'As a scrawny youth with a burgeoning interest in art I would make my way to the Municipal Art Gallery in my local town, Walsall. With a passing wink to the town's war hero, Carless VC, I would climb the stairs to the galleries and wander and wonder how this tiny place could be home to the work of so many emminent artists. Modigliani, Van Gogh, Monet, Turner, Degas, Delacroix and many others. The answer to that question was Epstein. The collection was put together by Kathleen Garman and Sally Ryan, 365 works were presented to the good folks of Walsall in 1973. Kathleen Garman was Epstein's widow. Kathleen had been born into a middle class family living in Wednesbury, a few miles from Walsall. She was the third of seven sisters, all renowned for their beauty, intellect, connections and wilful ways. Well Kathleen's collection might have contributed and I subsequently set off on my wayward artistic journey. A decade later I had returned from Gloucester Foundry with a van full of castings to Ralph Brown's studio and during the morning the conversation turned to casting editions. Ralph had known Epstein in his later years and it was intriguing to hear that after Epstein's death Lady Epstein seemed a little vague about the precise edition number of some sculptures that had been produced.The Churchill bust, for example, was cast in an edition of ten but perhaps up to sixteen are thought to exist. Kathleen popping up again.
A short time after this conversation work was slow in the studio and I was 'loaned' out to Laurie Lee for several weeks. Laurie lived in Slad, a valley or two away from Oakridge, and was an intrinsic member of the creative and artistic world focused around Stroud. A little up the road from his delightful Rose Cottage Laurie had bought another property, a very unprepossessing thirties build, devoid of any character. I was drafted in to add character, principally building faux stone alcove shelving. There were some fine evenings in Rose Cottage and entertaining lunches in the pub. Laurie was just about to set out for Spain on a memory refreshing trip for his book about his Spanish adventures in the thirties, 'When I Walked Out Midsummer Morning'. It was during a pub lunch that the name Garman popped up again, he was to visit Toledo where he had once stayed with the poet Roy Cambell and dallied with his wife Mary. Mary Cambell nee Mary Garman. This dalliance was followed two years later, by a more serious affair with Mary's sister Lorna Garman.
This wonderful painting by Lucien Freud is a portrait of 'Kitty Epstein', Freud's wife and the daughter of Kathleen Garman. Freud had previously had an affair with her aunt Lorna Gorman. Mary Garman, not letting the family side down, famously had an affair with Vita Sackville West, what tangled webs. I did not set out to troll the Garman's glamorous and complicated lives, but I would urge you to do it, it's glorious stuff. It was Kathleen Garman that had drifted into my mind and I really just wanted to mention her collection at Walsall, which had been important to me, if only for bringing Gaudier Brzeska into my field of vision.
AGED AND AWKWARD