Liz Nicholls chats to world-famous decorative painting expert and queen of chalk paint products, Annie Sloan, 69, who lives in Oxford.
Q. Lovely to chat to you, Annie! Is your house, like mine, a work in progress?
“Yes! I’m so busy it will never be finished. It looks good in parts – so long as I look in the right direction! Of course, it’s very colourful! I don’t have a favourite shade – for me, it’s all about combinations.”
Q. Which artist made a big impression on you as a child?
“Gauguin made a real impression; my father was a fan and we had a lot of prints around the house. I identified with him. His use of colour is pretty strong and he made me want to paint.”
Q. I’ve got to ask you about your music – your pre-punk proto-girl band The Moodies!
“Ah yes – that part of my life still follows me around! We’re talking 1971-74 and yet the band really resonated with people, still does. We had some great fans – Mick Jagger, David Bowie… I think back to those times and think ‘how weird!”
Q. Did you meet Bowie?
“Yes, amazingly. He came to see us play – it was at a cool bar in London called The Last Resort. I was keen to talk to him but it was difficult, I’m afraid, because that night he was looking for cocaine and quite out of it. This was in his gaunt, pale, skinny phase. But we did chat about art school and south London, where he was born and I used to live.”
Q. You’re a citizen of the world – born in Australia to a Scottish father and Fijian mother – do you still find inspiration on your travels?
“Yes; absolutely. I’ve just got back from Oregon and San Francisco. Portland is the coolest place ever! San Francisco used to be the place of flower power but now it’s one of the most expensive places in the world because Yahoo and Google are there; you’ve got these young girls and guys earning mega-bucks and lots of ‘normal’ people who can’t afford to live there, so the city’s a bit schizophrenic. It actually made Oxford look affordable! I always love travelling and seeing what the hipsters are up to. In Portland, there are lots of wooden Victorian painted houses painted in a gorgeous array of colours. I absorb inspiration from everywhere.”
Q. Do you visit a lot of galleries?
“We are so, so lucky to have two amazing galleries in Oxford – Modern Art Oxford and the Ashmolean. I don’t go to London as much as I used to; I used to go to them all. But whenever I travel I always try to see an exhibition; that feeds my soul hugely. I went to an amazing exhibition in America last week – celebrating 50 years since the summer of love – 1967. Haight-Ashbury, flowers in your hair, all that. It was superb.”
Q. Do you listen to much music?
“Yes, I listen to a lot; anything that relaxes me, any genre. I love Iggy Pop’s show [on BBC R6, Fridays]. He makes me laugh and I love his taste in music and that gravelly voice! My big love is also podcasts. This American Life and Radio Lab are my current faves.”
Q. You started your network of Annie Sloan shops and range of products has expanded hugely from humble beginnings – how does that make you feel?
“Having success in my business is nice – not just financially but I love to support the shops, the network of independent businesses – that’s very rewarding. We all work together. It’s hard in retail at the moment, particularly with the world the way it is.”
Q. Are you at the happiest point in your life, do you think?
“Really, I’ve always been quite happy and grounded. That’s why I moved away from the art scene proper early on – some of it really has a tendency to disappearing up its own bottom. People often tell me I’ve had an impact on their life and inspired them to paint or upcycle, which is fantastic as that’s what it’s all about. Life’s pleasures are often momentary – a good cup of tea, a great exhibition that makes you think ‘I want to create, I want to paint!” I’m happiest with a paintbrush in my hand. I have to find time to make sure I paint, paint, paint as that’s what makes me tick.”
Visit www.anniesloan.co.uk for details of Annie’s local shops and products, including the new stencil range.