Date Posted: 6th February 2022

Farmstead Evening. Karen Wallbank 1992
The back board with original labels

I met up with an old friend I hadn’t seen for thirty years yesterday.  It was a large and very special painting by Karen Wallbank whose story I told in my book Hercules and the farmer’s wife.  (She is the titular farmer’s wife).

It is a magnificent piece of work and it brought back many memories. Like so many paintings, the story lies on the back. The original labels are all there. The Laing Art Competition is printed at the top of the label provided with the entry form.  (Laing was a building/development company at that time).  I remember filling it in giving the Title - Farmstead Evening:  Size - 100 x 90cm: Date - 2nd March 1992. Price -  £1500.  I then delivered it to Newcastle the nearest regional centre. There were centres all over the UK and the competition was open to artists living anywhere in the British Isles. Highly commended works which were to be chosen by a panel of judges at each centre would then be sent down to The Mall Galleries in London for a large prestigious  exhibition where an overall winner would be chosen.

Karen Wallbank was one of my protégées and I decided to enter it on her behalf.  She would never have taken it to Newcastle on the right date if at all. Her work arrived at Castlegate House unframed and unwrapped in curious untidy bundles – some were odd shapes, some were stuck together where the paint was still wet and others had picked up straw and goodness knows what else in transit  across the farmyard before she tossed them into the back of the land rover.  I would drive down to the farm and collect whenever I could to avoid damage! She was never interested in a piece once she’d finished it. It was up to me to frame it, title it, price it and sell it.  After some disastrous experiments with upholstery hessian and dulux paint I also provided her with materials

So I drove it to Newcastle and dropped it off. There was a long queue of artists doing the same thing.  I joined the queue. I was worried about the rule that if your painting wasn’t chosen you would be informed and had to collect it within 3 days or it would be destroyed as there was no storage space but I needn’t have worried about collecting it - it was highly commended and was bound for London.  I had to confess to Karen at that point and get her permission to hand over her contact details.  She was really pleased and we both got an invitation to the London opening where the winners would be announced.  This was followed by a confidential letter to Karen a week or so later informing her that the judges had viewed all the entries and made their decision and Karen was the  overall winner. As well as the cash prize, the Laing Company  had booked her and George into a nice Mayfair hotel and would provide a car and chauffeur to take them to the opening.  She said she felt like the Queen riding down the Mall in a posh car.

The painting sold on the opening night and the owners  who live near London have now decided to sell it having enjoyed it for 30 years as it is now too big  for  them to house it to its best advantage. They are happy to consider offers over £800.  They drove it up to Cumbria yesterday and it was quite a moment when they carried it in from the car and unpacked it. It’s as bright and lively as ever.

So now it’s in my writing room and its down to me to sell it for them. Karen is no longer showing any work. She looks after her autistic daughter Hannah who is now in her thirties.  They both donated some pieces for the ANON3 exhibition last November which sold immediately.

E mail me if you are interested in buying Farmstead Evening which you will agree comes with quite a story.

Over to you.

Please forgive the poor quality of the photograph. I have struggled to avoid reflections but didn’t want to take it out of the frame. It was framed in 1992 and has reminded me how much picture glass has developed in the interim. I now use Museum quality glass which doesn’t reflect and is easier to photograph but like electric cars and mobile phones etc wasn’t available then.