Following an exhibition at Chapel Allerton’s Smart Gallery and the release of his latest book, TV’s Timmy Mallett tells JLife how a 3,500km painting trip across Europe in memory of his late brother taught him to seize the day.
Hi Timmy! We know you from the TV, but when did you find your love of painting?
Painting has always been part of my life, inspired by my dad, who was a keen artist. It’s always been part of my storytelling – I’d take my paints with me on Wacaday filming trips and the director would love that and say: ‘get the paints out and tell us a story while you’re painting it!’ I’m a keen impressionist painter and feel it’s important to try to seize the moment and commit it to canvas.
And you were recently exhibiting in North Leeds!
Bringing the paintings to Leeds has been a real joy and I’m absolutely delighted to have a selection of my work exhibited at Smart Gallery. They’re all oils worked up in my studio, some are from my recent adventures, but there will also be some views from Yorkshire – I do get about on my bike a lot! Shelley Frieze, who owns Smart Gallery has been a keen follower of my work, and she asked if she could exhibit some of my paintings from a recent ride across the Dales.
Tell us about your Camino de Santiago..it sounds amazing!
In the Middle Ages when Chaucer was writing his Canterbury Tales about a quarter of a million people a year would set off from their homes in Europe and make their way to Santiago de Compostela. Supposedly the bones of St James the apostle are buried there! I really liked the idea of doing a modern-day version of this ancient pilgrimage route, to cycle alone from my home in Berkshire across three countries completely unplanned – no accommodation booked, just taking every day as it comes. I took my watercolours and canvases along and painted each day, which proved quite a challenge, particularly when I was cycling through torrential rain and gales from the Beast from the East! Each of my paintings from the ride say something about that particular moment.
You’re also a keen painter of portraits, tell us more.
I like people and I’m always interested in painting the characters I meet on the way. Yesterday I had lunch with a pilgrim I met on my trip. I bumped into him in the south of France, we’ve kept in touch and there’s a painting of the two of us toasting our meeting with a glass of wine, fried eggs and fish fingers! The people you meet along the way stay with you. I paint what I see and there’ll always be a story involved. I’m not one to paint someone’s better side, you get what you get!
We’re aware you’re partial to dressing in garish colours – is that flamboyance reflected in your paintings?
Garish am I? That’s very kind! I wouldn’t describe myself as garish, I’d say colourful! Yes, I do love colour, but I’m also aware of moods and tones. I’m attracted to the seasons, so I went on my camino in springtime hoping for the change in climate that we get here in the UK that brings us the wonderful shades of spring. It’s slightly different in more challenging conditions and certainly on the continent those seasonal changes aren’t quite the same. We have a really benign climate here, but we complain about it all the time – ‘far too much bloody rain!’ – but it’s that which gives us all those wonderful seasonal colours.
So, where did the inspiration for the trip come from?
My brother Martin, who had Down’s Syndrome – really had a way of living in the moment. I love this idea of being rooted in the here and now of living. About a week before I set off on my ‘camino’, my dear brother died of dementia at the age of 64. My older brother Paul gave me the name tags from his clothing at the funeral – so I decided to leave them at different places across Europe, whether that was a great view, a castle, or with someone I met along the way.
Did your journey teach you any life lessons?
Each morning on that bike ride, I woke up not knowing who I was going to meet, what I was going to eat, where I was going to stay, or even which way I was going at the crossroads. You make those decisions as you go and that makes you involved in everywhere you are and every person you meet. Being rooted in the moment is challenging. We’re always looking ahead making plans and saying, ‘life will be great when it’s the weekend, I get a better job, a new outfit.’ Well, what’s wrong with here and now?
That’s where the inspiration for my paintings comes from – not knowing what will happen and finding out where it goes. It’s not the destination, it’s the journey – and if you’re facing challenging conditions on the way, reflect that in your artwork. It’s not how fast you cycle, it’s about the fun you have on the way.
Limited edition Timmy Mallet prints will be exhibited at Smart Gallery until 5th April. For more information, visit Smartgallery.co.uk.