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North East artist Charles Evans tells of his festive delights

Painter Charles Evans speaks to David Whetstone about Christmas, the time for relaxation

North East artist Charles Evans
North East artist Charles Evans

One man who relishes Christmas is Charles Evans, the busy Northumberland painter who also knows a thing or two about food.

Champagne for breakfast and turkey “with all the trimmings” are pretty much guaranteed, but a spot of snow would be the icing on the cake (he’s partial to a bit of that, too).

Charles loves to see the countryside turned into a winter wonderland. “As a painter you always hope for snow because you want to paint snow scenes,” he says.

One of his Christmas cards this year shows his house in Acklington village looking hugely appealing beneath a dusting of the stuff.

In The Journal’s monthly Culture magazine, Charles has been a regular presence throughout the year, drawing on his two areas of expertise as a reviewer of food who – fortified by his now trademark double espresso – also paints the pub in which he has dined, or sometimes a scene not too far away.

Anyone who has visited Charles’s website will see what a busy life he leads, hosting workshops and painting holidays not only at his own home but across the country and even overseas.

Next year’s diary is evidently filling up fast.

It’s a miracle Charles finds the time to paint and it’s fortunate for him that he can respond quickly to what’s in front of him.

In this respect he’s the perfect watercolour painter, master of a quick-drying medium that requires a lightning response.

But what does a painter who’s also a discerning foodie do at this special time of the year?

“Christmas is the time when I don’t do anything workwise,” he says.

“I’m still a big daft kid when it comes to Christmas. I just love the whole thing and start looking forward to it the moment December comes.

Charles Evans's painting of his own house in Northumberland
Charles Evans's painting of his own house in Northumberland
 

“Everyone likes getting presents and cards, don’t they?

“I also like getting a Christmas tree with roots so after Christmas is over I can plant it in my field out the back of the house.

“I’m looking forward to having a plantation out there before I die.

“The first Christmas I had in this house was 22 years ago and the first Christmas tree was a spindly thing about five feet tall. It’s now about 35ft with a trunk you can only just get your arms around.”

Charles could sit at home painting all the time and still not satisfy public demand. “I’m in the fortunate position of never being able to get enough paintings together for an exhibition,” he says.

“At the moment I’ve just got four or five paintings in the gallery. They just get sold straight away. My next big painting project is for my next book, which is about boats and harbours. It’ll have about 24 pictures and it should come out in the middle of next year.”

For now Charles is putting the brushes and easel down. He is, though, planning to add to his phenomenal annual mileage.

“I’m going up to the Scottish Highlands to stay with my mate Badger and his wife.

“They’re both East Enders, from London, but they live near Fort Augustus and have a house on the bank of Loch Ness.

“On Christmas morning, at nine o’clock, we’ll drink Champagne. Later we’ll have turkey and two racks of pork and then we’ll probably fall asleep in front of an old James Bond film.”

It wasn’t always like this, Charles reminds me. “When I was in catering I didn’t have Christmas or New Year off for about 23 years because I was always working. Christmas just meant hard work.”

Charles was brought up in Ledsham, a village in West Yorkshire, and went into catering after leaving art college because he couldn’t envisage making a living as a painter.

He was a head chef at the age of 22, then joined the RAF where catering was taken very seriously indeed. Charles competed in catering contests and won a top prize at Olympia three years running.

Artist Charles Evans at home in his Studio/Workshop
Artist Charles Evans at home in his Studio/Workshop
 

After leaving the RAF he went into business, establishing four restaurants.

Eventually, though, he tired of the relentless hours, came to the North East and returned to his first love, painting.

Reflecting on frenetic Christmasses past, he says he’s seen all the turkey mishaps (too big for the oven is a common one). But he does remember a particularly nerve-wracking time when he was working at an exclusive country club where hundreds had booked for Christmas dinner.

“My boss had got a fabulous deal on turkeys but nobody knew they hadn’t been plucked or dressed. I sat two apprentice chefs in an outbuilding and they sat there plucking as fast as they could.”

Turkey these days brings no feelings of dread. Charles hopes his will be accompanied by a bit of beef and pork and vegetables with an al dente crunch.

Well he remembers the schoolfriend who came to dinner and didn’t recognise cauliflower because his mum always served it as grey sludge.

Afterwards there will be Christmas cake and cheese in front of the telly. “I like sweet and sour. I’m one of those people who likes a bit of marmalade with their sausage.”

Come New Year’s Eve and Charles will be off to one of his favourite haunts, The Cook and Barker Inn at Newton-on-the-Moor. “Superb pub. They’ll have a really good band and it’ll be a cracking night.

“I might have to find someone to drive me home.”

Then, fun over, Charles will be back at the easel again.

Although you can’t help suspecting Charles has fun whatever he’s doing. www.charlesevansart.com

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