A Painter's Life by Harriet Whyatt

The life, loves and influences of Harriet Whyatt

In Harriet's own words we hear of her life, loves and influences as she speaks about her experience of the Roma gipsy communities she has lived in...

"My paintings cover many aspects of my own emotional response to life events. I suppose I have used painting as a catharsis over many years, allowing my own vulnerabilities to be released time and time again. Falling in love, being in love, terrified of falling in love. Exposing the vulnerability many of us can relate to of opening up to another human being so much that we remove our outer shields.

My characters within the paintings, the carriers of these emotions, come from a couple of major influences that had a profound effect on me in early life: I attended a convent and had exposure to religious icons, and I got to know the Romany Gypsies.

I always remember seeing the icon of Mary for the first time. I was completely mesmerised by the depth of emotion in each interpretation of her face, and was moved to the point of tears. My mum tells me that when I was three years of age I visited Florence with the rest of my family and I was constantly trying to touch everything in the churches, no doubt dazzled by the imagery and all its opulence.

Maybe more importantly I was drawn to the mystery and romanticism of the Romany Gypsies, as groups of people who lived outside of society with an understanding of nature and survival, despite ongoing prejudice and abuse from the rest of society.

I think even today we choose who we champion. Many people will be vocal about discrimination due to religion, race or gender and yet time and time again the basic human rights of the Roma or Travellers are ignored. I believe people are ignorant of the Roma culture and use stereotypes far too freely to justify their lack of empathy or engagement with these groups of people.

Of course, there are good and bad elements within all sections of society, but when people tell me of negative encounters with Roma or Travellers I always say that if you compared your experience to those of the Roma or Traveller communities you would be shocked at the levels of abuse they receive by individuals, and more worryingly our authorities, daily.

I had the immense pleasure of living next to a family of Roma in Cornwall, and to this day I have yet to come across funnier, kinder, warmer people. They are hardworking and decent, and have contributed hugely both to my own situation and to the wider community. I shall always be proud to say they are my friends, holding a special place in my heart.

So, stylistically my work is inspired by both the Gypsies (people who live outside the norm ... in the circus etc) and Catholic icons. The main influence has been the Eastern European Gypsies, the Gypsies found in the heart of an Emir Kusturica film. My work is a celebration of their individuality, strength, pride and guarded nature, celebrating the richness and beauty of their culture, too often ignored."

Read more about Harriet Whyatt and visit our events page to find out about her guest appearance at Burford Art Gallery on 13th May, 2pm-4pm.

Related Articles