UNEXPECTED TERPSICHORE…

…and how two ice cream ladies ended up being PORTRAYED on the wall of the chilean embassy in london…

During our 1991 visit to Chile we took a day-trip from Santiago to Valparaiso, to have a look at the National Congress building, but mainly to try and get a feel for one of the great ports of the Americas. In the event, the building was nothing to write home about – an unresolved confusion of brutalist classicism – and the port area was more plain sleaze than the Hemingway sleaze I’d been hoping for. Sadly, we lacked the time to explore more of what was once described as “the Jewel of the Pacific”.

Although blurry, this photo inspired not only the oil painting below, but later an entire series of my most abstract attempts at capturing human movement…

However, as often happens when travelling, memorable moments occur when least expected, and from surprising sources. In this case for example, it occurred buying ice creams in a gelateira by the bus station, when my wife Dido and our companion Lynne got into conversation with the two ladies running the shop, about Chile’s national folk dance; the Cueca.

This spontaneous display perfectly captured a trait of understated assuredness that we often encountered in Chile – a trait for which the Cueca is the perfect expression…

How or why what happened next, I can’t quite recall, as the two women, in the sweetest and most obliging of gestures suddenly broke into song and started performing the dance. Fortunately I had my camera to hand and was able to get a visual – if slightly unfocused – record of the impromptu outbreak of traditional Terpsichore. Happenstance often resulted in my camera being my sketchbook, and this turned out to be a prime example as I found the fuzzy photos more than adequate reference for a later work back in my studio.

…a trait I endeavoured to capture in this,* and at least two more versions of the painting, La Cueca. The version here was included in an exhibition I had the following year at the Embassy of Chile in London, and which was subsequently purchased for the embassy. I often wondered what the two ladies would have thought if they knew?

* This was one of the first times I used black ground on a canvas (I’d often used the technique in commercial work), and I found it a dramatic contrast to the broad, bright impasto gestures knifed on top. The painting was about five-foot (about 152 cm) square.

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MODEL GUESTS

and the perils of amateur photography for commercial purposes…

We spent November of 2003 in the Tamil Nadu city of Coimbatore, India’s 16th city and the home of the “wet-grinder” – a kind of food processor for making dosa batters among other things… Our visit had little to do with dosas (although we did enjoy them as a regular lunch snack) and was primarily concerned with Dido supervising the setting up a clinic of her own design, for children with autism – the first of its kind in that region of India.

Composition wasn’t one of the manager’s strong points…

It was an exciting challenge, but also an exhausting one so after two-weeks work the chance for a few days break at the nearby “hill station” town of Ootacamund – affectionately known as Ooty by most people – was welcome and timely.

…Composition, and lighting too, not his thing…

During the time of the British Raj, dozens of hilltop towns in India became popular escapes, especially for the administrative classes, away from the heat and bustle of the cities. Over the years several of these towns developed into luxurious resorts known as hill stations, with perhaps the two best known in India being Shimla and Ooty.

Love the parasol pole bisecting Dido’s shoulder…

Before our visit, the only thing I knew about Ooty was that it was where the game of snooker was invented in the 19th century, by British army officers bored with playing billiards. That it was also a much used location backdrop for the Bollywood Film Industry, and the site of India’s finest boarding schools, where the country’s elite send their children, was all new information.

And the poor waiter serving us plastic food…great acting though!

We ended up staying at the Holiday Inn, which despite its IHG associations felt like an authentic Indian hotel, with a particularly good kitchen, turning out excellent Tamil and Kerala cuisine. It also had a terrific little bar overlooking the lush Nilgiri hillsides, where we were introduced to the local version of the Polly’s Folly cocktail, (comprising, Vodka, soda-water and very spicy green chillies!)

Yup! Plastic kebabs on the grill…

It must have been about our third or fourth evening at the hotel, sipping Polly’s Follies probably, when we were approached by the hotel manager, who asked us if we would be happy to to model for the new online hotel brochure he was preparing. He wanted pictures of a “nice European couple” enjoying the cuisine of the hotel and he thought we “were just the ticket!”

I think the drinks were real – or at least they were actual liquid…

We agreed, and the photos presented here are the slightly surreal fruits of the manager’s own sincere but amateur camera work, plastic food and all. Sadly, I don’t think these pictures of the “nice Europeans” did much to help his booking figures as the Holiday Inn morphed into the Gem Park a few years later. As for us, we did rather well from our half-an-hour being served plastic delicacies, for, to show us his gratitude, the manager gave us each a gold IHG loyalty card loaded with thousands of priority points. The following year we used our booty from Ooty for a free stay at the Intercontinental Hotel in Singapore. A restful and rewarding experience all round…

At least you can make out the chef, even though Dido is in near-total darkness. The moral being; it’s always best to hire a professional photographer, even when using top models !