Portraits make way for petals as artist tinkers with her talent
Diana Tetlow has painted a host of recognisable faces over the years — from former Hamilton Mayor Lawson Mapp to US Secretary of State Colin L Powell.
These days she is taking a short break from portraits to focus more on petals — rose petals, that is.
Her latest exhibit of oil paintings, called ‘Tinker’s Roses: An Exhibition of Bermuda’s Roses’, is on display at Bermuda Arts Centre in Dockyard.
Ms Tetlow said she was inspired by the individuality of Bermuda’s roses, as well as her own upbringing in the English countryside.
“I grew up in ‘Rose Country’ in England, in an old house with two large rose beds filled mainly with modern hybrids,” she explained.
“At the end of one of the rose beds was a beautiful old rose which didn’t conform to a hybrid’s orderliness. When I came to Bermuda I recognised this rose’s relatives here and have loved them ever since.”
Her first attempt at painting the flower proved to be a challenge. She didn’t know enough about mixing the colours at that point to capture all the complexities of a rose’s hues, but as the saying goes ‘practice makes perfect’.
Ms Tetlow has been told that her roses have a very peaceful effect. But more than anything else she hopes her paintings convey the subtlety of the flower’s shapes and colour, and particularly how light affects them, she said.
Just don’t ask her to give the specific botanical names of the roses she has painted in this show. She admitted she was “slightly ashamed” to not know, but is hoping someone from the Bermuda Rose Society can make some informed guesses on that.
Ms Tetlow has had a fascination with paintings, particularly portraits, since she was 14.
She had gone to stay with a friend in London, whose aunt happened to be British actress and comedienne Joyce Grenfell.
The young aspiring artist was excited to get to listen in as Ms Grenfell made a recording for BBC Radio that afternoon.
“That was inspiring enough, but when we got back to my friend’s house there was a portrait of Joyce’s grandmother hanging at the top of the stairs which totally fascinated me,” she said.
“Like her granddaughter, she was no conventional beauty, but her eyes were expressively mesmerising, and the style of the painting was unlike anything I’d ever seen.
“This was John Singer Sargent’s painting of Mrs Wilton Phipps, wearing a black and white striped bodice, holding a bunch of pink roses in hands, which I would have given a right arm to have been able to paint.”
That early experience made a huge impression on Ms Tetlow, who later went to art college, before studying under two professional portrait painters.
She said she enjoyed portraiture most because it allowed her to capture and celebrate a person’s individuality.
Her aim is to go beyond a simple photographic likeness and convey the individual’s character.
In order to do this she uses research to learn as much as possible about her subject.
Ms Tetlow admitted she felt “lucky” to be able to make a living by doing something she loves.
Her goal is to always become better at her craft, and she insisted she’s always keen to learn more.
She would ideally like to be able “to paint as well as John Sargent or Diego Velazquez, but in the style of Diana Tetlow”.
“I hope my practice over time has improved, but painting is always an exploration to do better, to find new ways to express what’s interesting,” she said.
Tinker’s Roses will be on display at Bermuda Arts Centre in Dockyard from now until July 18.
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