The nature of Beverley Fry

PUBLISHED: 16:20 10 July 2009 | UPDATED: 08:56 21 February 2013

Dave Hancock visits an artist inspired by Shropshire's flora and fauna - you can do the same on October 25 and 26

Dave Hancock visits an artist inspired by Shropshire's flora and fauna - you can do the same on October 25 and 26

Do you buy the art or the artist? Is the skilled application of Old Holland watercolours to Bockingford® watercolour paper sufficient or do you need to know the artist? Do their personality, lifestyle, character and passion substantiate their work and influence your preferences? Meeting Beverley Fry will help you decide.
You can do so, most days of the year. On 25 and 26 October you can do so during one of her regular Open Weekends (when she tidies up a bit).
First, head out of Much Wenlock on the Bridgnorth Road, turn left to follow the Fry on the Wall sign, turn right at the next junction and then right again onto a narrow track - by another Fry on the Wall sign (what is this telling you about Beverley?).
You approach an imposing Georgian mansion in brick but don't worry; Beverley is not of the gentry. She lives and works in the much older stone building next door - Marsh Barn. Poppy Cow is tethered outside and a large stone dog guards the door.
In response to your knocking, a blonde sylph will open said door. Instantly, your senses are under onslaught. The room is cathedral high, the walls hung with drama and the sylph is welcoming you in dulcet tones. Resist the urge to buy everything - the ebullient scarlet poppies, the charcoal, gesso and acrylic sheep, the brazen lilies, the room, the view... Beverley.
"I was born drawing," says Beverley. "I've always drawn. I come from an artistic family, my brother is a painter."
Born in Canada and brought up in England, Beverley was encouraged in arty pursuits at both home and school and would have been expected to enrol at art college. Instead, she attended Guildford School of Dance and Drama. She says: "I had quite a successful career in theatre and radio. I played in rep and pantos and moved around the country quite a bit. But I still did painting and drawing whenever I could."
Her artistic talent suggested the prospect of a new career and Beverley did a Fine Art degree course at Birmingham University as a mature student. Next came a second marriage, four children and then divorce. "I brought up the children on my own," she says. "It was hard work and I mixed bringing up my family with selling my paintings."
She approached galleries with her work - with little success until Telford Arts Festival Gallery took some of her work for an exhibition. More group and solo exhibitions followed and Beverley's work has now been seen from Ludlow to London, France to California.
A genre was emerging - Beverley's bold oil paintings of flowers indicative of her genius. When the Medici Gallery in London agreed to display her work, they also printed the images as cards - exposing a much larger audience to Beverley the artist.
Beverley the businesswoman exposed herself with the opening of Fry on the Wall studio gallery in Much Wenlock in 1998. "It was in the High Street, with lots of passers-by. I had some of my poppy paintings in the window, which always attracted a lot of attention. I suppose I became known for poppies because of that," she says.
She was commissioned to paint poppies for the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire and Beverley's large oil painting of poppies was selected for the Daily Mail Not the Turner Prize competition in 2004. Poppy Cow is a life-size fibre glass version, which was decorated for a special Cow Parade event held in Manchester in 2004.
Cue segue to Beverley's other main artistic theme - animals in the countryside. The move to Marsh Barn offered plenty of scope for sitting in fields surrounded by sheep or cows and followed the closure of her gallery in Much Wenlock. It was an artistic rather than business decision. She says: "I know I do my accounts reluctantly but I'm quite good at business. Historically, artists were good business people. The image of the painter as someone otherworldly who starves in a garret is unrealistic."
Distraction was the problem - Beverley was obliged to squeeze squeezing paint tubes around the requirements of customers. Marsh Barn attracts fewer casual visitors and Beverley now maintains a high profile with an extensive website and on-line gallery, by exhibiting widely and hosting Open Weekends.
Beverley loves painting from real life. "It was something I was encouraged to do at school," she says. "I like to create a design in my imagination and then use real objects, photos and my sketchbook to create the final picture - although I don't always know exactly how it will turn out."
Some pictures demand her undivided attention, while others she is able to pick up and put down over several days or weeks. She says: "I sometimes work from early morning until late at night, if I'm painting flowers, for instance - which will change and droop and die if left."
Interruptions still occur but Beverley is inured to them. "Bringing up a family taught me that," she says. "When you know you only have a short time you have to trick your mind into believing you have all the time in the world."
She is currently experimenting with images that are more abstract. "It is a bit like cooking. Sometimes you play safe and sometimes you like to experiment."
One day about a year ago, she suddenly felt brave enough to attempt a watercolour without 'underdrawing', by putting the wet paint straight onto the white paper and leaving the paper dry for the white patches and highlights.
At the time of writing, Beverley is in a lamb phase - working with charcoal, gesso and acrylic, she is painting lambs and sheep as she saw them in the fields around her in spring and early summer. Her more abstract recent images have been of cattle - showing indistinctly against the background for a slightly ghostly effect.
Oh, and for more than a year now, she's been taking lessons in tango. And she likes Dolly Parton. And Radio 4. The rest you must find out for yourself.

Beverley Fry
Fry on the Wall
Studio Gallery
Much Wenlock
Shropshire
Tel: 01952 728576
www.beverleyfry.co.uk


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