Having trained at Glasgow School of Art (GSA) and Hospitalfield College of Art, Arbroath, Eardley was awarded scholarships by GSA and the Royal Scottish Academy which allowed her to travel in France and Italy. She began to draw and paint children on her return to Glasgow in 1949. Three years later she moved to a studio at 204 St James Road in Townhead in the city centre, which she was to maintain until her premature death in 1963. It was on the second floor, wedge-shaped with large windows and a glazed roof and was described as being ‘filled with pictures, sketches and drawings of the neighbourhood and its occupants.’1
The area, of mixed residential and light industrial use, was overcrowded and dilapidated. However, Eardley was drawn to its vibrancy and closeknit community. She explained ‘I like the friendliness of the back streets. Life is at its most uninhibited here. Dilapidation is often more interesting to a painter as is anything that has been used and lived with.’2 Eardley was able to champion and memorialise the neighbourhood in its post-war guise even as the wide-scale demolition of the Clyde Valley Regional Plan began in the early 1960s.
Eardley became a regular sight in the streets, sketching buildings, people and scenes of daily life in chalks and pastels, which she then worked up into paintings in the studio. She was also rarely without a camera, which provided a way in which to capture, for example, the games, squabbles and other interactions between the local youngsters who spent much of their time outside.
The Yellow Jumper of 1963 is an outstanding example of Eardley’s paintings of the children of Townhead. As Patrick Elliott has pointed out, it was in the mid-1950s that Eardley’s interest in depicting children gathered momentum.3 She explained ‘I have a studio in Glasgow off Parliamentary Road and some of the children living in the district used to watch me at work. I thought it would be a good idea to paint them. There was only one difficulty – if they didn’t sit still I couldn’t paint them.’4
This difficulty was overcome by the willingness of the twelve children of the Samson family - who lived nearby - to model for her. Ann Samson remembered: ‘To get to her studio you went up a spiral stair…She gave us paper to draw and toys to keep us quiet. ”Sit in peace” she’d say as she was drawing us…We used to get 3d off Joan for posing for her and went to Miss Bickett’s to buy sweets…She was really serious…She was never cheeky or angry.’5
Two of Ann’s Samson siblings are the sitters in The Yellow Jumper. It comes from a celebrated series that Eardley began in the early 1960s, depicting two children positioned in front of a wall. This was often, as can be seen here, the red wall of the scrap-metal business on the ground-floor beneath her studio. The word ‘METAL’ in The Yellow Jumper is a direct quotation from the graffiti-surrounded advertising upon it and was applied using an old set of stencils.
Indeed, The Yellow Jumper contains all the elements which have been described as the key themes in Eardley’s figurative work: ‘The bright…ground…studded with a collage of sweet-paper wrappers, foil from cigarette packets and newspaper scraps. The worn letters of the…shop-fronts has been stencilled on. The oddly patterned clothes speak of the hand-me-down items we see in Eardley’s own photographs and sketches of the children and create an intense visual texture.’6 The flotsam and jetsam of Glasgow street life have been collected and used in the creation of the work and she even pressed into the support, applying literal graffiti to the painting rather than simply depicting it. Film footage of Eardley painting a closely related work shows the speed, energy and physicality with which she worked.7 She often re-used canvases and there is a painting of Glasgow tenements on the reverse of The Yellow Jumper.
The painting’s square format focusses attention on the half-length children, who gazed directly at the artist and now at the viewer. Their ease and intimacy is clear in a pose in which they wrap their arms around each other and press themselves together. Eardley’s use of paint and colour to layer up, for example, facial features and to describe clothing, as well as to re-create the surfaces and atmosphere of the outdoor world, is extraordinary. Her expressiveness borders on the abstract in some passages of this vibrant and masterful image.
The Yellow Jumper is closely related to Two Children, c.1962 and Two Children before Lettered Wall, 1963 (both Private Collection), which were shown in the National Galleries of Scotland 2016 exhibition Joan Eardley: A Sense of Place, and to Brian and Pat Samson, on long-loan to Gracefield Arts Centre, Dumfries from the Walker Family.
We are grateful to Ann Samson and Jan Patience for their help in researching this work.
0131 557 8844
0131 557 8844