Pat Shenstone: artist

There is an exuberance about Pat Shenstone that is truly infectious and if you spend just five minutes in her company you will find your zest for life increases tenfold.

It is impossible to listen to her chatter about her inspiration and ideas for future projects without being motivated to get going yourself.

The 81-year-old artist only moved to Wirksworth a few years ago, but it seems as if she has always been a part of the town as she has been a regular exhibitor at the town’s festival for many years.

Her colourful burlesque-style paintings present a humorous exterior while hinting at quite another darker truth behind their facade. They are certainly a talking point.

During the festival art trail weekend Pat’s home, tucked down a narrow street in the centre of the town, can be packed with visitors enthusing about her work.

It was a friend from the town, whom Pat met while working as an academic at Coventry University, who introduced her to Wirksworth by inviting her to stay and the same friend who suggested Pat joined the art trail.

Twenty years ago Pat retired from her job as a principal lecturer and course leader for Crafts and began to concentrate on painting full time.

When, a few years ago, she and her now husband Andy, who at the time lived in Halifax, made the decision they wanted to be together they realised Wirksworth would be the perfect place.

“There is a lot of symbolism in my work which is both narrative and autobiographical. I am inclined to take a theme and work on a linked series of ideas and quite often – well mostly to be honest – my paintings feature women,” explained the artist.

One of her best-known series of paintings is based around the theme of Lady Godiva, who was said to have ridden naked through the streets of Coventry to force her husband to halt his oppressive taxation of the people.

“In the series I created her as a 21st Century woman making a statement. It is known as GO-Diva because I accidently added a hypen and then thought that it was actually rather an apt title,” said Pat with a flourish.

“You don’t know what your work is about just because you have done it – sometimes you have to tease it out of yourself.”

She is a bit of a magpie with her ideas and collects stills from the TV, cuttings from newspapers, pictures in magazines and lots of art books.

“I do not always realise where I get ideas from and I have no problem with that. I have always liked the quote ‘Good poets steal bad poets copy’, which I think was by T S Eliot,” she says irreverently.

“I am also influenced by the other things in my life that I love – plants and plant forms, food and cooking. I love making cakes.

“A visit to my studio will explain it better,” declares Pat getting up from the sofa, and after a short walk from her home we are climbing a set of stone steps to a bright space filled with her books, flowers, (including gorgeous sunflowers which she reveals she is about to paint) seed pods, cakes and several of her big paintings.

“I usually have more than one painting on the go at a time because I like to work fast and oil takes a while to dry so I switch from one painting to another,” she says by way of explanation.

“I am always thinking about the next theme,” she states, showing me pictures of bold portraits by the American figurative artist Alex Katz as she bounced from book to book.

“I just love this,”  she adds turning the pages. “And I saw this and thought what a great idea,” she continued, her enthusiasm bubbling over.

Pat’s latest work is based around a theme of Carnival and Masquerade and before we leave she shows me the cuttings and pictures which have formed her ideas. These paintings will be the ones visitors to this year’s Wirksworth Arts Trail will be able to see.

Go to http://www.patshenstone.co.uk for more details about her work.

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