large house in Richmond for a small one in Primrose Hill. And it suits us excellently.”
His new neighbourhood has associations also include the Camden Town School of artists he admires, particularly the “dark pictures of the Camden Town murder” by Walter Sickert and the paintings of fellow members Spencer Gore and Harold Gillman.
But it is back to his native Scotland that we have to travel to discover Andrew’s artistic heritage, a distant relative was the artist Leslie Hunter, one of the Scottish colourists acclaimed for their treatment of light, while his own grandfather was a newspaper cartoonist.
Young Andrew was naturally busy with a pencil and paintbrush from the age of six onwards, a regular visitor too with his parents to art exhibitions. His art teacher recommended he went to Edinburgh Art College, but Cambridge beckoned instead.
“A road not taken,” Andrew confesses. “I very nearly went to art college. I chose university and journalism instead. And I’ve somewhat regretted it.”
But now Andrew is delighted with his new sense of direction as an artist, selling more than 50 of the 108 paintings at his Strokes of Colour at Liverpool’s Corke Gallery.
They went at prices ranging from £375 to £1,750 following a chance encounter with the gallery owner, “the fantastic” Nic Corke. All the profits from the exhibition went to stroke charity ARNI.
As Andrew recalled giving a speech to mark World Stroke Day at Charing Cross Hospital, where doctors saved his life: “When I started to come round I was in great pain, a woozy prone object in pain. I became Andrew Marr when I started to draw again. That is who I am. That is the first time I knew I would be all right.”
His art hero is Matisse followed by Picasso, but in the modern world it is the work of Howard Hodgkin and Gillian Ayres that have inspired him, plus, more recently, the working-class East London School of Painters, who depicted the area before much of it disappeared in the Blitz.
“I’ve always been interested in how you paint in an interesting, up-to-date way without being representational,” he adds. “It’s the hardest and most interesting problem in painting at the moment when it is so much easier to paint a competent, traditionalist landscape, a still life or portrait.
“For a long time I was too scared to do it. I hung back from doing something that is genuinely your very own. Then I had a stroke and I realised that now was the time to choose – and I thought I’d better get on with it.
The stroke was partly the spur as I couldn’t paint outside any longer because I was paralysed down one side. I think what really happened was that I had been lacking the self-confidence to do it.”
So it is colour and shape that dominate Andrew’s work, together with a fascination for what he calls “very beautiful and perilous underwater scenes”.
“I tend to wake up in the morning with an idea for a sequence of colours or a basic shape that I want to explore,” he says. “It is also useful going for a walk and using semi-circles and shadows to try to convey a sense of movement across the canvas. And then, by using difference colours, thicknesses and thinnesses of paint, different textures, to convey the sensation of being in different places.”
He is being advised by the artist Adrian Hemming. “Painting is a solitary task,” he explained. “It’s important to take advice and Adrian has been incredibly generous in telling me why something isn’t working or why you haven’t thought something through or why are you doing that?”
Meanwhile, Andrew has also written A Short Book About Painting, due for publication in November. “As somebody who has haunted art galleries all his life, I’ve always been slightly irritated at how rarely painters say in plain English what they’re trying to do,” he says. “We don’t talk enough about failure, which in turn makes it harder to talk about success.
“So I’ve written this short book about painting, using my own work as examples, of when I’ve got things wrong. I think the technical term is leading with your chin.”