I failed miserably at in art at school, but not for want of trying. My best effort was due to poor technique – an elephant screen print where the screen became clogged with ink and resulted in a varied texture rather than a block of grey – actually pretty good! Do we all have an artist deep down inside of us? I’m not convinced, but if you don’t look you’ll never find it and if you don’t share it maybe you’ll never know as of course whether it’s art or not is in the eye of the beholder. I’m reminded of my childhood where with an old wind-up gramophone loaded with a sheet of paper we’d throw paint on at 78rpm and create ‘spin paintings’ probably before Damien Hurst was a twinkle in his mother’s eye! Ours were square with a hole in the middle but I think we got there first! But is it art?
Anne Henriksen, 67, ran a crafts shop, worked in the theatre and spent 20 years driving taxis. But she only found her role in life after seeing some stone carvings in an Indonesian temple
Anne Henriksen dreamed of becoming an artist throughout her life. Now, at 67, she says she has finally become “the artist I always felt I was inside”.
Henriksen grew up in Sweden, but the family moved around a lot. “Every year and a half, Dad would apply for higher and higher jobs.” Her father wanted Henriksen to go to university. But when she changed schools at 15, she became unsettled and her grades began to slip.
“Then, just before school finished, I was in a fatal car accident,” she says. Her friend was driving and they picked up two hitchhikers. “Suddenly, somebody came fast round the bend. It was a narrow road and we went into the ditch – a very deep, long ditch. There was a bridge, a telephone pole …”
Henriksen sat in the ambulance with one of the hitchhikers, who was “pouring blood”. Later, he died. Henriksen “got away very lightly – with slight concussion and a cut on the shoulder”, but everything she understood about life and her place in it changed.
“I thought: ‘I don’t have time to do A-levels and consider becoming a doctor. How can I commit to 10 years of studies when I may not be alive next week?’ Do you see how that could change everything?”
She persuaded her father to let her go to a boarding school about 700 miles away, in northern Sweden, which offered the arts. She stayed there for a year and tried silkscreen printing, ceramics and jewellery-making.
Everything she understood about life and her place in it changed
“I did that for a year” is a refrain of Henriksen’s. Over the next decade or so, she trained to become a nurse, then a youth worker, opened and closed a craft shop, went Interrailing, studied social and political studies on a course for Scandinavian trade unionists, and joined a commune on the Yorkshire moors, where she did woodwork, patching and darning, and worked in a cooperative. At 25, she had a daughter, Jade.
Clearly, she was adventurous and open to new experiences. But was Henriksen searching for something with all these changes? Had she acknowledged to herself that she wanted to be an artist?
“I don’t think I dared to dream that big,” she says. “That seemed beyond my capabilities.”
After Henriksen parted with Jade’s father, she took her daughter back to Sweden. More jobs followed: she worked as a courier and a taxi driver, and spent two years as a props person in a theatre. But the yearning to explore herself as an artist grew.
At 37, she returned to England, with Jade, to start a higher national diploma at Plymouth College of Art and Design. While finishing her art degree, in which she specialised in large-scale metalworks, she worked as a taxi driver – trading as Anna’s Taxis – in Totnes, Devon, a job she continued to do for the next 20 years. But something still wasn’t right.
“I realised I wasn’t good enough,” she says. At the graduation show, she sold nothing. It must have been a painful realisation. But Henriksen says: “It was valuable.”
She continued to drive the taxi and holidayed each winter, always visiting museums and galleries on her trips. In Indonesia, in 2006, she saw the Borobudur Buddhist temple, where the stone carvings made a huge impression on her. “It was Indonesia that made me think I could do it,” she says. By then, she was 51 and she had “tried virtually everything else”.
Eventually, Henriksen enrolled in sculpture classes in Devon. She continued with her taxi business and if the phone rang and the fare was large enough, she left class to take it. At 63, she exhibited at Delamore Arts in Ivybridge, Devon, and sold her first sculpture. Now retired from driving, she continues to sculpt in her back garden, and exhibits and sells pieces. Next month, her work will be on show at Lupton House with Devon’s Art Bank Collective.
“I am having the best time in my life, ever. I can do what I like. I’m happy. I’ve achieved what I wanted.”
Henriksen has finally found her medium. “It’s the sound,” she says. “Tap, tap, tap, tap. None of those angle-grinders and bashing big things … You work until something is smooth and the curves look right.”