Many, many years ago, when I was a worried and anxious student at Edinburgh College of Art, I used to spend (as most students did) many a solitary hour in front of an easel pushing paint around. Drifting in and out of concentration, the usual questions would come into my head. What is this all about? Was going to Art College a big mistake? Is this painting any good? Am I actually any good?
Being a young and insecure student, I seemed plagued by these uncertainties and yet, for all the emotional torture, it was a strangely addictive way of life. Also, I knew everything was going to be ok because I had a secret weapon. This secret weapon, my security blanket, came in the form of a small but perfectly formed piece of paper with a picture of some flowers printed on it. It was a little copy of a Jenny Matthews painting, and it spent its days tacked to the wall in my studio space.
That silent spectator became comforter, tormentor and mentor all rolled into one. The image of tulips was so unapologetic in its majesty - so good looking that it was impossible not to be cheered and revived by it on a rough day. Of course, it also served as a relentless reminder of just how good one should be. I didn’t know anything about Jenny Matthews at the time, nor did I really give much thought to the person behind the work: I was just fixated with the skill, the observational prowess and flawless execution of a subject matter for which I recognised the artist had a particular passion.
That little card - dog eared, scratched and paint spattered almost beyond recognition - set a standard and propelled me to be the best I could, and to pursue my dreams of a career in art.
Never in my wildest dreams would it have occurred to me that, some 17 years later I would be hosting Jenny Matthews’ second solo exhibition in my own gallery, or that I would be lucky enough to own an original Matthews.
And, some 17 years later, the work of Jenny Matthews still holds a spell over me. Those familiar feelings are still there: excitement and pleasure at just enjoying the work, the sharp reminder that practice makes perfect and you should never rest on your laurels. And the respect - the respect for the pursuit of excellence and beauty.