Sherree Valentine Daines

Sunday, 11 January 2015
Sherree Valentine Daines (British, born 1956). :Personal Narrative :As one of the UK’s most formidable contemporary artists Sherree has an impressive track record of exhibitions at such venues as the Tate Gallery, the Barbican, the New English Art Club and the Lord’s Museum. Her unquestionable virtuosity has made her a favourite with many celebrity collectors including members of the British Royal Family. Famous names in the world of show-business have sat for her including Joanna Lumley and Michael Parkinson. She has been televised painting members of the England cricket team, and as official artist to the Rugby World Cup she produced magnificent commemorative portraits of Martin Johnson and Jonny Wilkinson, both of which were bought by the stars concerned. Her recent projects have included the publication of ‘First Impressions’, a stunning hardback book celebrating her life and career, and a starring role in the Christmas Special of the TV Series ‘To the Manor Bowen’ in which she was shown painting portraits of Jackie and Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen. But despite this impressive list of artistic achievements, her career evolved from almost whimsical beginnings.
Born in Effingham in Surry, Sherree went to school in Leatherhead. At 18 she moved to London to pursue a rather staid and sensible career as a legal secretary. A bright girl and a fast learner, she soon found herself with time on her hands and began to indulge in some idle sketching. Colleagues, clients, even London’s ubiquitous pigeons appeared on her yellow legal pads, and looking objectively at her skill, she realized that she was in the wrong place altogether.
Art college beckoned and at the age of 20 Sherree enrolled at Epsom School of Art where she spent four years studying. Epsom was a highly respected, rather traditional institution and the Fine Art course was run on formal lines. Life models were regularly employed, form and composition were everything, and students were expected to master their art before they departed from it. It was here that Sherree’s distinctive style began to develop; as her training progressed she began to specialize more and more in figurative work and to produce pieces of unusual beauty and maturity for a student. Her penchant for concentrating on the light and shading within a scene led her down the route of impressionism, and the influence of artists such as Renoir and Monet can clearly be seen in her compositional technique.
The first Summer after graduation Sherree set herself up in Cornwall. Here she travelled around the villages and harbours painting the impossibly blue skies, beautiful countryside and beaches and above all, the people. Turning her considerable talents to persuasion and promotion this audacious and irresistible young woman talked the head teacher of a local private school into allowing her to mount an exhibition on the premises. Having borrowed the money for framing, drinks and invitations and invited everyone she could think of to the show, she found that by lunchtime she had made enough money to repay all her debts and by the end of the day she had sold everything and taken several commissions.
The fact that she could make a living from artistic endeavour came as a revelation to Sherree. With her usual energy she set about painting in earnest and locating more venues for exhibitions. From a small local theatre she moved onwards and upwards, steadily gaining a loyal and substantial following, until she was offered a one-woman show at the Barbican. This brought with it a huge stroke of luck in that the exhibition coincided with the opening night of “Les Miserables”, bringing in a large and influential crowd. As ever Sherree’s impressive talent combined with her great personal charm and London really began to sit up and take notice.
Around this time Sherree gave up her “day-job”, designing jewellery for the prestigious Parisian company Chaumet, and turned her hand to painting full time. She spent her days moving around the city in all weathers, from the busy street markets south of the river to the opera crowds hailing cabs in Covent Garden. Anywhere that people were, Sherree could be seen, sometimes with pencil and sketchbook in hand, but more often than not brandishing her paintbrush in front of a precariously balanced easel. As she herself puts it, “when I was starting out as an artist I painted anywhere and everywhere. With my easel, palette and paint-spattered clothes I suppose I cut a slightly unorthodox figure but this worked to my advantage as I met a lot of interesting people. Amazing how often individuals come up and talk to you when they think you may be a little eccentric…” Continuing to exhibit regularly, she soon came to the notice of the movers and shakers in the cultural world and won a number of accolades including the Laing Landscape and Seascape Competition and the Young Artist of the Year Award from the Royal Portrait Society.(1)
Breakthrough :Although Sherree was gradually building an enviable reputation on the contemporary art scene, it was in the summer of 1986 that she got her first big break. Whilst painting the cricketers at a local match she was spotted by a member of the MCC, and this led to her being commissioned to paint the Ashes at all the test grounds. During this season she became a regular fixture on the BBC; every time play was suspended due to rain the commentary team would focus on the damp and windswept figure heroically taking on the British weather in the cause of her art. She recalls an occasion when she was painting on a roof and a howling gale was continually blowing her equipment over. She went and banged on a window which was opened by a charming gentleman who bent over backwards to find her a rope and secure her easel to a table leg while keeping up a stream of entertaining conversation. She was later told by friends that they had enjoyed hearing her hilarious interview with Brian Johnston on Radio 4’s “Test Match Special”. She also had a rather heated exchange with Freddie Trueman about the correct positioning of the fielders in one of her paintings, not realizing at the time that he was a total cricketing legend – the original Freddie.
