On that grey English day back in 2007 when my brother in law, Collin and I set off for work, the last thing we expected was for me to be sitting on the edge of Amy Winehouse’s bed and for Collin to be harassed by paparazzi.
At the very beginning of my artistic career (as most artists are), I was juggling my dream and a ‘bread and butter’ job, that put food on the table, a roof over my head and clothes on my back. Bearing that in mind, if you ever see an anorexic naked guy roaming the streets, don’t judge, he is probably a creative genius who has not yet mastered the juggling act of following his dream and working a full time job, or he has simply refused to become another cog in the machine of society, or he may have just taken a lot of acid, and have a very high metabolism…..either way it pays to have an open mind when pondering the imaginary image of an anorexic homeless man for the purpose of this story!
My job of choice at the time was a SKY television Engineer. One of the many jobs I have partaken in over my life. I use the term ‘partaken’ as until you find a job or career that you can really immerse yourself in, you are merely a participant in a repetitive activity that rewards you with those apparently important bits of paper they call money. It’s like, this meat vehicle that we refer to as our body goes to work whilst my soul, spirit and higher existence dances in the clouds, dreaming of creativity and artistic adventures! So as my soul had fun elsewhere, the rest of me went to work with my brother in law, Collin.
That day we had travelled up to London, and pulled up to our third job . We parked on the cobble stone road outside the address of the apartment we were to work in, situated down a secluded alley way within the streets of Camden. As Collin and I approached the door, and pressed the buzzer a woman’s voice replied and sent someone down to let us in. A scantily clad woman answered the door (later to be revealed as Amy Winehouse’s drummer) and ushered us in. As we made our way up the winding stair case, I noticed photographs of Amy and blake, and laundry bags full of hives….my initial thought was that whoever lived here was a massive Amy Winehouse fan!
The mid-level revealed a funky living space containing a music studio at the end, which included various guitars and instruments, both the lady who let us in and a voice from upstairs communicated to us the nature of the job. The level above us was a mezzanine bedroom that over-looked the living area, it was open plan so the voice coming from the bedroom could be easily heard and conversation between us was possible.
As Collin and I got to work, we simultaneously started to assume the same thing……the photographs? the hives? The music studio? Was the voice from upstairs who we thought it was? I looked at Collin and he read my mind….as I went to quietly voice my prediction, he gave me ‘that look’ …’get on with the job’ he said.
Me being me, curious as I am, and friendly by nature, began to converse with the woman who let us in and the voice from upstairs. ‘So’ I said…’this studio is awesome are you both musicians?’ …..For me it had become a game of ‘guess who’, strategically picking my questions to reveal the identity of the voice above. They explained that occasionally they play music together. ‘So where do you play, would I know any of your stuff’ I enquired, with a hint of cheeky suspicion in my voice. “Yeah probably I’m playing at V festival this year.” she replied. At that stage I knew it was Amy Winehouse. Out the corner of my eye I could see collin shaking his head, either through embarrassment of my ‘french inquisition’ or because of the lack of work I had done in order to fulfil my curiosity.
‘Oi dick head im going to put the dish up, run those cables and fix em to the skirts….dont fuck it up!’ was Collins order, as always delivered with his obvious confidence in my capability.
As collin went outside at about 12.00 am it seemed the slimy goblin trolls of the paparazzi world had crawled out their holes by that time, to face the day light and set upon their prey! Lurking like cancerous cells waiting to become active outside Amy’s abode they began interrogating Collin trying to extract any gossip or dirt that they could find, and taking photographs.
The photo shutter continuously sounded, and the questions were fired around Collin’s ears. Whizzing past like bullets from a gun as he wrestled with the satellite dish on the side of the building.
When Collin came back I was welcomed with “HAVE YOU GOT THAT DONE YET?!”. To his surprise I had successfully completed the task and was awaiting my next instruction. At that point ‘the voice’ from upstairs called down to Collin.
“Is there any chance I can have the sky installed upstairs in my bedroom?”.
As Collin began explaining the process in response to Amy’s question, a feeling of excitement grew in me. I was about to meet a musical genius, a prolific figure of my time, a rare talent that graced the commercial spectrum of the music world, a unique voice and performer ,that in my opinion, the music industry had been yearning for, for so long. She produced a level of emotional intensity in her music which may be unrivalled by anyone from our generation, but despite all that, you always got an impression of Amy being a ‘real human’, not like many of the manufactured packaged stars you see today.
