Tony Forrest with Clarendon Fine Art on board Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth
For this cruise with Clarendon I flew to Cape Town and boarded Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth on the afternoon of Saturday 19th January. I’m not a great fan of long distance travel and I was glad to get to the ship terminal where I was met by Sam and Gemma Cox who manage the gallery on the ship. Not much happened on that Saturday. I arrived, found my room, unpacked and went to bed.
On the Sunday I chatted to Sam and Gemma about the events of the coming few days and one thing quickly became apparent. I was intending to demonstrate the final stages of a painting that I had painted earlier at home. This would rescue me from the pressure of only having 45 minutes to do the demonstration. But Sam was worried that the painting was too complete and consequently there wouldn’t be enough to show people how I paint and make an event of it. I was worried about it too so Sam, in his wisdom came up with plan B. Tomorrow (Monday) was the safari to Schotia Game Reserve. We would do the safari then whizz into Port Elizabeth before getting back on the ship to buy a new canvas and materials for me to paint a new picture from a photo taken during the Schotia safari. Instantly I felt better as I knew it would suit me to demonstrate a painting from the beginning. Plan B had to become plan A….
During this same chat over drinks Sam asked me to write a brief history of my life! So I delved into the archive of my brain and remembered all the little things that, looking back, were significant. Such things as noticing a painting in the corridors of my primary school and being aware, at the tender age of 7, of the subtleties in the way parts of it were painted; the softness of flesh tones, highlights etc. A boy of my age should be outside playing football or getting up to mischief, not studying the finer intricacies of art! There was also of course the “light bulb” moment at college in 1979 when I first discovered David Shepherd.
I made notes on the back of an envelope and gave them to Sam to study. He would use my notes in a talk he was doing on Tuesday in the ship’s Queen’s Room. More on that later.
Schotia Game Reserve
This time last year I was doing a one day safari in Kwantu Game Reserve and photographed a lioness for my demo. This time we were in Schotia close to Port Elizabeth. We saw various animals - buffalo, giraffe, elephant, - but the best part was the three lions. There were two males in their prime and a lioness. The two lions were performing perfectly for me with a Tony Forrest classic scene where they were just resting under a bush with that magical sunlight filtering through. I knew immediately that this would be my painting.
The temperature on this day - Monday - was the hottest I have ever known in all my visits to Africa. It was 42 degrees C and I was struggling. I didn’t want to be a misery and worry Sam and Gemma, but I was starting to feel ill at lunch. Normally I do these short day safaris on my own but Sam and Gemma wanted to accompany me for the day which was very nice of them. I didn’t want to spoil their day. I survived but was glad to get back on the coach and back to the ship.
Now the fun bit - that canvas that we had to buy for my painting demonstration. We got back to the ship dock, then had to find a way into Port Elizabeth. A taxi was the obvious way to get there. Bear in mind I was feeling very fragile and just wanted to rest, we had the taxi driver from some other planet! First we had to haggle with the price and then I remembered that he was talking in SA Rand, not British pounds! 400 Rand is only about 20 quid. We climbed in, and drove off to find an art shop somewhere in Port Elizabeth. The driver was an interesting character to say the least;
“Hey, you got any weed, man?”
“Not really, mate. Just smoked the last one”!
Plus the loud “music” that made my eardrums change places! Not to mention the red traffic lights that don’t seem to matter in South Africa. You just carry on and close you eyes!
We arrived at the art shop intact and I was lucky to find everything I needed; canvas, brushes, even a palette. The reason I didn’t have them was that I thought I was only going to finish off a painting, not start a new one, as explained earlier.
Back on the ship, I was glad to get some rest as I was feeling ill. I now had one day to check the photos and prepare this canvas. I just hoped that I had everything I needed and that this demo would all work out OK. In the event I needn’t have worried….
Sam’s talk about me and the champagne reception
Tuesday 22nd was when it all started. Sam did a brilliant talk on the history of wildlife art from the days of early cave paintings to the present day. Sam Cox, the manager of the gallery, is a natural speaker and I was very impressed when he started to talk about me. Speaking in the Queen’s Room, Sam rattled off fact after fact and bearing in mind I’d only given him my scruffy notes the day before, he did it brilliantly. Some of my early photos from Africa were projected on a huge screen above the stage - me in my little shorts painting from life in Zambia!
Click the photos to enlarge.
Champagne reception in the gallery
Later in the afternoon on the Tuesday I had my first event in the gallery and met some very friendly people. The champagne reception lasted about an hour and gave people the chance to see the collection of paintings and enjoy a glass of bubbly. By the time I arrived all of my smaller paintings were sold, plus two framed prints. This should have been the easy bit but for some strange reason I was feeling apprehensive at the start but soon settled. It’s nice to chat to people who are on the same wavelength, ie they appreciate what I’m doing and they care about the natural world.
The live painting demonstration in the Queen’s Room
The main event! Painting live in front of 200 people was by far the most anticipated part of this trip for me. It had to go right and it could easily have been a disaster. As I said earlier, the original plan was to just finish off a lion portrait that was largely completed at home. This was due to the fact that I felt stressed and short of time at the last painting demo on the Queen Mary 2 in 2018. But I completed the painting too much and it was going to be quite a task to stretch out a few whiskers into an hour! I would have been embarrassed and 200 guests would have been disappointed and let down. This is where Sam and Gemma’s idea of a new painting came to fruition. That second night when we were chatting about it saved my life. Had we not gone into town to get a new canvas and materials, I dread to think what the resulting “demo” would have been like. There would have been almost nothing for people to watch. In the event, the new painting of that lion worked wonders and I was delighted with what I achieved in that hour.
