The Wonky, Watery World of Caroline Appleyard

PUBLISHED: 15:29 20 July 2012 | UPDATED: 21:38 20 February 2013

The Wonky, Watery World of Caroline Appleyard

The Wonky, Watery World of Caroline Appleyard

Mike Smith meets the renowned Derbyshire artist

Thanks to her topsy-turvy depictions of towns, villages and streets, artist Caroline Appleyard has been described as Lowry on acid. Her pictures also have a charming naivety that is reminiscent of the work of Alfred Wallis, the retired Cornish fisherman who painted pictures with a quirky perspective. Wallis was discovered when the celebrated painters Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood looked through the door of his cottage and saw a room crammed with paintings executed in a style they had never seen before. The experience of entering Carolines studio in the house in Old Whittington which she shares with her partner, Chris, is much the same.

Caroline did not become a full-time artist until 2007, when she was 41 years old. She had loved art as a pupil at Dronfields Henry Fanshawe School and had gained A-level qualifications that would have allowed her to go to art college, but her father wanted his daughter to get a proper job, so she joined his accountancy firm as an administrator. Explaining her return to painting, she said, Although my father had steered me away from an artistic career, I was very fond of him, and when he became seriously ill in 2004, I was distraught and needed something to focus my mind. I took up painting for therapy.

Carolines first subject was Chris, who was depicted swimming underwater in his diving gear. Impressed by the quality of his partners first two portraits, Chris encouraged her to carry on painting, but suggested that she ought to find new subjects. She responded by producing a picture of Chesterfields famous crooked spire, whose odd geometry may well have had some influence on the style of her subsequent work. Carolines next effort, a local street scene, gave her further encouragement, because it immediately found a buyer.

After her fathers death, Caroline worked for a time as a swimming instructor, but decided to become a full-time artist in 2007. However, she is not a full-time painter in the normal sense. Although she devotes long hours to painting every day in the winter months, she spends much of the summer travelling with Chris in their camper van. The couple return time and again to favourite haunts, such as Scotland, Devon, Cornwall and the Yorkshire Coast, and the places they encounter on their travels have become the subject of Carolines paintings, along with townscapes in Sheffield and Derbyshire.

Describing how this peripatetic lifestyle was made possible, Chris said: I sold my business when I grew tired of producing palettes and boxes for export. As Caroline had become a freelance artist, we were free to travel and enjoy our hobby of diving, so we bought a camper van to enable us to go off whenever we wanted. As soon as the first spring days arrive, we load up the van and set out. We wreck-dive in waters around Orkney and we island-hop off the west coast of Scotland in high summer and visit the Yorkshire coast and the West Country in out-of-season times. Caroline finds subjects for her paintings wherever we go, and sometimes she puts them on canvas in the van in the late evenings. Im just happy to be the driver and bag carrier.

One of Carolines early townscape subjects was the Yorkshire town of Whitby, where topsy-turvy, red-roofed buildings are piled one on top of another. After producing paintings to reflect this charming composition, Caroline went on to make pictures of rather less wonky places in a similar style. Almost all her work is now characterised by the higgledy-piggledy arrangement of buildings and objects, together with the skewing of perspective and scale in a way that somehow manages to add to the reality of the scene she is depicting.

However, as Caroline pointed out, a close inspection of her paintings reveals two other peculiarities. She said: I often include Brian the Snail in my pictures as a sort of signature and as a tribute to my father, who was a great fan of The Magic Roundabout. The people who feature in most of my paintings dont have any facial features, because I dont really notice people when I walk around, but I do notice animals, and I do give them facial features after all, they are just as important as people. Actually, when I started producing some paintings on linen, rather than canvas, I did include some human facial features. I dont know why that happened I just did it without thinking.

As well as using different material on which to paint, Caroline has also immersed herself quite literally in a new subject. By way of explanation, she said: I started diving when I went on holiday to the Red Sea in 1998. I loved going underwater because I couldnt wait to see what was beneath the waves, and I wanted to paint what I saw there. I tried lying on the sea-bed and sketching what was around me, but the jelly-fish landed on my pictures or the canvas just floated away, and the crabs pinched my pastels.

Undaunted by this failure, Caroline sought new methods of painting on the sea-bed and has now come up with a technique of using oils in pastel form on hardboard. This not only allows her to paint underwater, but is also pollution free, because the paint doesnt mix with the water. She hopes that her underwater art will make people more aware of the beauty of sea-life and even help in the campaign to stop over-fishing.

Among Carolines commissions are five pictures for the waiting room outside the operating theatre at Sheffield Childrens Hospital, a painting to raise money for the group that is trying to save the Pavilion in Matlock, and, of course, the cover picture for this months edition of Derbyshire Life & Countryside. Chris produces postcards of her work and she shows her paintings at the Church Farm Gallery in Baslow, as well as at galleries in Oban, Littleborough, Sandsend, Burford, Orkney and Kingsbridge in Devon. She likes to think of her work as happy, fluffy and a bit mad, and it is not surprising that her pictures of wonky worlds on land and watery worlds beneath the sea are proving to be very popular.

To find out more about Caroline Appleyards art, visit

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