Joy Bryant was born in 1931 in north London, where she lived for a year before she came to settle in Ladywell, Lewisham, where she still lives today. During the war she was evacuated to Lambourn Woodlands, Berkshire. From the age of 14 she worked in a cigarette factory, where she met her husband, Eddie. She then went on to work at Boots the Chemists until her daughter, Julia, was born in 1966. She stayed at home for 11 years, looking after Julia and her second daughter, Karen. Since then she has worked as a cleaner and dinner lady at local schools, retired for a year, and then gone on to work at Christ the King Sixth Form College, where she has been for 17 years. In 2007 her portrait was exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery in the BP Portrait Award.
The artist explained: 'I’ve known Joy for over 20 years. I attended Kingston Art School with her daughter and my best friend, Julia. Whilst at college, I would often stay with them and Joy would always make me feel most welcome in a wonderful old-fashioned way, offering up great quantities of food at regular intervals. She’s incredibly down to earth, takes things as they come, likes cakes and never complains. She has got up at 5am for work every weekday for 30 years. She has lived in her mid-Victorian house for 70 years and always seems quite content. The house is like a portal from the past and I tried to convey this in the background around Joy because she is such a part of her surroundings. She didn’t mind at all being the subject of my painting and sat patiently. She has beautiful fine translucent skin – the envy of anyone even half her age. She often wears bright colours and I liked the fuchsia t-shirt against the bright green door. I work in egg tempera, which is powdered pigment with egg yolk. The more layers you lay down, the more intense the colours become – like light through stained glass. When I asked her what she thought of her finished portrait she laughed and said: “It shows all me veins up!”'
Where to see this painting?
Girton College, University of Cambridge
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More on this painting
on loan from the Royal Society of Portrait Painters (P)