Eileen Heywood’s delicately constructed paintings have their origins in torn fragments. Tamzin Lewis meets her
AS PART of a clear-out, Eileen Heywood was ripping up old paintings and throwing them on her wood-burning stove when some scraps on the floor caught her eye.
She moved the torn pieces about a little with her foot and thought, “hang on, there is a landscape there”.
The Hexham artist says: “I started picking up all the pieces which I was tearing and fitting them together to make new pictures.
“I liked the element of destruction and that was a doorway into a new way of working. I stopped burning the old pieces and now I’ve got mountains of paper in my studio to create new work.”
Eileen’s collages are currently on display in an atmospheric exhibition of her work at Gateshead Central Library.
Although she has a studio at home, many of her dramatic small landscapes were created while travelling around Europe with her husband in a camper van.
House-hunting expeditions in France, Spain and Portugal have also inspired large abstract paintings in subtle colours.
Eileen says: “We were looking at derelict properties and I started to think about the people who lived in these old dwellings. Many of the properties had lovely views so I could incorporate the landscapes into them.
“I thought about how to convey my ideas over quite a period of time. I wanted to convey the feeling of calmness that you get in an empty house.”
As a child, Eileen moved around with her mother and father, who was in the RAF, and remembers walking around empty houses on military bases.
She says: “I remember the stillness of these empty places and that has been in my mind for a long time. It is sad thinking about the people who have gone but sometimes their things are left. It is romantic too.
“I am interested in the layers of wallpaper. One family has put a layer on and lived their lives and then another family has come in and put another piece on top. You could tear the different layers off to see the time sequence. And I wonder what is trapped between the two layers?”
Eileen, who grew up in Newcastle, left school aged 15 in the early 1950s and worked as a hairdresser while always drawing and painting in her spare time.
She says: “In my 30s I was divorced with two young children and I went to the College of Art and Technology where I took a certificate in visual studies.
“When I remarried 25 years ago we looked for a home where I could have a studio and we moved to an old stable in Hexham.
“I’ve got room to experiment and I have used all sorts of materials in my work including shells, mud, sand, stones and metal filings. I love the experimenting part. Even if you don’t produce anything at the end, it is a pathway.”
Eileen’s large canvases have a nostalgic feel, partly due to her layering technique an, in particular, her use of a pale 19th Century William Morris wallpaper.
Eileen says: “I have always wanted to be an abstract painter, but I could never find a route in. It was hard for me, but the collage helped me to move slowly in this direction.
“I still like to paint conventionally, but I feel I express myself better as an abstract painter. It is coming from within.”
She adds: “When you look back in your life you can see the destruction and then the renewal, the picking yourself back up and carrying on. That has a lot to do with it – that sense of renewal.“
Eileen Heywood’s exhibition, Echoing Time, is at Gateshead Central Library, Prince Consort Road, until January 19.