She is a renowned artist who was put in the spotlight when her painting of Princess Diana was bought by Charles Saatchi, and now Alnwick’s Stella Vine has her work on show in the town’s Bailiffgate Museum.
Stella Vine was born in Alnwick in 1969, as Melissa Jane Robson, and while she loves the town and Northumberland, she spends her time between here and the sunnier climate of Ibiza, where she is currently.
But as she says: “Northumberland is in my blood.
“But I love the bright sunshine in Ibiza. I drove from Alnwick to Ibiza a few years ago, a long drive, and have been to and fro ever since. I’ve lived in Alnwick off and on since 2006.
“I don’t have a base anywhere now, I’m a bit of a wanderer.
“My favourite TV shows as a child were Lizzie Dripping, she befriended a witch in the cemetery, and Kizzy about a little traveller girl, who lived in her own wagon, I used to watch that show with my Auntie Joan, which she loved because of her heritage.”
Stella was born in Alnwick and lived with her mother, grandmother and aunt on Percy Terrace.
She went to school in the building that is now the Bailiffgate Museum.
Her mum, Ellenor was a seamstress and made the nuns’ habits at the convent, in return for a free school place for her. She was there until she was seven before moving to Norwich.
Some of the fondest memories she has are of living with her grandma, Gladys Angus, who at 105 is possibly Alnwick’s oldest resident. Still independent, she lives at St Paul’s Court.
Stella said: “She married Tommy Angus (his family came to Alnwick from the Yetholm gypsies).
“She lived as a little girl, just down the hill from the museum. My mum and her lived together for 53 years, my mum died at age 56 in 2003.
“My aunt moved to Canada in the sixties and bought my grandma a house to live in at 11 Percy Terrace, so we left St John’s Square and moved in there, with the back lane to play in, waiting for the pop man to arrive, with his coal truck full of fluorescent coloured fizzy glass bottles of lime, cherry, dandelion and burdock and cream soda, they were all faves.
“And I remember trips to Graham’s the bakers for Scotch pies and peas.”
At the age of 13, Stella left school and at 14 she left home and moved down south.
At 16 she was pregnant and her son Jamie was born three weeks after her 17th birthday.
With no maintenance from Jamie’s father, she turned to stripping to supplement her income, as she says: “I was earning two wages, one for me and Jamie and the other for the babysitter.
“It seemed sensible at the time... not so sure now.
“I like simplicity and nature these days, I don’t need much.”
Stella got into painting after enrolling her son Jamie on a course of art classes at Hampstead School of Art.
“I’d enrol for a term and then hardly go, but the teacher was so chilled and non interfering, he gave me just enough encouragement, that it was all I needed,” she said.
“I’d originally taken my son there, as I was home educating him, but he wasn’t that interested, he made some great drawings there though. So I went instead.
“I’ve been non-stop creative my whole life. Music, theatre, improvisation, mime... all sorts. I attended drama school for three years in 1987, nearly got kicked out, communication problems, and I had work before the end of the final year.
“I earned my equity card playing Little Nell and Mr Quilp in Charles Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop, with Durham Theatre Company.”
The show in Alnwick features just a few of her huge collection of work, many of which are in private collections around the world.
Possibly her most famous work is of Diana, Princess of Wales, Hi Paul can you come over I’m really frightened.
Art collector Charles Saatchi bought the painting, which references Diana’s butler Paul Burrell, for £600.
The price of her work doubled virtually overnight and, as Saatchi anticipated, much of the media attacked the work in his New Blood exhibition, creating a considerable return in publicity.
Stella said: “My paintings are an acquired taste perhaps, not particularly ‘beautiful’ as such.
“My favourite in the show, is the Daphne – River Fowey, a thickly-painted oil painting of Daphne du Maurier. I’m so grateful to everyone who has been to see the show, I hope they found it interesting.
“I would like to say a huge thank you to the museum and all the volunteers, I think they have been very forward thinking to support me.”
While much of Stella’s work is on canvas, she has also created images on something a bit closer to home, the Northumberland Gazette.
When we questioned Stella on her use of the paper, the answer was simple.
She said: “The Gazette came about from living in Alnwick, and I’d run out of the paper I normally use. I love the way the paint flows easily on newspaper, if you get the consistency right.
“I choose a page I like, a connection, like for instance my Kurt Cobain is painted next to a picture of Boulmer beach, where my aunt and uncle have lived most of their lives. So we played on that beach most weekends.”
She said there are plenty of paintings on the Gazette in private collections, along with her other work.
“If I had a tip to give to any young folk, I think it’s that I find painting very difficult, a battle of low self-esteem, but the pursuit of trying, even though it’s so hard, has made for an interesting, full and challenging life,” she said.
“When life gets difficult, it holds you, because it’s your own world. Just baby steps, little by little, you find your own thing, and it could be literally anything, there are no rules.
“Be grateful for input, whether harsh or kind, grateful for someone taking the time, ultimately no one knows what’s going on inside of your head, not really, and you don’t know their life experience either.
“Things change, grow, reverse, so trust your instincts.
“Treasure the people who support you, and the ones that give you a hard time, they’re not for you, just gently let it go.
“It’s not a mark of success to earn a living from selling art, it’s a success to be making it.
“All the hundreds of art failures, they’re all part of it.
“Even though it’s disappointing, frustrating, try to be glad for the failures too, just a teeny bit.”
The exhibition at the Bailiffgate Museum is on until February 24.
See Thursday’s Gazette for an interview with Stella’s grandma Gladys.