Visiting as a visitor
Today me and my family went to Powis Castle to the private view of a new collection of paintings by Matthew Wood, current artist in residence at Powis Castle. Matthew is the Course Leader for the Foundation Degree in Contemporary Art Practice at Shrewsbury College so that is how I managed to get myself an invite. He has painted a large body of interiors and exteriors in oil and gouache from in and around the castle over the last few months. These were mostly on display in the cafe with some dotted around the castle too.
While we were there, as well as admiring the paintings, we took a look around the castle as it had been six months since we’d all been there as a family. The castle was very busy on this wet and wintery May Saturday afternoon and we jostled around the rooms with all the other visitors.
It was interesting to me how instantly I recognised ‘my’ objects as we went around the castle: Lady Henrietta’s portrait, the clock in the Blue Drawing Room, View of Verona by Bellotto, the State Bedroom, the picket post and the pangolin. As I saw each object I felt a surge of affection for them. They seem so familiar to me now. I feel as if a part of them are ‘mine’ as I have photographed them, studied them, talked about them and drawn them in such detail over the last few months.
This feeling was even more intense as we wondered down the Long Gallery towards ‘my’ Roman Cat. There he was, sitting in the dimmed afternoon light, being noticed by passers by and described to a fellow visitor to Powis by a guide. I stood nearby pretending that I hadn’t met him before and I am glad that I did. The guide, in her telling of the now familiar story of the cat’s origins, mentioned to the visitor that the snake the cat is gripping has no head. I hadn’t noticed this before! I’ve drawn nine pictures of this cat from different angles. I’ve taken video footage and photographs of him. I’ve sat and studied him in detail yet I had failed to notice that the snake had no head! This made me doubt that I had studied the cat enough. How could I have missed this detail? This intrigued me.
The visitor who was admiring the cat listened intently to the story and admired the cat’s fur and fierce expression. I wanted to ask him more about his impressions of the cat. I would very much like to ask visitors about the cat, if I can get permission from the staff at Powis.
It was also interesting to note my children’s response to the cat. They knew him mostly through hearing the interviews and watching me drawing him. My middle son said ‘I thought he’d be much bigger’. My youngest son said ‘he’s scary’. They seemed genuinely interested to see the ‘real’ Roman Cat after hearing me talk about him and observing me studying him through various media. My husband didn’t seem too impressed with him.
After seeing the cat we didn’t linger for long, the cafe and a hot cup of tea were calling.