People were sitting for the event an hour before we started. I had expected about the first four rows of seats to be filled. The event was billed to start at 11.00 but by 10.30 the room was nearly full. I had no idea I’d be talking to about 200 people in the loveliest of settings - the ball room on one of the greatest ocean liners in the world. And I was centre stage! I was rigged up with a head set microphone and then at 11.00 Sam introduced me. I walked on to some very enthusiastic applause and I must say, it felt great. Where was this shy teenager from the 70s? I was confident because I knew I had a great subject to paint. The lion under a bush with dappled light was almost my signature subject. But with only an hour I knew I had to get to grips with it right from the start. And that’s exactly what I did. I spoke a little during the demo but not much. Sam spoke along side me to fill in the gaps of silence but we both gelled very well while Gemma took the microphone around the audience for any questions they might have. Just before 12.00 I put my brushes down and thanked everyone for coming to watch. I also thanked Clarendon for giving me this wonderful opportunity to paint in such a prestigious place. It made me feel quite emotional.
Click the images to enlarge.
Captain Inger Klein Thorhauge unveiling new painting
After the painting demonstration we were back in the gallery at 2.30 for the unveiling of a new painting. Once again, the gallery was well attended and I was delighted to meet Captain Inger Klein Thorhauge who incidentally is Cunard’s first lady captain. We unveiled the painting followed by me explaining a little bit about it and why it means so much to me. It was sold about two minutes later. The demonstration lion painting was also sold as were three other larger pictures. Together with the prints, there were I think fourteen pictures sold in about 24 hours. A great success and I’m just happy that people appreciate what I am doing. Click on the photos to enlarge and mouse over for description.
The day following the live painting event and meeting the Captain, we were in the gallery again for a tour of my show which basically meant talking about each painting, telling the story behind them. I’ve never done this before and it felt like a very good idea as people don’t normally get the chance to hear how and why a particular painting is done and especially the circumstances at the time the original photo was taken.
I was a little apprehensive about this as I’d never had to think about why I do any particular painting or even what I found exciting about it. So I had to think about each one! In the event, it was a thoroughly enjoyable hour for me. Sam gave me the microphone and I just rattled off one story after another. The nice thing is that each painting did have a story of sorts, such as a small leopard painting being the subject of half a day tracking her and then a lioness and cub being seen on that same day as we went back to camp. Yes, I was totally relaxed and enjoyed every moment of it. We also had the chance to have photos with everyone.
Just before going in to do the tour, I had lunch and sat chatting to three lovely people who helped put my mind at rest. I was explaining that it is sometimes daunting doing these talks and can be stressful. Anyway, I promised that I would give you a mention when I wrote this web page. So a big hello to Stan and Sheena and Lynne Newman. In fact it is meeting new people that makes these events so special. Thank you all of you who met me.
Some photos of the tour. Click on image to enlarge.
Special moment in the gallery….
As I said earlier, my painting demonstration was going to be a painting of a lion that I saw in the Lower Zambezi on a recent safari. It was left nearly finished but now we changed the demo to a completely new scene of the lion in Schotia. That means we now have a painting in the gallery that isn’t quite complete and also needs to be signed. This painting was sold, I think, on the afternoon of the demo.
Sam and Gemma of Clarendon arranged for the client to join me in the gallery and they could sit and watch me finish their painting. So that is what we did. We set up the painting on an easel in the gallery and I later met them for drinks on the upper sun deck. I know how much it means to them to have that painting and their story is a very touching one. So I am delighted to have been able to do this for two special people.
The ship’s bridge
So there we are; my work is done! On the Friday morning I was given permission to visit the ship’s bridge where they drive this monster - all 90,900 tonnes of her. Built in 2010 Queen Elizabeth has 1046 passenger cabins and 12 decks. She is 965 ft long with nearly 1000 crew. As expected, computers do a lot of the work but it was fascinating to see how a ship of this size works. Thanks to First Officer Matthew Nicolls for showing me round.
Client dinner at the Bamboo restaurant
My week on the Queen Elizabeth is nearly over. But there was one last event which I thought was quite special. The gallery managers, Sam and Gemma decided that we host a dinner in the Bamboo restaurant for all the people who bought an original painting. This was a nice way to end the week and say thank you for their support and just for making the week such a success. So we all met in the Bamboo at dinner. There were two tables, nine of us on each. I sat at the head of one table for the first course and then moved to the other table for the second course, then back to the first table for dessert! I enjoyed every minute of the evening and made a short “thank you” speech at the end. It was quite emotional and a lovely way to finish the whole week. I felt I was saying good-bye to friends. Any of you reading this please chime in and say hello via the contact page on this site. I’d love to hear from you.
Lastly I want to say due thanks to Clarendon for making all this possible. Sam and Gemma in the gallery worked wonders with all the events running so smoothly and especially getting the new canvas, enabling me to do a proper demonstration which, after all, was the main event of the week. Thanks also to all the people I met on the ship and who made me feel so welcome. It’s a battle for me at times with long distance travel and certain medical issues don’t help. What next? Who knows. But I’m back to work to produce my next series of paintings with renewed vigour.
Before I leave you I would like to introduce my partner Margaret and our baby Oscar. I talked about them during the cruise and some of you have seen photos of Oscar our Pomeranian puppy. He is nine months old and adorable. Margaret is also adorable and has been my rock for the last eight years.
You might meet them one day…