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Jan 12 / Simon


Winning the draw by Simon Tait 5 June 2018

“You have to draw,” says Julia Munsey. “And you have to keep drawing.”

And so, through an artist’s career of more than half a century, she is never without a sketch pad and pencil to hand.

But Julia Munsey has not had a conventional career, her first solo exhibition was not until 2018 and she had to be talked into it. And what is showed was the line, colour, tone and composition of an artist supremely confident. An acrylic painting, called Gender, is a nude drawn directly in paint, with no pencil guidelines but infinitely subtle modelling to create a still figure that is full of life and movement, the surface blocked out with colour to add to the model’s vitality.

Julia Munsey, she says herself, has been very lucky, and that unconventional career path showed itself early on. Her father was a doctor, her mother a concert pianist, and neither wanted an artist’s life for their daughter. “I think my mother rather hopefully thought I would grow out of it, but I was very determined in my way”.

But they did have the imagination to send her to Dartington Hall School, the progressive co-educational school near Totnes in Devon, where her precocious drawing talent was encouraged, so much so that at 17 she was accepted at Plymouth College of Art to study fine art. “I had a lovely time there, in those days it was down on the Barbican with the most glorious sea views”. The college also had strong connections further west in Cornwall with the then thriving St Ives school of painters, and she drew encouragement from them too.

Before long, however, she had left the seascapes behind her with a scholarship to study at The Slade School of Art in London. “A family friend had a house in Paddington where I could stay, and when I arrived I knew I never wanted to live anywhere else,” she says.

At the Slade she came under the tutelage of the distinguished painter and teacher Euan Uglow. “I wasn’t a particular admirer of his work then – though I am now – and what I think I got from him was a sense of discipline,” she recalls. “We had to draw from the life every day for two years, and it was hard work with the results being often rather static”.

On graduation she moved, as so many artists in the late 1960s did then when finding studios and galleries to represent them was so difficult, commuting to the independent Maidstone College of Art from London. “Living was so much cheaper then, and one only had to do two days’ teaching a week to make ends meet” Julia says.

And then came a switch, in her mid-30s. By now married to the composer and film maker Adrian Munsey, and with three small children,