Anne Toms... on her life as an Island artist

Isle of Wight artist Anne Toms talks to My Isle of Wight about how she moved to the Island and forged her career as a successful artist.

'My father was a coastguard on the Isle of Lewis and I lived in the Outer Hebrides in the late 1950s. I left school, the Nicholson Institute on Stornoway, when I was 14 and there weren’t a lot of opportunities up there in those days.

'I always thought I was going to be an artist because I was always painting and drawing. I went back as a life model in the evenings at the art department at the Nicholson Institute. I was very envious and I used to take my paintings in to show them and they would give me tubes of paint. It wasn’t easy to get hold of paint in those days. We didn’t even have television up there at that point.

'We moved to the Island because my father, Albert Crate, became District Coastguard at Totland. I followed them down when I was 16.

'When I came to live down here it was a real culture shock. I couldn’t believe the sunshine, there was blossom everywhere, it was like walking into a garden and the white chalk cliffs I thought were the most wonderful things I’d ever seen. Everything down here was so light and bright compared to the dark and brooding Outer Hebrides.

'I realised fairly early on that I couldn’t break into the art world without going to Art College so I decided I’d have to find my own way. So if someone had an empty shop I’d ask if I could borrow it for an exhibition and I used to put my paintings in and sell them directly to the public.

'The very first gallery I had had been the WH Smith shed at the old railway station at Freshwater. Then I took over a derelict building in Yarmouth and covered the brick rubble with sheets. In the 70s I had galleries in the libraries.

'I reckon I had the first installation exhibition ever when I built a kitchen in Ryde library complete with kitchen sink and a string of nappies across it

'I reckon I had the first installation exhibition ever when I built a kitchen in Ryde library complete with kitchen sink and a string of nappies across it. Tights, suspender belts and all the paraphernalia for being a woman and an artist, and you had to get through all the stuff before you got to the art.

'About that time I had my first London exhibition at the Embankment Gallery on the SS Tattershill Castle that was moored next to the House of Commons – in 1977 or 1978. I sold lots and that led to another one at Beretta’s Gallery by Holborn, frequented by Fleet Street journalists.

'By this time I had the little shop in the square in Yarmouth (now Blue) and I had to crate all my paintings up for an exhibition in New York. They sold them all!

'I did a bit of TV at that time too - South Today adopted me as a local character for some reason. They came and filmed me on the beach whilst painting a picture at Freshwater Bay. It was the middle of winter and freezing and they wanted me to wear something summery!

'I lived in Yarmouth on the creek in Mill Creek Cottage in the 80s and had a little gallery on the Quay and concentrated on seascapes – I used to work out of doors in those days.

'In about 1989 I got involved with Quay Arts. It was well established by that time but desperately short of money and it flooded every month. Ultimately I managed to get us a Lottery grant (£1.4m) and was project manager for the refurbishment and also Artistic Director.

'We managed to open all the way through the refurb and we managed to buy the Rope Store, and Medina Borough Council gave us Jubilee Stores. We got more money to raise the roof for the theatre and to do Jubilee Stores and when it was just about finished I went back to painting full time.

'I started my present gallery in Yarmouth in 1997. My daughter Amanda, who is a ceramicist, did a lot of the work and I took over when I left Quay Arts. Now my son David looks after the gallery.

'I’ve also done a lot of public art: the first one was for Brookside Health Centre in Freshwater and then for the foyer at Newclose (now Seven Acres), Birmingham, Winchester and a huge amount in Southampton. I do work for the National Trust and did the murals in the education room at Newtown, and the bird recognition panels in the hides.

'Being at Newtown was like being back in the Islands where I came from: total darkness, no street lights. I’ve always liked the dark – I think it’s because I grew up with it.

'I’ve worked on a series of paintings of Hanover Point, I get fixated on a particular place. We’ve got a little boat and we go out around the coast. I like to do studies from the sea.'