The healing power of art…and everything in between by Sharon Hurst

The start of a love for art 

My art grew from a love of the things around me. Some Friday afternoons after school, I was collected by Mum, Dad and Nan, tucked up in the car and snuggled with pillows and a blanket. Hours later we emerged into the different world that was a Somerset farm, and oh, the smells and the sights! My weekends were a miracle of running across the fields with the dogs, milking by the dawns glow, clambering about in the hayricks, and harvesting. I loved my own company and delighted in the pond skaters on the water troughs and the huge mushrooms and puffballs in the fields. We collected them on our way back from milking to eat for breakfast. 

My Nan was a rotund jolly woman who was magical in her own right; she had a story for every occasion. I also learnt a deep respect for the lady in the farm down the road. Nan said she was a witch, so it had to be true! I knew that Snow White lived somewhere off in the woods and that the fairies lived in the toadstools that formed the fairy rings, so I had to be very careful where my footsteps fell. 

I was lucky and my family were supportive of my whimsical pictures, I would grow up fast enough, and all was right in the world until I crossed paths with my art teacher in Secondary School. To say we clashed would be putting it politely. (Well, come on! It was a very “naice” grammar school and you wouldn’t have dared put a foot wrong). Here I was: 15 years old having just read “Lord of the Rings”.  I was full of romance that I wanted to paint all this totally wonderful, and FABULOUS “stuff”. My art teacher HATED it! 

“Why can’t you just paint a nice ordinary oak tree?” she asked me once. And I guess every ounce of magic in me was lost at that point. 

Disillusioned, I left for college to study languages instead. But inside I was devastated that my O Level artwork was missing.  I walked home, miserable and thinking I would never see it again. However, I discovered during the school holidays that my art teacher had entered my artwork in a local exhibition with someone else’s name on it. I was so incensed that I paid the local scoundrel (the lad that the fathers were all hoping their daughters wouldn’t notice), and he went to the exhibition and “stole” it back! I was earning £3 for a Saturday job, but I borrowed the rest from my nan, and it was the best £5 I have ever spent! 

Returning to my passion 

Time passed, and I became a Mum. We moved away from London and went to live in the country.  

Many, many years later, we were driving along on our way to somewhere along miles of motorway.  I cast my eye over the landscape and I noticed a patch of sunlight in a field.  Sitting in the middle of the field was a sheep… and I watched as it lifted its head and closed its eyes to bask in the sunshine. This simple moment of bliss, gone in a flash as we drove on, awakened something so basic in me that I needed to record it.  My only thought was to get home and find paper and a pencil. A small beginning, but it was a beginning, nevertheless. 

A brush with cancer and heart failure some years later was a real turning point for me.  I decided to live the rest of my life my way…with art!  It had healed me during two brushes with the Grim Reaper.  It carried me through and enabled me to forget everything for those moments when I had a brush in my hand.  

I decided to move out into the world, and take my painting with me, making it a mission to get people painting. 

Painting from my heart 

I love colour and form. I want art to uplift me, intrigue me, mystify me, tell me a story, excite me. I don’t mind having to use my brain to work it out, but I don’t want to have to take an exam first to be able to understand it. 

I paint the thing that makes my heart sing. I work with the picture that haunts me.  The picture that keeps me awake at night because I keep mentally adding bits or adjusting. The picture that I am thinking about as I drive to the shops. The picture that I can’t wait to finish. 

I don’t want to be offended, upset, or disturbed. It is important to me that some of us have had such awful things in our lives already that “awareness” is exactly what we don’t need from art. We need escape. I wanted to bring that escape to others. 

Highlights and treasures 

I have been very lucky. Working as a demonstrator and visiting art societies around the country has been the most amazing experience. I have met so many wonderful people and a good few have become fast friends. I delight in the driving and the exploring. I will often take a wandering route to be destination so I can investigate the lanes, the countryside, or the tiny villages. Dawdling along the deserted roads, I jump in and out to take photos for paintings for teaching and I’ve learnt so much about this lovely country. Nothing quite beats that moment when you spy two hares boxing in a field at sunset and a quick photo through an open car window captures it. 

Like most of us, I have had a few memorable moments. Being the first artist to represent the SAA on a live set at the HOCHANDA studios made me incredibly proud for us all. The moment my first books arrived by post with “Sharon Hurst Author” printed on the outside in huge letters. Me… an author!  

Meeting the actress Cheri Lunghi at a London exhibition and having my photo taken with her in front of my paintings was a special highlight.  She taught me a lesson…busy as she was with being a mum, acting, and a hectic social life, she could still find time to paint. She felt it was important to her wellbeing to do that little something for herself. So, I resolved to try and live that way too. It doesn’t always work, but it is a decent goal to have.  

My dear Dad used to say, “You can only ever try and always do your best!” It is true and we all know it.