October 3, 2022

First with the Alderney News

How a rail trip round Italy inspired a lifetime love affair with art

2 min read

A rail trip round Italy as a teenager provided the inspiration for six decades of work for Islander Michael Smallbone who has just published a pair of coffee table books showcasing his art.

Mr Smallbone is a self taught artist whose work has sold round the world.

Now, helped by neighbour Edward Hill, he has produced two complementary and beautifully presented books called ‘chairo’ and ‘scuro’, a single word meaning ‘light’-‘dark’ in Italian. They feature a fascinating sweep of tone, subject and style in materials ranging from delicate charcoal sketches to clean lines in pen and water-colour, to epic tales in oil.

At his home in a lane off Braye Road his paintings hang from every wall, forming a riot of colour and style that draw you closer. His luxuriant garden and the nearby sea still inspire him to climb upstairs to his light-filled studio and paint.

The idea of the books was to provide a record of his work to give to his 23-year-old daughter Rococo.

A passion for art, he explained, ran in the family. In the 1920s and 30s his mother made miniature portraits out of ivory for royalty.

‘When I was about 17 or 18 during one of the last school holidays she gave me a £40 circular ticket round Italy by train. I went to the likes of Rome, Florence, Venice, Sienna, Naples to look at art and it quite blew my mind. I don’t think I’ve ever recovered. Those images vibrate with you for ever.’

Art, however, was not a subject to be pursued as a career.

Instead Mr Smallbone studied Economics at University College London and the London School of Economics and his twin brother Roger did the same. He went to teach in Africa and Brazil while Mr Smallbone struck out for South Australia and America.

But his paintbrushes were never far from reach.

‘I’ve always been painting. Painting is a challenge. I suppose one likes to think one is solving problems of line and proportion. It’s the little grey cells processing problems and trying to solve them. I’ve never successfully solved all of them so I never have put down the brush.’

His work consists of an exuberant mix of styles inspired from every age of art since the Renaissance and a head spinning range of subjects. ‘Can’t’ is not in his lexicon.

‘I’m completely self taught, never been to art school. I don’t know the rules of engagement so I ignore them.’

It’s made for a fascinating pair of books that are well worth having.

Copies of Chiaro and Scuro are on sale at the Alderney Wildlife Trust shop on Victoria Street and are also available to order by email at mhs.artbook@gmail.com

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