Blog
The Buck stopped here

The Buck stopped here is a weekly blog by our contemporary art correspondent Louisa Buck covering the hottest events and must-see exhibitions in London and beyond

The mysterious Hermione: Andy Holden and Jarvis Cocker celebrate unknown British artist with homemade wine and mix-tapes

Andy Holden has painted the exhibition space to match the imagined retrospective that features in one of Hermione's paintings Photo: Louisa Buck

With disarming frankness artist Andy Holden has extended his show of paintings by the artist Hermione Burton until 3 November due to “phenomenally small attendance”. Certainly, Holden’s new exhibition space next to his studio in the town of Bedford, just north of London, is a little off-piste for most contemporary art followers: but his inaugural exhibition called The Estate of Hermione is well worth the trip.

Holden first discovered the work of this hitherto unknown local artist by chance last year when a friend found a work in a Bedford charity shop. Since then he tracked down around 20 pieces from Hermione’s oeuvre in house clearances and other outlets and piecing together the story of this exceptional woman who was born in the English town of Aylesbury in 1925 and who died in Bedford around 1990. Over her lifetime she lived in Ramsgate in England as well as New Mexico, Michigan and California in the US before finally settling back in Bedfordshire. She wrestled with lifelong rheumatic heart disease and survived one of the earliest instances of open-heart surgery in the 1960s.

It was when her US serviceman husband was stationed in Michigan that Hermione began to attend art classes. Over three decades her work became ever-more poignant and peculiar as it charted her increasingly interconnected inner and outer life in a variety of styles and techniques. The finale of the show is Hermione’s painting of an imagined retrospective and Holden has painted the floor and walls of his space to match the imagined gallery in the picture.

Jarvis Cocker was one of the few to make an early pilgrimage to Holden’s Ex-Baldessarre space (named after the building’s previous upholstery occupants). The trip inspired the musician and outsider art enthusiast to make a two-hour Songs for Hermione mixtape in response to these strange and intense works. As well as Cocker’s atmospheric back track—which spans the sounds of Burt Bacharach and Nancy Sinatra as well as the Swingle Singers’ re-mastered Fuge in C Major by Bach—the viewing experience is further enhanced by the special home-made wine on offer, harvested by Holden from the vines that frame the entrance to the space. All in all, certainly worth a trip north.