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Arts & Culture

PHILIP SUTTON: MY SHAKESPEARE

Curtis Fulcher, Director, Bridport Arts Centre, in conversation with Artist and Honorary Patron, Philip Sutton

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hilip Sutton RA helped design the Labour Party’s red rose logo, launched the Globe Theatre with Sam Wanamaker and now has a free exhibition of his Shakespeare paintings at Bridport Arts Centre, close to where he lives in West Bay. Aged 90, he still paints every day and enthralls with conversations about art – ‘you have to marry a line’ - and his friends, everyone from the late Anthony Armstrong-Jones to the local taxi driver. Phil’s Jewish family fled to England from Latvia and he was born in Poole but grew up in Leyton, east London. The youngest of four sons, his eldest brother was killed on his first RAF mission in WWII while another brother is a survivor of the D-Day landings. After national service, Phil won a place at the Slade School of Fine Art on the strength of his drawings, including the birds he drew for cards his mother would send to friends and family. By a stroke of luck, composer Benjamin Britten’s partner, Peter Pears, saw one of Phil’s paintings in a gallery window, bought it and asked to meet the artist. The friend he had painted was Tony Tice who later committed suicide. Ironically that painting would change Phil’s life forever. ‘Ben, Peter and I had lunch and they said they had this empty cottage in Suffolk and asked if I would like to see it,’ remembers Phil. ‘I said no, I don’t need to see it.’ Newly married with a son, Phil and his wife had nowhere to live. ‘So we went on the train with the baby in a cardboard box because we didn’t have a pram and stayed in Suffolk for the next four years. It was a miracle.’ Phil became involved with the Globe Theatre when 14 | Bridport Times | March 2019

his friend, film director Sam Wanamaker, sought to establish a replica of the original 16th century building on the banks of the River Thames. Sam wanted a gallery and told Phil, ‘You must do something with Shakespeare.’ Phil remembers the moment as, ‘like saying you should climb the Matterhorn.’ He went on to fill the space with Shakespearean paintings. Sadly, Sam died in 1993 but his dream lived on and the Globe opened to much acclaim in 1997. Zoe Wanamaker, Sam’s actor daughter, described Phil’s work as, ‘Joy, energy and colour, I think that’s the secret.’ One of Phil’s Shakespearean portraits has been displayed in Shakespeare’s home at Stratford-on-Avon, while his glorious painting of Elizabeth I is the cover for the My Shakespeare exhibition programme. Phil lives on the Dorset coast. ‘I find inspiration everywhere but I love the sea.’ He often uses a quill from gulls’ feathers found on the beach. ‘It’s very sensitive to pressure and records every slightest thing your fingers do, like a nerve centre. Then all you need is a pot of ink and some paper.’ ‘Painting is part of who I am,’ says Sutton, ‘I get up early and still work hard every day. It’s a great privilege.’ bridport-arts.com Philip Sutton: My Shakespeare, Bridport Arts Centre, Saturday 2nd March - Saturday 4th May. Accompanying films, workshops and events will be running throughout the exhibition.

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