These paintings were made for the exhibition ‘Fenella Fielding: Actress‘ curated by Fionn Wilson and Simon McKay.

“Before starting my paintings I met with Simon McKay to visit Fenella’s former home in Turnham Green. Her flat was largely as she had left it, and while Simon and I chatted over a bowl of soup, it struck me that it seemed as though Fenella had only momentarily left the room. There were signs of her presence everywhere: scarves draped over a mirror to be put on again later; her jewellery and make-up – including her signature eyelashes – were on her dressing table ready to be reapplied for another appearance; and perhaps most poignant of all, traces of lipstick on her toothbrush in the bathroom. Simon told me much about her, and sitting in those surroundings I felt that Fenella was someone I wanted to know and I longed to find out more about her.

As I left, Simon gave me a copy of Fenella’s biography ’Do you mind if I smoke?’ written in close collaboration with him. I began to read the book as soon as I boarded the train home. The title refers to the infamous scene in ‘Carry on Screaming’ which is also the title and subject of the paintings I made in dedication to Fenella.

This scene, during which Fenella writhes seductively, simultaneously sultry and comedic, and in which she quite literally smokes, was the perfect subject for me. Of course, Fionn Wilson knew that. I frequently use film stills in my work, focussing tightly on the actor’s face for emphasis. I carefully selected three frames which I felt epitomise her beauty, talent, and the clear sense of fun she exuded, for my three paintings.

Simon also gave me an audio copy of the book, recited by Fenella herself. I usually listen to music while I paint, but when I made these paintings, Fenella’s famously distinctive voice filled my studio. I played it over and over again whilst I painted her, making for an intense, contemplative experience, with Fenella as the focus of my thoughts. These three works therefore became paintings of her, and about her.”

Natalie Dowse – Nov 2022