Like many Brighton residents we have enjoyed the Artists’ Open Houses in previous Brighton Festivals: meeting artists, admiring and, sometimes, loving their art, and – I will be honest – indulging our nosiness to see inside other people’s homes. But this year, for the first time, it was our home that others visited. We were an ‘Artist’s Open House’, or, more accurately, an Artist’s Open Third Floor Flat, for our daughter to show her paintings. We had little idea quite what an experience it would turn out to be . . .
All kinds of people came. We were rebuked for living on the third floor with “I’ve got angina you know”; congratulated on our loft conversion (but it was out of bounds so what were they doing up there?); and on the view from our living room; fortunately in only one case with, “Well, I prefer the view to the art.” We have never met so many strangers who were so warm and open in such a short time. For Rebecca and me the biggest bonus was the number of near neighbours who we didn’t know who popped in, and who were all lovely, and very friendly. At the other geographical extreme some were from overseas, and not only Europe: one visitor was on holiday from South Africa and another from Australia. My particular favourite was the woman from Venezuela who arrived with the words “I love Kraftwerk” 30 seconds after Rebecca had said nobody would come near us while I was listening to this horrible electronic music.
But the point, of course, was Lily’s art. It was quite a scary step for her: friends and family have often praised her paintings, but putting them in front of strangers, and with prices on them, was going into the unknown. Might reactions be negative, even rude, or perhaps worse, simply indifferent? She need not have worried. Many people were enthusiastic, and a few got into long, and sometimes very long, conversations with Lily about her pictures and what she was trying to do through them. She sold a number of paintings as well as lots of greetings cards, and the bookworms among the visitors loved her detailed bookmarks to illustrate favourite books (Sherlock Holmes the most popular, followed by ‘The Great Gatsby’ and ‘Sense and Sensibility’ – commissions owed to Benedict Cumberbatch and Leonardo di Caprio possibly).
Lily runs on cups of tea, and adopted the name “Tea and Paint” to give herself a trademark and a logo. And everyone who made it up our stairs was offered a cup of tea. Inevitably, there were some people for whom the paintings weren’t, well, their cup of tea. We hadn’t expected, though, to find one who felt the cup of tea wasn’t her cup of tea either: she said it was too hot and should be thrown into the bath!
What next? Lily has been painting portraits and bookmarks (‘A Passage to India’, ‘The Secret Garden’) commissioned by our visitors, and developing her website – www.lilywebbpaintings.com. And we are thinking about whether to be an Artist’s Open House in 2018. If we go ahead perhaps we had better provide a warning about the number of steps for those who prefer their art on ground level.