Artist Henley, Sweet Peas by Kirsten Jones



Sweet peas

by Kirsten Jones

A commissioned work for Claire Randell

 This piece is based on Claire and her parents.

Painted as a triptych, each of the 3 canvases reflects and celebrates aspects of the family, their characters and their lives. The pieces can be arranged in several ways and the image continues to overlap, creating a continuous pattern, reminiscent of the relationship within a family.

The papers and stamps were collected over many years and these create a narrative, which runs behind the painted leaves and flowers, telling the story of the love affair between Claire’s parents and the loving family life that followed. Much of Claire’s life was spent on the beautiful island of Guernsey and there are many references to the places where she and her family lived.

The piece is painted on board, using gesso and collaged papers and washes of watercolour and acrylic paint. Hidden within the leaves are outlines of objects, which reference special memories.

The idea of the piece came initially from a wander around Claire’s house and garden, looking at the many treasures and precious artefacts which have always been a part of her life. These ranged from envelopes, postcards and letters to fishing weights, toys and beautiful antique brooches and embroideries. It became clear there was going to be a lot of source material for the piece!

Douglas Randell was a keen grower of sweet peas and indeed every year showed his flowers in the local competitions on the island of Guernsey. Claire’s memories of this time centred around a steel bathtub which she and her father would use to sterilise the soil before the peas were planted from seed.

The sweet peas were such an evocative and beautiful memory it was decided to make this the main theme for the piece.

We looked through letters and postcards and found fragments of paper which were not only beautiful in terms of printed script and handwriting, but also directly related to happy memories and fun times in Claire’s life.

In this way the piece began painting itself so to speak, as the objects revealed stories just waiting to be told.

I decided to create a triptych, one piece for each family member and to use the objects and text, which related most directly. The connection between objects and relationships was taken literally by sometimes overlapping hidden images where a memory or experience was shared

The piece is so rich and full of love and memories it is impossible to explain every detail, but several of the main themes are outlined below in the hope that it will enhance your understanding and enjoyment of the piece.


All the references are listed below..

1. sweet peas        

The main image which grows across the canvas. Sweet peas were grown by Claire’s father and were always associated with happy times as a family. There are sweet pea definitions, lists and gardening tips collaged throughout the paintings and some of the sweet pea varieties were very relevant.. names such as Shiplake, Henley and Reading. Claire’s mother also wrote a book which incorporated a character who grew sweet peas and pages of the book are collaged within her piece. Claire’s favourite colour is orange and so these varieties are seen on her piece.

2. tin bath

Claire helped her father sterilise the soil in which the peas were planted, and this was done using an old tin bath, still owned by Claire. This image overlaps Claire and her father’s paintings. When the collage was being created I used a part of a very old map of Guernsey, and a bay where the shape of the land echoed the curve of the handle. It was only after finishing this part of the piece that I noticed the bay is called ‘saline bay’.

3. blue jug

This jug lived in the back yard and was used in the greenhouse and the house in general. The jug was used to water the sweet peas and the image overlaps Claire and her mother’s paintings. The jug itself is enamel and shows the chips and bumps of years of fond use. The text surrounding it in the painting is the definition of blue in the dictionary, including ‘blue jay’ which hints at her mothers love of birds.

4. bell

The bell is sat on the bottom of the piece, between Claire’s mother and father’s paintings. It is a ships bell and Claire often sailed in the summer with her family. This bell is now a door stop and as such rests on the base of the painting. The bell makes the same noise now as it did then when moved across the concrete.

5. horse

Claire had a hand made rocking horse, a favourite toy from a young age, this can be seen bottom right in her painting and incorporates a fragment of the Guernsey Press with the text ‘horse’ printed in bold letters.

6. golf

the family are very sporty and golf features strongly in all their lives. As such there are trophies which overlap all three pieces and golfing score cards are collaged along with newspaper articles about Claire’s mother winning the ladies C.I. championship. There has always been a friendly rivalry between the islands Jersey and Guernsey. Included in her fathers piece is a handwritten card which reads ‘gone to golf (again)’

7. tennis

Claire is a keen tennis player and coached professionally for many years. Throughout her painting there are vintage collectors cards depicting tennis strokes and famous tennis players from the last century.

8. clock

on Claire’s kitchen wall there is a ships clock, with a key to wind it. Both the clock and key can be found within her piece and the key overlaps her fathers piece as he would often wind the clock.

9. telescope

Claire’s father had a telescope andon a clear day he could read the time on the clock in Sark. This telescope is depicted as a circle with the original bronze inscription made by the makers of the telescope, this would have been the words he would have read every time he used the telescope.

10. Pocket watch

Continuing the circle theme, Claire’s mother kept a jewellery box full of brooches, chains and other precious items. This pocket watch belonged to Claire’s grandfather.

11. shrimp net

the family often went fishing and shrimping, and the shrimp net is depicted with an article humorously documenting ‘very few fish caught’. Claire also wrote a piece about fishing in her school book, and this can be seen within her painting.

12. letters

The love letters between Claire’s parents are beautiful, eloquent and heartfelt. Each of the paintings contains a page of both a letter sent and one received. The letters were written almost every three days during a period when the couple were apart for a year from 1946 to 1947.

13. menus

Claire’s father created humorous menus with his speciality dishes listed as options. These menus included fabulous meals as well as Chinese take out and show his fabulous sense of humour.

14. shopping list

Claire’s mother ordered ‘ a pint of cream and six Guernsey eggs’ from the milkman using the card which can be found within her painting.

15. advocate

Claire’s father was an advocate and as such he studied for many years. The handwritten text in pencil is taken from his notebooks and provides a backdrop throughout the piece. The definition of advocate is within the painting as well as the receipt for his robes which were purchased in London from Ede and Ravenscroft (founded 1689). There is also an article about him taking his seat.

16. diamond ring

Claire’s father and mother were engaged on 26th June 1946. The announcement in the Telegraph is included in the painting and the receipt for the engagement ring and details about the setting are beautifully illustrated by the receipt.

17. brooch

A keen collector of jewellery, a beautiful leaf brooch is placed top right corner with the safety catch attached.

18. embroidery

Just above the brooch is a bird, taken from a beautiful which was embroidered around 1836 by a distant relative.

19. butterfly

This butterfly was also part of the sampler, as were the basket of flowers in the centre of Claire’s mothers piece.

20. buses

the family had a bus stop at the end of their garden in Sausmarez Road and as such I have included original bus tickets from the era. People would sit at the bottom of their garden whilst queuing for the bus.

21. map of Jersey

This was a bit of a joke on the island and one shared by Claire and her family. Part of the cover of the map of jersey is in each piece. Jersey will always be funny to Guernsey inhabitants!

22. papered and painted

This fragment of text came from the Guernsey Press. And sits just above the signature of the artist!