In January ’08 I visited friends in Ljubljana. It was my first visit to Eastern Europe, and I loved the idea that I was in the same part of the world as my ancestors. The photographs I took from the castle, looking down into the town, became the inspiration for a series of paintings in oil which I called ‘House in the Forest’. One of them was of a house far below, down a wooded hillside, and as I began painting on my return to London, it felt as though I was somehow tuning into the inherited memory of crisp cold days in a Lithuanian village, where my forbears lived simpler, harder lives, surrounded by nature. How far removed from the urban life I lead today! I can’t help imagining my life as it would have been 125-odd years ago; I am more likely to have been working in the fields, or wrapping up cheeses for customers in a dairy, than painting pictures. A life like mine in London today would have been a wonderful dream in those rigorous times.
The paintings about my family’s chilly decades in Eastern Europe are more or less representational, albeit in a semi-abstract way, and as such they marked a departure from the symbolic and abstract work I had been making. Although they have some bright colour, I am told they have a nostalgic atmosphere, and I agree, but at a conscious level I felt only pleasure and delight in painting them, because the theme of the little house is altogether so attractive to me. In fact, I have lately come to realise that ‘ the little house’ has cropped up in my work countless times over the years, starting with an image I remember drawing repeatedly as a child – a small house with a door, three windows, and a path leading down to a gate, surrounded by a garden wall. How secure, how happy, was the world depicted in that delightful domain.
Clearly, I am not alone in cherishing the archetype of the ‘little house’ , given that generations of little girls have played with their dolls’ houses – peaceful, quaint and orderly homes just like the traditional cottage so often given away as the ultimate prize in competitions in the Daily Mail ! In light of the many ‘little houses’ I notice in looking back over my own work, I must freely acknowledge the hausfrau within me, and my deep love of hearth, home and happy times with family, friends and, of course, good food. Not for me the sinister little house in the woods occupied by a wicked witch (aka independent woman living alone happily with her cat!). My ‘little houses’ may indeed originate in the world of myth and archetype, but to me they feel like safe and happy places and I hope to make more paintings about them in the future.