Sir John Hurt:

With the first ever ex­hi­bi­tion of John Hurt’s paint­ings open­ing in Holt this month, his widow An­wen re­veals the great ac­tor’s artis­tic side

EDP Norfolk - - Inside - WORDS: Rowan Man­tell

Ac­tor’s widow re­veals another side to the screen star

He was one of the great­est ac­tors of his time, but be­fore Sir John Hurt be­came an ac­tor he was an artist – and he con­tin­ued paint­ing all his life.

Now the first ever ex­hi­bi­tion of his art is to be held in the county which be­came his fi­nal home, as part of the Holt Fes­ti­val.

It will in­clude draw­ings dat­ing back as far as the 1960s, as well as por­traits and self-por­traits com­pleted in the last few years.

The ex­hi­bi­tion is be­ing put to­gether as a trib­ute, and a glimpse into a vir­tu­ally un­known as­pect of the film star’s life, by his widow, An­wen, Lady Hurt.

Sir John died of can­cer last year. As we speak An­wen’s eyes some­times brim with tears, but she made a vow not to let her­self be sub­merged by grief and loss.

“When John died I said to my­self I was go­ing to say yes to ev­ery­thing for a year,” she said. And so she took on much of his public and char­i­ta­ble work.

An­wen and John wed in 2005, two years after a chance meet­ing in a restau­rant and love-at-first­sight ro­mance. Only it wasn’t quite their first en­counter.

“We had danced to­gether, years be­fore,” said An­wen. “I re­mem­bered it of course, I was danc­ing with John Hurt! He didn’t re­mem­ber it and it was sim­ply him hold­ing his hand out to me to join a conga line, rather than a smoochy dance.”

But at their sec­ond en­counter they fell for each other. An­wen had trained as a con­cert pi­anist and was a singer and ac­tress be­fore mak­ing tele­vi­sion ads and then be­com­ing a film pro­ducer and cast­ing direc­tor.

Here in Nor­folk she worked with Holt-based Capriol on films such as In Love with Alma Co­gan and Chick­Lit – in­clud­ing cast­ing her hus­band in sup­port­ing roles. Fa­mous around the globe he was de­scribed by David Lynch, who di­rected him in The Ele­phant

Man, as “Sim­ply the great­est ac­tor in the world.” John’s fi­nal film, That Good

Night, was re­leased this spring. As he played a ter­mi­nally-ill screen­writer he was him­self un­der­go­ing chemo­ther­apy for pan­cre­atic can­cer. He died be­fore

see­ing the fi­nal cut of the movie.

It was 10 years ago this au­tumn that John and An­wen moved to Nor­folk. “The plan was that it would be more than a week­end place but our home would still be London. But we just fell in love with Nor­folk,” said An­wen. “There’s so much go­ing on here, there’s so much cul­ture here.”

They lived in East Run­ton first, mov­ing to Thurn­ing weeks be­fore John died. “And there is no ques­tion of me mov­ing again. It is my home, the house he wanted, and I think he wanted it for me.”

She said John had been thrilled to be chan­cel­lor of Nor­wich Univer­sity of the Arts and got in­volved in or­gan­i­sa­tions such as Sher­ing­ham Lit­tle The­atre, Cin­ema City and Holt Fes­ti­val, which cel­e­brates its 10th an­niver­sary this month.John had sup­ported Holt Fes­ti­val from the start and it has just been an­nounced that An­wen will be its artis­tic direc­tor in 2019.

This year’s pro­gramme fea­tures John’s first-ever art show. “John had al­ways said he didn’t have enough pic­tures. He would like to do one, one day, but didn’t have enough,” said An­wen.

Now there will never be any more, so, when asked about an ex­hi­bi­tion, An­wen knew it was time to re­veal John Hurt the pain­ter.

“He had a great feel for paint and colour,” she said. As a teenager he won a schol­ar­ship to London’s pres­ti­gious St Martin’s School of Art.

“He al­ways doo­dled and did lit­tle draw­ings in his scripts. But he also took paint­ing very se­ri­ously. It wasn’t a re­lax­ation or a hobby. His paint­ings are mostly fig­u­ra­tive but later on he was go­ing much more abstract and re­ally, re­ally en­joy­ing it.

“He was fas­ci­nated by faces so he did quite a lot of self-por­traits. There is a lovely lino cut and also a fan­tas­ti­cally life-like, and life­size paint­ing. It would be on an easel at the win­dow and I would come back and think it was John sit­ting at the win­dow.

“I don’t think I have a favourite. Peo­ple ask what would you run in

to save from a fire? Well, the dog, although he would be bark­ing and the rea­son why I knew there was a fire! He would save me.” An­wen and John bought Pilchard to­gether and he has been a great comfort through her grief.

“It would have been nice to have a bit longer in the house to­gether but John had lived a full life,” she said. She is loan­ing al­most all the art­works for John

Hurt – As Artist. None are for sale. “I’m ner­vous about it, sim­ply be­cause John didn’t hold an ex­hi­bi­tion.

“But if he wanted a say in it, he should be here!” said An­wen.

ABOVE: Lady Hurt, wife of the late ac­tor Sir John Hurt. Pic­tured with their dog Pilchard. LEFT: Sir John Hurt, pain­ter

John Hurt - As Artist, Ke­falo­nia Pic­ture: John Hurt

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