Wednesday 13 December 2017

Art of apple blossom time

When Jacqueline Stanley first met fellow art student Campbell Bruce, she thought he was too good looking. Later, they married. They reared a family, paid the bills but never stopped painting.

Jacqueline Stanley
Jacqueline Stanley
Oil on canvas by Campbell Bruce

Ciara Dwyer

The artist Jacqueline Stanley sits in the Origin Gallery surrounded by her late husband's paintings which she has chosen for the exhibition A Life Together in Art. She tells me that everyone was interested in his big landscapes but there was more to his work than that. She should know. She was married to him for 63 years.

Campbell Bruce, the renowned artist and inspiring art teacher, died last year on February 17. They came to Ireland in 1974 with the intention of staying for five years. Campbell took up a teaching job in NCAD, and they never left. The exhibition commemorates Campbell's more unusual work. It also includes some of Jacqueline's pieces. Their private and painting lives were entwined from the very beginning. Although as artists they had very different styles - his work was more representational while hers is wilder - their passion for art led them to living a happy and deeply supportive creative life together. They taught art to pay the bills and divided the child-rearing tasks equally - they had three daughters. But all the while, they never stopped painting.

When Jacqueline Stanley met Campbell Bruce, she wasn't looking for love.

"I'd been engaged but my fiance was killed in a motorbike accident. I felt numb," says the Londoner.

Both she and Campbell were students at The Royal College of Art. They got talking at a party one night.

"He was quite keen on me but I thought, no, he's too good-looking," she says "I preferred more quirky looks. Campbell had thick black hair and grey eyes."

As they chatted, she learnt of his unusual background. He was born in St. Helena, an island in the South Atlantic Ocean. His father was out there working for a cable and wireless station. As a young boy, Campbell was sent back to school in London and lived with his granny. Then the war started and he couldn't get back to St. Helena. His mother had two other children and he missed his siblings. He didn't meet up with them until years later. This had a big influence on him. He made up his mind that he wanted to have a family when he got married. That night at the party, they chatted and he persuaded Jacqueline to go on a date, to a French film at the Curzon cinema.

"He had a lovely flat in Hammersmith and he was a good cook. We got closer and closer and then we decided to get married," she says."I was 23 and he was 25. People got married at a much younger age back then. Things had been very rough during the war, with all the bombings, and it just seemed that a much happier time was beginning."

The paintings in this exhibition tell their story. There is her honeymoon hat with a white carnation. They married in Bromley, Kent.

"We didn't know where to go on our honeymoon," she says cheerily. " We walked into Waterloo Station and said, 'Where shall we go?' I'd always fancied the New Forest, so that's where we went. No one had any money in those days."

There is a painting of an apple blossom tree. This was in the garden of the large home they rented with another family in the countryside. They moved out of the city under doctor's orders.

"After we'd been married for a few years, Campbell got TB. Before we met, he had done a year's National Service, so he probably got it in the army. After the TB was cured, it was suggested that we should stay out in the country. We had a fantastic time down there. We both had teaching jobs in London and we'd travel up, teach on different days and then come home. That's the way we worked it. Campbell was a really good father, very caring."

During their teaching careers, a lot of aspiring pop bands attended art colleges. Campbell taught Ray Davies of The Kinks and Jacqueline taught Ian Dury who later went on to form The Blockheads. They went on to be as exotic as the artist Francis Bacon had once seemed when he taught Jacqueline for a short spell. Tiring of his solitary existence in his studio, he craved some company. He brought in a box of champagne from Harrods for the students. It was the first time she ever tasted champagne. She reckons that she would be dead by now had she followed Bacon's advice about partying hard. She was a good girl who worked hard at her art and lived at home with her parents until she got married.

There is a portrait of a severe looking young woman. She laughs as she remembers when Campbell painted this.

"I was pregnant," she says, pointing to the smock-style dress. "I was vomiting every day."

Morning sickness aside, their daughters, Nichola, Jane and Claire brought them much happiness. They were all born in England and by the time Jacqueline and Campbell came to live in Dublin, the older girls were off studying in art college in the UK, while 14-year old Claire joined her parents. The writer Cyril Connolly may have said that there is no more sombre enemy of art than the pram in the hallway, but Jacqueline never regarded her children as an obstacle to her art.

"I had quite a boisterous family life with my two brothers and sister, so I wanted that for myself. When I was in London, I won the Young Contemporary top prize. There were great expectations for my career but a lot of that was put on hold after I had babies. Most successful women artists don't have children and they made a decision not to have them. Having a family was very important to me. I used to push the baby down to the orchard with the palette on the pram."

One time, I'd just finished a painting and I was really pleased with it. Then I went into the studio and Claire, who was about two, had found a brush and was painting all over it."

But as Jacqueline shrieks at the memory, she then laughs. This cheerful attitude is one of her most appealing characteristics. Instead of getting angry about events, she laughs them off and simply gets on with life, like the no-nonsense Londoner she is. Take, for example, when she came to live in Dublin with Campbell. London was light years ahead of Irish life and adjusting was a bit of a shock.

"In Ireland, women were much later getting going. We came over here around the time that the Women's Movement was starting. There was all this nonsense about women not being served pints. Bobby Ballagh and his wife Betty took us to a pub on the quays and the guys said, you can't drink in the bar. You have to go into the pub. I said, 'What the hell is going on?' We weren't used to that. He told me that if I didn't like it I could go. We didn't want to have a row, so we went into the snug."

Jacqueline never changed her name when she got married, nor did she dwindle into a wife by sacrificing her career.

"I think our marriage worked best because we had separate existences. We both taught and even though we never shared a studio, we used to talk about each other's work."

Campbell retired from teaching early and they decided to travel before it was too late. While they were still able, they went to Australia, Venezuela and Japan. And the sketch books came too. Then, in 2014, Campbell caught a bug which developed into pneumonia.

"When pneumonia develops, it happens quite quickly. He thought he'd pull out of it but in the end, he knew he was dying. It was a shock happening like that. He was 86."

At his funeral many people remembered Campbell's unfailing generosity. Every time he had an exhibition, he would always buy a painting afterwards, to support a gallery or a former student. It was about passing on the torch. Since his death, Jacqueline says that life without him feels weird.

"You don't realise how much you talk to people until they are gone. I still paint and I try to go out as much as I can. A friend told me that that's the way to stop brooding. He was a very kind man. I still talk to him but sometimes I tick him off for leaving his affairs in such a muddle. I was always very good at keeping a book but he never kept a record of what he sold. I think he thought I'd do it for him."

Her eyes widen at the notion of being a subservient wife, and there is that lovely laugh again. No wonder he fell for her.

A Life Together in Art - A tribute to

Campbell Bruce runs at the Origin Gallery, 37 Fitzwilliam St Upper, Dublin 2. Tel: 01-6629347 until March 6

Sunday Independent

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