It was exactly that impression that I was given when we finally met.
After fixing up her hair she called for us to come up, she stood at the top of the stairs leading to her bedroom. The room was dark, but light from a window behind her formed a slight silioutte of Amy and her trade mark Hive. I was shocked by how petite she was.
“Hi I’m Amy welcome to my home, come up” she said. Straight away I felt comfortable, this was simply a humble down to earth north london girl un-changed by her enormous talent and popular global status.
Collin explained the process of the job at hand and, following her instruction to link the sky to her the TV, began running the cables whilst I sat on the end of her bed tuning her humble size TV. Amy sat behind me on her bed. She was opening fan male at the time and had received a hand made love heart which symbolised her and blake (her current boyfriend). Amy was clearly touched by this present that her fan had taken the time to carefully stitch together, so much so that she took the time to ring and thank her, personally. I could hear the excitement and disbelief in the fans voice when Amy began thanking her, and I remember thinking what a beautiful gesture it was from both participants in that exchange. Amy was seen wearing this on many occasions.
After the phone call we both touched on how sweet the gift was and began our own conversation talking about her up coming gigs etc, Music and Art, at which point I informed Amy that I was trying to make a living as an artist.
This may be seen by some as an egotistical move, but I believe every artist should not hesitate to exhibit ones work and be proud of what you are doing. At that stage in my career the art I was producing was in the very early stages of development and I had recently been awarded a grant by the Prince’s Trust which allowed me work on my portfolio and technique in airbrushing.
Amy asked if I had a website and luckily I did. Amy had a browse and complimented me on my work.
“Thats really good, I like your portraits, you should do me one”
“yeah I’d love to, maybe one of you and blake together” I replied.
At this point I was over the moon. However as it sank in, so did my self-doubt…
“ she’s is probably just being nice”
“why would she want your work she is famous”
I think it’s important to reveal these thoughts to you , as it is common place for many creative people to listen to these voices of self -doubt. To be scared to share your talents, and creativity because it is such a personal part of you, and a reflection of your efforts and soul being! But the reality of it is, your creativity is a gift, and it’s something that should be shared. Of course you will receive positive and negative reactions, but any kind of Art or Music is open to everyone’s interpretation; It is seen, heard, felt and experienced by each individual uniquely and that is the beauty of it. It will effect every individual differently including yourself. The essence of the expression though is where it came from, you.
We finished the job, Amy thanked us for our hard work, we packed up and said good bye. Collin and I jumped in the van, put on our seat belts on and he started the ignition. We looked at each other with the realisation of how random that experience was.
“DID NOT SEE THAT COMING”
As we made our way to our next job, Collin, who had heard the conversation between Amy and I, asked me if I was going to paint the portrait for her. Still slightly in the grip of self doubt, I asked for his opinion.
“you’v got nothing to loose mate why not, sounded like she would appreciate it.”
I sat with that thought for a few moments and then we carried on with the rest of our day still buzzing from what had just unfolded.
After a couple of months or so pondering, I finally made the decision to paint the portrait. NEWS Articles around that time had suggested that Amy and her boyfriend had split. Regardless of the legitimacy of the articles I decided it would be a safe bet to paint a portrait of Amy by herself. I searched for a good reference that I could create my own rendition from and got to work.
Once I had finished I made my way back up to Camden to deliver the artwork. As I approached the cobble bricked Alleyway, a sea of journalists and photographers swarmed the entire area outside her apartment, and security guarded her door. I managed to work my way through the crowd and gave my canvas to the security and explained the situation. I left slightly disheartened that I could not give it to her directly, and wondered if she would ever get the art work at all.
Upon Amy’s sad passing I put the artwork as my profile pic, with a status that read something along the lines of “R.I.P Amy Winehouse , I wonder if she ever got my painting’.
A couple of days later I received a facebook message from a girl who went to my school claiming to be Amy Winehouse’s cousin. She explained to me that she had seen the painting at Amy’s and that the family were waiting for Amy’s mum and dad to return from New York and that when they did she would inform me what they want to do with the artwork.
A few weeks later I received a message informing me that Amy’s mother loved the painting and did not want to part with it. I was very touched by this and insisted that they keep the artwork.
The whole experience had been absolutely unexpected and amazing. I learnt a few valuable life lessons, particularly, as an artist, not to pay too much attention to the negative voices in your head, as you never know where your passion and talent could lead you. It always pays to be brave.