Muffin the Mule makes homely art
14th October 2009
Ely-based artist Ted Coney has been painting for over 40 years.
Now the former head of art at Hills Road Sixth Form College in Cambridge is turning the 300-year-old cottage he calls home into an art gallery.
The project tells the story of different generations of his family with his brother represented as Muffin the Mule.
It is the kind of idea that makes you want to ask a few questions and Jan Gilbert did exactly that.
What made you decide to open your home as an art gallery?
I opened the house where we used to live in Great Shelford a couple of times during the Open Studio season, and enjoyed talking to people about my work.
It seemed a good setting for my paintings as they're all about family life.
You moved to Ely to open the gallery. What attracted you about the city?
We wanted a market town with a wow factor. The Cathedral's wonderful and attracts lots of visitors.
Also we were impressed by the Babylon Gallery and knew it'd be good to be near other galleries and cultural activities.
How does using your house as an art gallery affect how you live there?
Only my wife Hazel and I live here, so it's not too disruptive. It'd be worse if I was a sculptor!
I only open one afternoon a week, and we only use two of the four bedrooms to show my work, so Hazel has somewhere to escape to if she's at home.
The only slight problem is when guests come for the weekend - they need to be packed and out of the large bedroom by 10am.
Having said that, all the display cabinets for my work are on wheels, so it only takes an hour to set the room back up as a gallery.
What can people expect to see when they visit your gallery?
A group of about 40 oil paintings alongside objects that inspired them. In the hallway they'll see photos of six generations of my family, plus a DVD introducing them to the ideas behind my work.
In my studio they'll see my work in progress, and in the garage my 1931 Morris Minor which features in my paintings.
I've had the Morris for nearly 40 years. For a long time it was our only car, so my children always thought of it as part of the family.
Your paintings are very personal, depicting your family life over the years. What do you think their appeal is to people from outside your family circle?
Everyone has a family, however wonderful or frustrating they may be, so hopefully as they learn about my family, they will make connections with their own experiences.
And because I've done the paintings in an honest way, I hope this will come through.
I certainly get that feeling from the remarks people make when they come on one of my guided tours.
Sometimes your family doesn't appear in the form we'd expect in your paintings - you represent your brother as Muffin the Mule, yourself as the 1950s TV puppet Mr Turnip, and your sister-in-law as a hippopotamus.
What influences your decisions? And what do they think of their alter egos?
With the painting about my brother turning 50, I used Muffin the Mule because I saw him very much as an icon of the 1950s, when my brother was growing up.
And Mr Turnip had always fascinated me when I saw him on TV as a child.
I was also interested in the symbolism attached to certain animals, so I had great fun matching them up with relations.
I chose the hippo for my sister-in-law as it's the symbol of the great earth mother in some cultures.
She wasn't so keen, but she's had to live with it for 16 years. I do get on with her very well though and we're still speaking.
What's your favourite piece in the collection?
It will probably always be For You In Loving Memory, a tiny painting for our second daughter, who was stillborn.
As well as the subject matter, I still feel quite proud about the way I painted it.
It's a small circular painting (to represent a complete life), made up of eight active bands moving through the spectrum to a silent, still, white centre.
What are you working on at the moment?
A painting called Snow Angels and No Angels which celebrates 15 female members of my family.
I followed by bicycle the route taken by the body of Queen Eleanor of Castile in 1290 from Harby in Lincolnshire to Westminster Abbey, and placed a flower on the crosses her husband Edward I built in her memory.
He was celebrating one woman, while in my painting I celebrate 15.
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