'There's Nothing Wrong With Being Commercial'

Artist Bernice Anderson is refreshingly forthright about her Ards Arts Centre exhibition

Bernice Anderson describes her work as commercial and her exhibition ti esti at the Ards Arts Centre as a ‘collection of things I like’. She isn’t being self-deprecating. She just doesn’t think there is anything wrong with being commercial.

‘It’s because of my background in graphic art,’ she says easily. ‘I suppose if you are in a privileged position where you don’t have to sell it then you can paint what you want to your hearts content. But it’s not that I paint things because I think they will sell. That’s just the way I was trained and it’s what I do.’

In fact, for 12 years what Anderson did was advertising. She returned to Northern Ireland when her eldest daughter was born, after working in London as a freelance illustrator, and found employment and a regular pay cheque hard to resist. The economy sorted out that problem for her when she was made redundant last year.

‘I thought I’d get back into drawing and art again,’ Anderson explains. ‘You think “Oh, I probably lost the ability to do that”, but I was surprised. It all came back very quickly.’

Once Anderson’s skills were up to snuff again a ‘wee bursary’ from Ards Arts Centre helped her rediscover her confidence. ‘It was only an 8 week course, but it was good to get hands on and messy with stuff,’ she grins. Her house is spotless and even the paintings are neatly stacked, it’s hard to imagine her messy. ‘It was an opening to meet other people who are doing art locally as well.’

And now that she’s started Anderson doesn’t seem to be in the mood to stop. As well as her exhibition in Newtownards – ‘…someone said “Why don’t you apply for an exhibition?” and I thought “Why not?”’ - Anderson was the subject of a four-page article in the January 2010 Northern Ireland Homes & Lifestyle magazine.

She motions to a portrait of lively old man, caught either mid-laugh or mid-word, that was featured in the magazine. It is of her father and is one of her favourites in the exhibition. ‘I think it really captures him,’ Anderson says. ‘He passed away in January, but he saw the magazine when it came out.'

Other than the portrait of her father, Anderson admits that she finds it hard to play favourites with her art. She looks around her small studio – which is full of freshly framed paintings for the exhibition – and shrugs helplessly. ‘When I first paint it, I like it. Then I do another one and that becomes my favourite.’

By virtue of being most recent Anderson currently favours a picture of some fat, fluffy gannets – rescued by a bird sanctuary and now disinclined to return to the wild – and a lean, somber looking vulture. The latter seems a little out of place in the middle of Anderson’s soft-edged, quirky art but like most of her paintings it is imbued with personality.

Perhaps that is another relic of her career as a children’s illustrator. It certainly isn’t hard to imagine the five strutting hens in ‘Here Come The Girls’ as a children’s book. ‘My daughter says it looks like me and my sisters,’ Anderson giggles, and mimics the little girl naming each hen. ‘But no-one wanted to be the big fat chicken.’

ti esti will be exhibited at the Ards Arts Centre until November 27.