Dorset lives — ‘I quite literally enjoy whatever I’m working on!’
Terry Whitworth has been drawing as long as he can remember – and he never tires of it, as he explained to Tony Burton-Page
Published in May ’10
Anyone who has been to Wimborne since last December has almost certainly seen some of Terry Whitworth’s work. The repair work necessary after the July 2009 fire which destroyed part of the town centre is not pretty to look at, so the Chamber of Trade erected hoardings to conceal it from the public eye; but with a commendable stroke of imagination they invited artists to design a mural to cover the sixty square yards of blank grey space. The somewhat alarming part of this brief was that they needed it to be completed within four weeks. Terry Whitworth, always looking for the variety which a new challenge provides, spent a short time researching Wimborne’s history and then sketched some ideas, which he duly emailed to the Chamber of Trade. His was one of a dozen submissions, but it stood out as the winner because of its vibrancy and up-beat character. Within two weeks he had completed thirteen panels’ worth of illustrations in ink and watercolour covering every aspect of Wimborne life: the Minster, the morris dancers, the food festivals, the militia and the arts – there is even an artist painting a picture of Kingston Lacy. The originals were sent to a printer, who enlarged them tenfold, and remarkably soon they were in place in the High Street, where they will remain until June this year, when it is hoped that they will be moved to a more permanent position.
It is no coincidence that this lively mural features several buildings, as Terry has enjoyed drawing architecture all his working life. He has been able to draw for as long as he can remember, but it did not occur to him that he could make a career out of it until comparatively late. Born and brought up in Surrey, he trained in Business Studies and worked as a systems analyst for a couple of years before his creative impulse got the better of him: at the age of 23 he decided to re-train and went to Twickenham Art College.
‘Although not one of the elite London colleges of the time,’ remembers Terry, ‘we were taught good drawing and painting skills, as well as how those skills can relate to earning a living. I studied both graphic design and illustration, and I enjoyed both. I found that the discipline needed for the problem-solving element of graphics and commercial illustration complemented the freedom of fine art.’
He worked as a graphic designer in Central London for several years, working on such tasks as creating logos for large companies or designing brochures and annual reports. But he kept up his drawing and painting, which, he admits, is where his heart always was. He sent several portfolios of his work to publishers, and one day he was rewarded with a commission for a series of paintings depicting well-known tourist attractions all over Great Britain – 180 of them, in fact. Astute mathematicians will recognise this as a multiple of twelve: the commission had come from J Salmon, the calendar makers, and Terry was to supply paintings for several calendars over a number of years, as well as images for postcards and notelets.
‘It was a hugely enjoyable task, since I was able to travel to many parts of the country that were new to me, just drawing and painting, but in addition the calendars themselves took my work all over the country too, and because of this coverage I received several more commissions from other publishers and corporate clients. A lot of work involved illustrating some of the country’s finest buildings.’
By this time Terry, now with a young family, took the decision (by no means unknown amongst artists) to get out of the rat race of city life and move away from London. He had visited Dorset just once, as a teenager when he and a friend visited Hilfield Friary to work on the farm there, but the memory of the stunning countryside had stayed with him so strongly that Dorset was the first place he thought of to relocate. He has now been here for nearly thirty years and such is the respect in which his work is held that he has been busy as an artist all that time.
It is the wide variety of this work that inspires him. When asked what he enjoyed doing most, he found it difficult to answer. ‘I quite literally enjoy whatever I’m working on at that particular moment. One day there’s the discipline of visualising what a new building will look like so that an architect can show his clients; on another there will be the freedom of a vague brief from a calendar company asking simply for a dozen paintings of places I like.’
One of many unique commissions was to prepare the illustrations for acclaimed landscape designers David and Isobel Bannerman’s design for the British Memorial Gardens in New York, a project commemorating the 67 British citizens who died when the World Trade Centre was attacked in September 2001. By contrast, he is currently working on a series of acrylic paintings on canvas which celebrates the scenery along the length of the Jurassic Coast. They show his fascination for recurring patterns of the landscape and the way the sea can be glimpsed through the hills from a wide variety of locations.
‘I particularly enjoy painting out of doors, and I’m trying to have more time for that nowadays – and Dorset is a wonderful place to do it! It took me quite a while to get used to painting outside – you have to get used to being on display. But I’ve met so many people who are genuinely interested in the process of painting and who have an ambition to “give it a go” one day. When I do workshops, it’s always amazing to see how just a little nudge in the right direction can result in pretty good paintings from most people.’
For an artist like Terry, the borderline between representational accuracy and artistic creativity is a narrow one. ‘When you’re drawing architecture, I think it’s important to be true to the architect’s intentions by observing details accurately but it’s also important to keep to a looseness in the style so that the pictures aren’t too bland.’
No-one who has seen any of Terry’s work could possibly accuse him of blandness. Its abiding appeal is its immediacy, a quality which is important to him.
‘I’ve always loved artists’ sketches. They don’t contain the fashion of the day and don’t have any self-conscious style to them – they’re the immediate thoughts of the artist, which are the same hundreds of years later: they could have been done yesterday.’ The value that Terry puts on such honesty of expression manifests itself in everything he does as an artist.
Terry Whitworth will be exhibiting during Dorset Art Weeks (29 May to 13 June) and examples of his work can be viewed by visiting www.terrywhitworth.co.uk