Have you tackled ‘de-cluttering’ your life yet?
It seems to be something many of us face up to in later life.
Those precious mementoes from holidays with the dear departed that we’ve treasured for years in the hope of leaving as a legacy to a grateful offspring … suddenly don’t seem as desirable to the next generation.
What if you’re an artist? Someone who has painted over a lifetime for the sheer joy of it?
At 78, Ray Postill, a retired civil engineer based in St Albans, gently broke the news to his wife, Pat, that he intended to sell off his entire artwork collection of almost 300 original paintings. Pat was in fact thrilled. Two out of their four bedrooms at their St Albans home are filled with stacks of his work – not to mention every wall in the house and also the garage. His kids think it’s a great idea – they already have their favourite works in their own homes.
Ray has no personal connection to St Albans beyond the fact that he admires the work of the ‘Yugoslav Naives.’ But he was so incensed to learn about the invasion by Russia of Ukraine, that he decided to give all the income from the sale of his work to a small, established aid charity working in that region. This small charity was set up to provide aid to vulnerable groups in countries suffering from the effects of years as part of the former Soviet Union. When Putin’s forces invaded the Ukraine 20 months ago, they were the first charity on the ground with medical supplies.
He had a website made, Arts For Ukraine. He then approached as many Herts outlets – media, local magazines etc to try to get publicity – and got a piece published in the Herts Advertiser and also in the Herts Visual Arts (www.hvaf.org.uk) who published his story in their Autumn 2023 magazine. He even ran a three-week Open Studio from home.
The website produced sales of around £3,000 initially over a nine-month period. The Open Studio made another £2,000 – a total donation to date made directly to the charity of £5,000.
Ray doesn’t keep a penny for himself.
Please visit https://artsforukraine.org.uk/ to learn more and perhaps purchase one of Ray’s artworks online. Even better, please spread the word by sharing this post – or arrange a visit to his home, as he loves to chat about his art and the joy it has brought him.
As a new artist myself, there’s little room in my studio for more artwork but I couldn’t resist purchasing Ray’s painting ‘The Clown Crier’ as a reminder to help Ray by telling people about his generous initiative to help the besieged people of the Ukraine, as their tragic ongoing battle slips further and further down the media headlines.
Ray’s style spans 30 years – he’s self-taught and has never before tried to market his extraordinary collection of work.
Without formal training, his artistic style veers away from convention and follows its own quirky and often humorous rules. His collection encompasses naïve/primitive, surreal, abstract and black and white celebrity portraits for which he uses a toothbrush.
It all started when he got chatting to another civil engineer working alongside him on the A10/North Circular project to agree traffic management with Enfield Council. His colleague, Peter Heard, an established artist in the Naïve Art tradition, had a show at the Portal Gallery, just off Bond Street. He invited Ray as his guest.
Peter, who sadly passed away in February 2021, encouraged Ray to ‘have a go.’ His own paintings and prints were selling at that time for were £750 and his paintings sold between £10K and 15K each – plus he did an annual Christmas calendar for Nick Mason the drummer of Pink Lloyd and also Jackie Collins.
Ray bought a limited edition print from his friend and then realised that the jigsaw he had bought his wife for Christmas the previous year was by Peter Heard – Ray hadn’t made the connection. He just knew he liked that kind of art.
So it was hardly surprising when, a few weeks later, guess what Santa Pat left under the tree? A full set of acrylic paints. ‘So it’s all her fault,’ says Ray with a twinkle.
His first painting was a challenge. Ray says he had no imagination to start with. However, his graduate training officer at the council was a member of the Chindits regiment in Burma, fighting against the Japanese. Ray had a book about that battalion – he even had a photo of the founder wearing pith helmet and shorts – and he thought about painting The White Hunter – Major General Orde Charles Wingate – so that was his first painting. Standing tippy toe. Not for sale. He was offered £180 but refused.
That slightly off-best frontal tippy toe became part of his style. In the jungle in the background is a sinister pair of eyes – looking out. He added the humour and tension. When he showed it to Peter Heard his friend said ‘Is this your first tying you’ve ever painted? IT’S 100 TIMES BETTER THAN IT SHOULD BE.’ And Ray was hooked. ‘I blame him, as much as Pat,’ says Ray ruefully. They remained friends to the very end.
Every engineering contract Ray undertook, he would offer his staff a print at cost and they would pay for the framing. The local framer made £1,500 from frame sales as a result. However Ray made nothing. ‘I’d never seek to cash in on friends or family,’ he says.
Which of his subject areas sells better and to whom? He says his naïv landscapes (totally from his imagination) are popular – his latest one was called the Long and Winding Road – (currently for sake for the Arts for Ukraine at £160 70cms x 50cms). Also his characterful illustrations of north London life. The Art Deco paintings are especially popular with women. He researches the fashion – hats and clothes and then stylises it in his own style.
Ray’s extraordinary black and white celebrity portraits were triggered by a visit to a charity shop – he saw an empty black frame – and decided to do a black & white portrait! He told his wife he’d paint Audrey Hepburn. He was so pleased that he became obsessed and did 60 portraits – many are still for sale. Believe it or not, he uses a toothbrush for detailed stippling.
His inspiration is Van Gogh who didn’t start painting until his 30s and never had Art School training. ‘Self-taught, like me,’ says Ray. He likes Rousseau – called the Father of Naïve. He likes Hockney – especially his later work. He’s not tempted to paint on an i-pad. He likes the Yugoslav naives who paint back to front on glass – a shimmering colour is the result, he says.
Does he have any advice for Older Artists, perhaps starting their activity in later life?
‘Go for it.’ Just start painting and you’ll surprise yourself.