In his element
PUBLISHED: 08:05 05 May 2014
Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2014
Ask most 11-year-olds what their favourite colour is and they would say blue or pink or perhaps Canary yellow and green.
Ask Kieron Williamson and he says: “Raw Sienna, because it can go into any mix. I used to paint a wash of it before I started a watercolour”. For the uninitiated, Raw Sienna is a tan-brown colour, and Kieron is a world-famous artist.
He is the child prodigy who asked for a sketch pad at the age of five and began creating astonishingly beautiful and assured works of art. Six years later his paintings sell for up to £45,000. His atmospheric depictions of Norfolk rivers, broads and marshes hang on the walls of homes around the world. Confidentiality clauses prevent him saying exactly who, but celebrities and royalty collect his work.
And yet, although his fame and his paintings have travelled thousands of miles, Kieron himself has never been abroad. He loves the subtle, watery, light-infused landscapes of the Broads and his absolute favourite place is St Benet’s Abbey. “I like the history of it, and its position in the landscape,” explains Kieron. He also frequently paints at Blakeney and Morston, the resulting pictures glowing with a muted, rippling light.
“I try to paint out on location whenever I can because you are in the landscape and the work I paint out there will always have life to it,” he explains. “When I’m in the studio I will try and give the same sense of urgency to my painting, by the brush strokes.”
Fair-haired, slight, and softly-spoken with a good hint of Norfolk in his accent, Kieron is obviously a thinker as well as an artist. None of his paintings hang in the house, he says. “I don’t like looking at them because I know that I can do better.”
Neither his mother, Michelle, nor father, Keith, are artistic and until he was five Kieron enjoyed colouring-in as much as the next toddler and mainly drew dinosaurs, sharks and fire engines.
The family, including little sister Billie-Jo, lived in a first floor flat in Holt. Keith was a builder, Michelle a nurse and the only unusual note was an entry in Kieron’s baby book, about how he enjoyed looking at the paintings they had hanging in the flat. “He was born just before I was 30 and I spent my birthday money on pictures, Norfolk scenes,” explains Michelle.
Kieron still loves looking at pictures and has spent some of his fortune on art works by favourite painters. A football poster hangs above his bed but there are also paintings by Seago and Munnings.
Right now the family live in Trunch, but I meet them at the Ludham house they bought with a view to turning it into a gallery. Kieron helped choose it – thrilled to discover that his absolute favourite artist, Edward Seago, had lived close by and would have visited.
At home he enjoys watching television with his sister and listening to music with his dad. He is sporty too and loves football, swimming and cycling, and this summer hopes to learn to sail on the broads. “We are a really tight unit and we all work best when we are together – being out on the marshes, swimming at Winterton or Holkham beach,” says Michelle.
This would be Kieron’s first year at high school, but instead is being home schooled. It means he can paint when he needs to, which is often early in the morning when the light is magical and he is fizzing with a need to capture a scene. He admits to missing lunch-time kick-abouts but has discovered he loves writing too, and is currently several thousand words into a Gothic horror story.
The decision to home-school was a difficult one, says Michelle, but she used to work with children with learning disabilities and challenging behaviour, and realised the similarities in their own situation.
“I knew about meeting children where they were, and supporting them,” she says.
Billie-Jo is still at primary school and Michelle says: “She’s made it all possible. She’s a tonic, an absolute tonic. She’s not got a jealous bone in her body and she loves all the opportunities which Kieron’s situation has made possible.”
When Keith ruptured his Achilles tendon and was unable to return to work as a builder life was tough for the family, but they began turning their picture-buying hobby into a business.
It meant they had a little knowledge of the field when five-year-old asked for proper paper and paints and the phenomena began – but nothing like enough to prepare them for the maelstrom of publicity into which his genius propelled them.
Michelle talks of it as “a situation” and hates the idea that people think they are living off Kieron’s money.
“We have to make sure that all the decisions we make are in his best interests but how do you know what to charge for a child’s painting?” she asks. They were advised to begin with sealed bids and Kieron’s work now fetches anything between £1,000 and £45,000. But Michelle’s favourite of them all is a self-portrait, painted when he was just seven.
In July Kieron will exhibit new work alongside paintings by Seago, at the gallery where his bemused parents first took his astonishing pictures, looking for advice and help, and where his first exhibition sold out in minutes when he was just six.
My Idol and I will run, seven days a week, from July 18-30, at PictureCraft Gallery in Lees Yard, Holt.
Is it a lot of pressure, to be showing his works alongside his hero? “No, I will try to make them better than his!” Kieron laughs. It is a rare moment of ego from a chatty, charming child who answers questions, makes observations and explains how he paints – but cannot explain how he paints with such brilliance.