Time and tide waits for Sadie

Sadie Tierney was mentored by David Hockney and Tracey Emin. She then taught Prince Harry. Now she's exhibiting inPortsmouth.

Monday, 21st March 2016, 6:00 am
Sadie Tierney with her painting of HMS Ark Royal
Sadie Tierney with her painting of HMS Ark Royal

Sitting on the beach at Southsea, brushes and paints in hand and with dusk falling, there have been many times when Sadie Tierney must have felt like King Canute.

Desperately trying to capture the failing light as well as the intricacies of a passing ship, the fast-encroaching tide imposes its own natural deadline.

Perhaps her fixation comes from her roots. After all, she grew up in Chichester, a short hop from Bosham where old Canute apparently attempted to turn back the tide.

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Sadie Tierney's impression of a Southsea Common funfair

Sadie is fixated by ships, their form, structure and the romance of life on board.

From pilot vessels and RNLI craft to the beasts of the Royal Navy and container ships; fishing boats to cruise liners, she is fascinated by them all.

And she draws and paints them all from life. She is not one of those who snaps a view on her phone and then recreates it as an artwork back in the warmth and comfort of her studio.

‘You’ll find me tucked away on the beach in all weathers painting or sketching because I find that’s the best way of doing it. The most real way,’ she says.

Clarence Pier, Southsea, seen through Sadie's eyes

‘People talk about the unique light of St Ives in Cornwall, but the light in Southsea and over the Solent is the best of anywhere I’ve ever lived.

‘It doesn’t matter how grey a day it might appear, I will still see purples and greens and different shades of yellow.’

Sadie, who lives at Southsea with her artist husband Neal Layton and their seven and four-year-old daughters, is currently exhibiting 100 of her works at the Play Dead Gallery in Highland Road, Southsea. You cannot miss it for on a large wall outside Sadie has painted a mural of HMS Warrior.

Inside, the walls are crammed with her work.

The HMS Warrior mural outside the Play Dead Gallery

They range from a large canvas of HMS Ark Royal piercing a pall of freezing fog when she returned to Portsmouth for the last time on that bitterly cold December morning in 2010, to a cruise ship slipping through the Solent at dusk, her hull pierced by dozens of yellow pinpricks – the lights from her cabins.

If you are looking for classical, architectural-style, detailed works of ships, you’ll be disappointed.

She has a playful, almost childlike impressionistic style which captures the sights and sounds of the city she now calls home.

Apart from all things nautical, there is a collection of vivid smaller works capturing all the fun of a fair on Southsea Common. As with all her output there is a great sense of place, atmosphere, movement and, above all, colour.

Sadie Tierney's impression of a Southsea Common funfair

‘Although I work from life, I’m less concerned with the accurate depiction of objects. I’m much more interested in describing visual sensations and experience through the use of colour and line.’

Which is hardly surprising when you consider one of her mentors was David Hockney, who taught her during her days studying at the Royal College of Art.

Sadie says: ‘He was a great inspiration. A very brave artist.

‘It always seemed that English art was never taken very seriously if it was colourful. It was considered to have much more gravitas if it was in monchrome.

‘But Hockney lived in California and soaked up the light and colour and it rubbed off on me when he taught me at the RCA in the 1990s.’

While there she was given tutorials by the then enfant terrible of British art, Tracey Emin.

Clarence Pier, Southsea, seen through Sadie's eyes

‘She was in her early thirties and had just hit the big time.

‘She was outspoken and inspirational because she was a woman who had broken into a very male-dominated world with panache and, yes, a degree of notoriety. But she had become a household name.

‘She did some paintings of ships before she got famous which are utterly stunning and much better artistically than some of her more scurrilous and scandalous work.’

Sadie will never forget the advice Emin gave her.

‘I’d just got a teaching job at Eton, where I was to stay for five years, and Tracey urged me to make a name for myself on the back of it. ‘‘Make yourself famous while you’re there. Get your name in the papers’’ she told me. Of course, I didn’t, but I did have a wonderful time there.’

Sadie pauses, then adds. ‘I was there when the princes were there and I taught Prince Harry.

‘There was definitely some talent there. He was a creative, sparky little chap.’

When she was growing up in Chichester and attending Chichester High School for Girls, all she wanted to do was be an artist.

‘People very kindly used to tell me I could faithfully capture a scene on paper, that it looked like what it was meant to be.

‘But I went off to uni thinking I should get a proper degree so I studied classics. I gave it two weeks and begged them to let me change courses and do art.’

She did four years in Newcastle and then managed to get accepted by the Royal College of Art. ‘People say it’s the best place in the world to study art and design and they’re right. It was a fantastic two years.’

She then ran the illustration department at the Glasgow School of Art with husband Neal in tow.

‘It was a wonderful place to work, a great city, not unlike Portsmouth, but I remember it once rained for 53 days on the trot.

‘I asked Neal where he’d like to live and he said Southsea because of the weather and... the skatepark! So we moved here and never regretted it.’

Sadie finds Portsmouth, not just Southsea, inspiring.

‘Although I’d grown up just along the road I’d never really considered living in Portsmouth. Now I love standing on the edge of the city looking out across the Solent at the ever-changing views, light and skies.

‘Being an island city, Portsmouth reflects the light of the sea. It’s what makes it such an exciting place to live and work.’

n Time and Tide by Sadie Tierney runs until Good Friday at the Play Dead Gallery, 131 Highland Road, Southsea, 10am-6pm, Tuesday-Saturday.

The HMS Warrior mural outside the Play Dead Gallery