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After Hurtwood... Hattie Quigley – passionate portrait painter extraordinaire

Updated: Jun 3


What a breath of creative fresh air it was to catch up with the considerable talents of Hattie Quigley!  With impressive painting and portraiture experience already to her name, and with a gutsy determination to carve out a career doing what she loves: here was the ideal candidate for a (just) After Hurtwood catch-up  This is a girl in a hurry, who has already begun to make her name in the wider world, and, young though she is, has plenty of invaluable advice to share with our present budding artists.  In spite of a busy agenda, she generously makes time to share her story over a WhatsApp call, and her passion and commitment is instantly obvious, and infectious.

 

So Hattie left Hurtwood in the rather abrupt anti-climax of Covid lockdown, early in 2020.  Cut off and unable to say proper farewells, she was nevertheless determined to make the most of the weird hiatus, which allowed her to build on her portfolio of work and extend her capacity to earn money from a growing flow of commissions, as well as fitting in, ultimately, some brilliant gap-year travel.  But we race ahead – I did say that this is a gal in a hurry – so let’s stroll before we run, and start at the beginning.   Word of mouth recommendation (she had heard great things about both the school and the Art department) saw her arriving at Hurtwood in 2018, with a portfolio that swiftly earned her a mutually rewarding scholarship.  Hattie is at once fulsome in her praise, describing her time at Hurtwood as ‘the golden pathway’ towards fulfilling her ambitions, determined as she clearly is to make her way in the world as a painter.  She particularly valued the expertise and encouragement she found here; the approach, she tells me, was across the board, always ‘totally professional’.  From the start, she felt that she was being guided towards the highest of standards and expectations of the working world itself.  This clearly suited a budding young artist who had already started working to commissions, something that has grown steadily along the way.   Alongside Art A-level she studied Theatre and Photography, both of which consolidated skills that have been vital building blocks in moving forward.  Hattie positively bubbles with enthusiasm about what she gained with Tom and Simon in Photography, as being so much more than just the capacity to collate and record subject matter for her work.  It encouraged her to ‘observe’ her subjects more closely, helping also with curating images, and remaining to this day a central part of her practice.   She also thoroughly relished her work for Theatre A-level in all its forms, including the challenges of Acting Company with Ezra, again appreciative of the exacting professional standards that were demanded of her.  It is already proving invaluable to her: unlike some of her peers, she is not intimidated by the need to ‘sell’ her talents, but rather seems to positively relish the opportunity ‘to pitch her ideas’ within the commercial reality of the art world. ‘I miss drama’, she sighs, but I suggest that she seems already to have squeezed quite a lot of drama into the past few years since leaving us.  She agrees. 



In terms of her two years’ boarding, she has plenty of happy memories of her time at Hurtwood, and life at Cornhill.  I press her for some humorous memories, but even these reflect something of her passionate commitment to artistic practice.  How?  Well, she’s not proud, and is even apologetic, but confesses her frequent smoking offences on the path between the main school and the Art block.  It was, she tells me, how you chewed over the creative challenges: part of the process, apparently.  Of course it was – and nothing to do with being a rebellious teenager, and part of the cat-and-mouse game with teachers, I think.  Either way, this is not what she is remembered for at school, which is, of course, her talent and commitment.  


Back to business.  When it comes to Ali and the Art department, Hattie is fulsome in her praise for all the stimulation, advice and encouragement that she was given across the board.  She remains grateful to this day to Dawn who pushed her towards the Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year competition in 2020 (series 7) and remembers the excitement of the call she got, telling her that she had earned a place.  She was in the car with her mum, returning home from the school trip (with Dawn) to New York, and she could hardly believe her ‘luck’.  


One has only to look at Hattie’s work, even at this point in her life, to see that this had more to do with talent than luck.  She recalls being thrown into the complex intersection of the art and media worlds in the Sky programme (which has proved highly successful, and an annual event) just as the pandemic meant that she had to grow up fast and face the inquisition of camera and questions without the usual support of family and friends.  