From cricket, Sherree moved on to the British social calendar, sensing that here was a subject that would give her everything she needed to create satisfying artwork. She wrote to the organizers of Henley and Ascot to see if they would allow her to paint on site, and having seen her work they welcomed her with open arms. The only problem was that the strict dress codes were rather inconvenient for an artist who believed in freedom of movement and made rather free with her paint brush. In the end she compromised and they settled for a specially made artist’s apron in a Laura Ashley print, designed both to protect her clothes and to cover her knees. Modesty and creativity were happily allowed to co-exist.
Sherree had first encountered her husband to be, the artist Mark Rowbotham, at art college, but it wasn’t until they met nearly 10 years later that a romance was kindled. With typical spontaneity they married after a whirlwind courtship and set up home together in a beautiful old rectory in Surrey. They had their first child, Charlie quite soon after they were married, but both continued to paint in order to pay the mortgage. Over the next 10 years, three more children, Lettice, Bunty and Felicity, were born and Sherree’s life became a chaotic affair juggling school runs and nativity plays with celebrity portraits and Royal Ascot. Although from the outside her life looked perfect – tremendous artistic success for both herself and Mark, a very happy and talented young family, a beautiful home and of course an extremely glamorous lifestyle – she did at times feel a little hard done by when other young mothers were planning to meet for lunch or coffee mornings while she had to hurry back for a sitting or to finish a painting. This phase was short-lived however. With all the children at school and Mark working from his own studio locally, the pressure eased; Days spent in the studio became the norm once more, and has remained her life’s work ever since.
Alongside her hectic schedule of commissions, exhibitions, TV work, days on location, portrait sittings, and charity work, Sherree has found the time to run a life class for over twenty years. When she herself was starting out she took every chance to paint from life and she feels strongly that these studies are as essential to her work as scales would be to a concert pianist. Running the class has given her the chance to continue to work in this way, while passing on some of her expertise to students whom she believes benefit greatly from acquiring the fundamental skill of honest life drawing. It has also brought her face-to-face with some amazing characters. If they were ever let down by a model she would ask for volunteers from the local old peoples’ home, and one of the elderly gentlemen who sat for her was a survivor of HMS Hood - the largest battleship in the world in 1920 - when it was sunk in the famous engagement with the German battleship Bismarck.(2)
2007 represented a major milestone in Sherree's life and career, marking her 30th successful year as the UK's leading figurative artist. To celebrate this remarkable achievement, she released a stunning commemorative hardback book. ‘First Impressions' is a beautifully illustrated retrospective of the artist's work confirms her reputation as the face of Modern British Impressionism. Sherree continues to be one of our finest artists. Despite the ever-changing demands of artistic fashion and a fickle contemporary art market, she has never compromised in her artistic aims and values, and as a result has achieved a formidable status in the art world. In her own words:
“In terms of my reputation I do feel that I have been quite fortunate. Once your work makes it into major galleries and people start to sit up and take notice, you know that you are making an impact. This may sound a little strange, but I think I'm seen as a genuine painter, someone who buys into the whole concept of observation, interpretation, beauty, form, compositional balance, and uses the trusted medium of oils on canvas. This perhaps sets me apart from some artists at work today, and makes me appear to be a traditionalist. And insofar as I adhere to these traditional artistic values, I suppose I am. But I do operate strictly within the parameters of modern life, painting decisive moments from rugby matches or producing portraits of TV presenters in front of cameras! – in a way that I hope, believe, will continue to communicate with a contemporary audience.” (3)