So what’s it like to teach art to two national treasures? Telegraph journalist, Ros Belford, talks to her friend, artist and interior designer, Alicia Zimnickas.
When Cambridge artist Alicia Zimnickas was asked to give a painting lesson to Great Canal Journey presenters, Gyles Brandreth and Sheila Hancock, she said ‘Yes,’ then rang me and asked if I’d ever heard of them.
‘Do you know what a National Treasure is?’
Alicia has lived in Cambridge for ten years, but she was born in Poland, and despite speaking perfect English ‘Just A Minute’ had apparently passed her by.
I called by after the filming to see how it went.
‘So how were they as students?’
‘I think it was good I didn’t know how famous they were,’ said Alicia, ‘if I’d known them from TV and radio, I would have been far more nervous. As it was, Sheila treated me exactly as if I was an old friend, and Gyles started joking straight away. They put me completely at my ease.’
‘It was cold, windy and rainy and the weather was absolutely horrible. I had started painting before they arrived, and I remember Sheila looking at my painting, which had yellows, blues, grey, even violet, and then looking at the sky and asking how on earth I could see those colours in the grey. That did make me think. I realised that my attitude to life is always to try to be positive, and so when I paint, I can probably see beyond the superficial dullness to what is brighter. If you think about artists like David Hockney, he can see bright pinks, purples, turquoise in a muddy brown Yorkshire field. Or Turner, the artist of light. Being an artist of light is probably what I aspire to.’
‘Sheila was so cold and wet. I realised she is the kind of person who expects herself to do the things she does really WELL. She looked at what she had painted, and said ‘People like you should paint, not me. I don’t do mediocre.’ Gyles was completely the opposite. He was dying to have a go, and he threw himself into it, laughing and joking despite the weather. He was confident too, and I was quite amazed at the result — it was really beautiful. Is there anything this man can’t do? I looked at his website…WRITER, SPEAKER, BROADCASTER, ACTOR, MP…do we now have to add ARTIST to the list?’
‘And what do you remember most about the day?’
‘Sheila’s hypnotic blue eyes. I don’t usually do portraits, but how I would love to paint the light in Sheila’s eyes. ‘