 


She loved it, and certainly was indeed ‘lucky’ in her celebrity painting challenge: the actor Paul Mescal, about to become official pin-up of lockdown drama in his starring role in Normal People.  How does she feel about the fact that he chose to take her portrait home with him?  I leave that up to you.  Hattie makes clear that she was bowled over by the whole experience.  Clearly, she had no sense up to that point that her work was ‘up there’, although she had never wavered in her belief that art would be the centre of her career journey.   She describes feeling humbled by the experience but also encouraged, sensing her right to be proud of being part of this world; both elements have proved integral in her growing self-belief, her realisation that you have to put yourself forward, have a go, sell yourself. 



Meanwhile, lockdown, that much mythologised ‘time out’, certainly seems to have supercharged Hattie.  Having already earned commissions – for portraits of pets and people – from friends and teachers, she now committed herself to her little studio in the garden from 8am till late, building her portfolio on Instagram, establishing clear pricing patterns.  Alongside word of mouth, she was kept very busy, earning enough to fund some glorious gap travel once lockdown ended. 


So on to Edinburgh College of Art to study Painting.  Ironically, this had not been her first choice. Inspired, she tells me, ‘like so many others’ by the artist Jenny Saville, Glasgow Art School had been her aim.  However, like other fortuitous intersections of her career journey thus far, she positively fizzes with enthusiasm and praise for her graduate experience to date, not least in the way that she has been encouraged from day one to aim for real-world outlets for her work.  One of the most interesting outcomes of this has seen her earn the title of under-25 Young Scottish Portrait Artist of 2023, with her painting Squeeze, which literally seems to drip with joyous sensuality.   The accolades and exposure that have accompanied this achievement are invaluable and include membership of the Scottish Arts Club, Edinburgh, as well, of course, as giving vital exposure to her winning portrait which has been touring Scotland over the last year.  This has certainly helped her consolidate her confidence and is reflected in her advice.  ‘You’ve got to get out there,’ she tells me.  ‘No one’s going to believe in you if you don’t believe in yourself.  They are not going to come to you.’



Enough of the journey thus far – time to look at the work.  It is remarkable: often provocative, always viscerally present, with a texture and literal substance that draws you in.  Faces, women, food, pleasure, defiance, autonomy: I was delighted to probe Hattie about both her subject matter and her aims.  She has clearly given this much serious thought, analysing the direction and implications of her own choices.  Unsurprisingly, she foregrounds ‘feminist food studies’ as an influence, although she identifies the fact that growing up with ‘rugby-playing brothers’, greedy and unabashed by the pleasures of eating, she had long been troubled about the way that this freedom seemed to be largely denied to women.  She found herself in her paintings bringing them out of the kitchen and their role as providers, and into gloriously sensuous centre stage.  Take a look.  Her women are comfortably themselves, and they sure look like they are having their own kind of fun.  Hattie works always in oils by choice, she tells me, rather than acrylics, valuing the sensuous way that oils can be moulded and worked over and over, to give form to her ideas and vision.  She generally works on a number of pieces at a time, revisiting and remoulding until she is satisfied.  I would love her to talk me through more paintings, but this is one busy student, with a clear eye on fulfilling the challenges of graduate study in such a prestigious institution as Edinburgh.  Her immediate aims?  To do herself proud in her degree show, she answers unequivocally.  She would love to think that she might have a shot ultimately at joining the ‘best of the best’ that is the New Contemporaries, but no sooner has she expressed this, than she puts it to one side to focus on the immediate and the practical.  

 

“Don’t get me wrong,’ she demurs; ‘I’m not expecting fame and riches.’   What she calls her ‘high aspirations’ are clearly balanced between ‘people-pleasing work’ that is already commercially viable, and the sense that the very considerable demands of her course are helping her ‘discover (her) own practices’ and clarify her aims. She wants the privilege of exploring her own ideas, and, as she told me initially: the chance to earn her living doing what she loves.  Phew.  Hattie is phenomenal: full of life, talent and drive, and generous enough to make time to share her career path onward from Hurtwood. Are we proud?  You bet we are. This is a girl to watch, and an artist to take seriously.  Go, Hattie, go!

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