Travel | Diary of a Somebody

Kit Kemp

The connections that flow from an encounter with a great colourist

Kit Kemp

November 18 2011
Kit Kemp

Day: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

As well as being a fine artist, Breon O’Casey was a brilliant colourist. I occasionally make pilgrimages to see places and people I admire, so a few years ago I went to Cornwall in the hope of seeing the last of the Cornwall artists in their studios. I met Sandra Blow in her studio in St Ives and we sipped tea in her eyrie looking over the grey sea. She wore smudgy eye make-up and resembled Mary Quant. I also met Breon in his house, which sits squarely in green fields, with his daughter Duibhne, an accomplished jeweller.

I don’t think we revere our lifelong artists as they do, say, in Japan. There, visitors would likely bow at the feet of a revered potter, but here artists are pretty much left on their own. What I didn’t realise was that Breon was the son of Seán O’Casey, the celebrated Irish playwright. We remained in contact until his death earlier this year, but Duibhne stayed in Charlotte Street Hotel when I curated an exhibition last year for Contemporary Applied Arts which highlighted some of Breon’s work. We have since become friends so it was a great privilege for me to accompany Duibhne and her sister Siobhan and their children, Seán’s great grandchildren, to the first night of his play, Juno and the Paycock, at The National Theatre in London last night. It is a powerful play – indeed, many of us studied it to get an O-level at school – and in this performance, the acting was exceptional, especially Ciarán Hinds and Sinéad Cusack. I was amazed at how little it had dated. Seamus, one of the great-grandchildren, who is now at Camberwell Art School, had never seen a performance of Seán’s work. I wonder whether he feels proud? I look forward to reading the reviews.

Today I met with Genevieve Bennett, a former student of the Royal College of Art who has been working in leather; we would like her to experiment with industrial felt in various colours as a means of decorating one of our lobby areas. The felt holds corrugated shapes and can be laser cut. It looks as if it may work well, and we decided to take it a step further.

I noticed in Country Life last week that the Royal Mail had issued stamps from A to L of well-known views in the United Kingdom. I sent off for a set, and they arrived today. Well, I have seen Angel of the North, and Blackpool Tower, but I have never heard of Carrick-a-Rede or the rather foreign sounding, neon-lit Kursaal. I’m afraid that just goes to show how unadventurous I am.

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