My initial contact with the BBC was in spring 2018. They were looking for artists to take part in a pilot for a new programme for BBC1, hosted by Nick Knowles, called Home Is Where The Art Is.
Initially, I assumed I had been unsuccessful because I had heard nothing back, but In November I heard that the series had been commissioned and suddenly everything started to happen…..a Skype ‘screen test’ with one of the producers! Yikes! That sounded terrifying. Followed by a 7pm phone call asking me to be on a train to Birmingham at 6am the following day! Very little time to prepare and very little time to be nervous.
I was going to do a house ‘snoop’. On each episode 3 artists get to snoop around the house of a mystery buyer and come up with an idea for a piece of art, without meeting the buyer. That comes later, when we pitch our ideas.
One by one we went to the house. I was filmed over and over again walking down the road, up the steps and knocking on the door. Fortunately it wasn’t raining. One of the runners told me she’d been soaked to the skin doing this the day before at another house
Finally, with the 3 artists in the house, the snoop began. The mystery buyer had left a brief for us but the only other thing we had to go on was the décor. The brief asked for a piece of art celebrating the mother/daughter bond. The daughter (the mystery buyer) had given her mother 60% of her liver in a lifesaving operation. The brief also mentioned one of my favourite places, Sagrada Famillia.
I felt an instant connection because it really tied in with work I was already doing. The buyer was clearly a very spiritual person; the house was full of angels that seemed to be protecting photographs of family but it was a fridge magnet of The Creation of Adam that made me realise what I wanted to create for the homeowner. The Creation of Adam is about the gift of life. The daughter had given the mother the gift of life.
My piece would be a joyous celebration of two strong women held together by a thread of gold, watched over by an angel. The brief asked for it to feature a tiger – I wasn’t sure how I was going to work that in!
The weeks that followed involved a film crew in my studio and some late nights putting together my pitch for the mystery buyer.
The day of the pitch arrived. I had been fairly relaxed about the whole thing up to this point but I’d had two hours sleep and my alter ego, Nervous Patricia, had arrived and was now in charge. I was wearing my lucky shoes in the hope that they might distract from my giveaway nervous neck rash.
When I arrived at the studios in Manchester I was whisked away, miked up and taken to the ‘green room’ where the other artists and film crew were waiting. Nick Knowles came in to chat to us and was absolutely lovely – gave us a pep talk and told us to relax and enjoy the day.
Our first glimpse of the mystery buyer, Ravi, was via a screen in the green room where we would watch each other make our pitch. Ravi looked very relaxed and smiley and had brought her friend Julia along for support.
First up to pitch was Nick Coley. Nick is a mixed media artist who works in glass and metal. This was the first time we had seen each other’s work and Nicks work was stunning. Nick’s pitch was quite emotional because he revealed that his first wife had died of liver cancer so this had been an emotional experience for him.
Jo Allsop, who works in watercolour, was next to pitch. Jo had brought along a selection of her wildlife paintings and pitched her idea for a painting of mother tiger with her cub. Ravi’s friend, Julia, was very taken with Jo’s work and was keen to buy one of the paintings Jo had brought along.
And finally, it was the turn of Nervous Patricia. I didn’t have a clear idea in my head about what I wanted to say but once I got started there was no stopping me. All of my work has a story and I often get very emotional when I speak about it. Nick Knowles asked me about a particular piece and I could feel the emotion building. It’s a self portrait – but not a portrait of how I look – it’s a portrait of how I feel. And there’s a reason I created it when I did. Good job he didn’t ask about the piece I created about my children! I would have completely crumbled.
My pitch was cut very short in the final edit but you can catch some of Ravi’s reactions if you watch carefully. Her reaction when I mentioned about her giving her mum the gift of life…. her eyes….she just got what I was saying.
When I was describing the piece I’d like to make I explained that I would be using Orsoni smalti – the same material used for the mosaics in Sagrada Famillia. Gaudi himself saw the, now famous, Orsoni smalti sample panel created by Angelo Orsoni for the Great Exhibition in Paris, 1889, and decided that only those materials would be used for his great master work, Sagrada Famillia. I spent a week at Orsoni in 2013 and I brought back with me quite a lot of Orsoni smalti in various colours. I’ve used it in work over the years but I never found a use for the white and 24ct gold smalti I bought and it had been sitting in a box in my studio all that time. The angel in Ravi’s piece would be made from this material.
Finally, the moment came when Ravi would choose which two artists she wanted to create the piece for her. It was a tense moment. Nick Knowles said we all looked like we were facing a firing squad. Cue my nervous laugh. Ravi chose to work with Nick and me so we both headed off back to our studios and the serious work began. We would both create our finished artwork but Ravi would only choose one to buy. The artist whose piece wasn’t chosen would receive a small fee. Or that was the plan. It turned out that there were a number of episodes where the buyer bought both pieces.
More filming in our studios, Skype calls with Ravi (and quickly removing my gin collection when, halfway through filming, I spotted that you could see them all lined up in the background behind me). I’d ordered some glass from Ravenna, specifically for Ravi’s piece and it arrived on the day we were filming in my studio so they were able to capture on film the moment I opened a very expensive box of broken glass. Lucky I make mosaics!
After just 19 days we were back at the studios in Manchester for the final reveal, when Ravi would choose her piece of art. It was a lovely relaxed day and, for the first time, I got to meet some of the other artists who had taken part. What a great collection of lovely people! Artists are always fun people to be around and I’m so fortunate that I mix with such a lovely bunch of people.
At last, it was time for Nick and I to unveil our pieces to Ravi. Neither of us had seen what the other had created.
I was first to reveal my work and Ravi just said ‘Wow!’ Her face lit up as she smiled and I could see that she really liked the piece I’d created for her. I explained that I had called it “Everything”, because that’s what Ravi had done for her mum and that’s what their relationship meant. It showed two strong women held together by a thread of gold with an angel looking over them (made from Orsoni smalti and 24ct gold). They were surrounded by a tiger, protecting them, created with bright copper and gold reflective glass and black textured glass to form a tiger pattern around the figures.
Nick revealed his work. He had created a beautifully detailed piece with two figures surrounded by a ring of flames, protected by a tiger at the top of the piece. Wow! What a beautiful piece of work. There was so much intricate detail in Nick’s work. It was a stunning piece. Nick’s work is absolutely beautiful . He comes across as a very humble and thoughtful man.
Ravi loved both pieces but she chose to buy the piece I had created. I could see that she had really connected with it.
Cue cheeky kiss from Mr Knowles 😍
For me, the brief was a gift. Serendipity? Kismet? Who knows? That smalti has been sitting in a box for 6 years and suddenly it found its purpose. That brief could have been one that I’d written myself. It sits perfectly with the work I’m already doing. I wasn’t supposed to be on that episode. Ravi wasn’t my mystery buyer. I stepped in at the last minute with less than 12 hours notice because somebody dropped out. After the programme aired my email went crazy. People have contacted me and trusted me with some very personal and emotional stories, asking me to create a piece of art like I did for Ravi. There are two in particular that I will write about once I have completed the work, if the clients are happy for me to do that.
When I received that phone call from the BBC I had to decide whether to rearrange everything to get to Birmingham the next day. I’m very glad I did. Sometimes you just have to go with it.
Home I s Where The Art Is is available on BBC iPlayer until 11th May