Inspired by nature and ecology, artist Peter Le Vasseur was born in Guernsey but was evacuated to London during the Second World War. Having forged a successful career as a painter, Le Vasseur returned to live in Guernsey in the 1970s, and still lives on the island today. Here, he shares his guide to what to do in St Peter Port, home to both The Old Government House Hotel and Spa and The Duke Richmond, as well as his memories of Guernsey past and present.
Can you tell us about your earliest memories of Guernsey?
“After the war, I came to Guernsey every summer to stay with my grandmother. Looking back, I remember days at the beach and huge family picnics. I was born in Guernsey, but I was only 18 months old when evacuated. We went to London because I had a great aunt who lived there and who looked after us until we found a bungalow, near the gas works and a munitions factory, with a railway running behind it. Quite a contrast to Guernsey!”
How did your career as an artist begin?
“I didn’t do well in my eleven plus and I was sent to a very rough London secondary school, where the chief hobby was beating each other up! One day, my class were working on a project on the Egyptians. The master went out of class and I organised everyone into making pyramids made of cardboard and sandpaper. When the master returned he saw what I’d done and asked me if I did artistic things at home. He requested that I brought in some of my paintings and after a meeting with my parents I was coached for the thirteen plus exam. Success in this exam led to tests for me to go to Harrow art school. I stayed at art school until I was 17, but my parents couldn’t afford for me to go into the Fine Art course and on to the Royal College of Art. I left school and went into advertising but still painted in my spare time. When I had accumulated enough pictures for an exhibition, I went round the London Galleries showing my work and the Portal Gallery in Mayfair accepted me for a shared show with another artist. This began a fruitful relationship with the Portal Gallery, which lasted until the early 1970s.”
You’ve travelled extensively, what is it about Guernsey that keeps you coming back?
“I like being part of a small community, where people know each other and care for each other. I enjoy the natural beauty of the island, the beaches, the cliffs, the birds, and in spring, the wild flowers. The peace and tranquillity, certainly in the Western Parishes where I live, makes it easier to think and to work.”
How does living in Guernsey inspire your artwork?
“I am interested in ecology and conservation and my work reflects this. The issues, which I try to present through my art, are more than local – they are global. There aren’t too many distractions in deep and darkest St Pierre du Bois, so I can be in my studio all day and never see anyone, which helps my focus.”
Describe your perfect day in Guernsey?
“I am not an early riser. Normally I am up and having breakfast at about 8am. I will generally begin work at about nine. I love it when the sun is shining and the birds are singing, or I can hear the family of pheasants that live in the fields near our cottage – it makes you feel good to be alive. I work until lunchtime. I only have a snack, sometimes with my wife if she comes home from the hospital, and sometimes alone. I work again until just before supper. If it’s summer, we will sit in the garden before we eat and enjoy a glass of wine, or we might go down to the beach and walk along the bay for a while. We have the most fantastic sunsets throughout the year, and I never get tired of enjoying them. I work Sundays, but Saturday is my wife’s day off, so we might go and wander around the shops in St Peter Port and have lunch in one of the amazing restaurants there. Sleep comes easy; as it’s so quiet out West, there’s nothing to keep you awake!”
Where do you usually take friends that are visiting from out of town?
“If people come from the English mainland to Guernsey, I always show them St Peter Port – it’s the jewel in the crown of Guernsey. If it’s the right season, I take them to the National Trust Orchid fields, which are near my house. A cultural must is the Guernsey Museum and Art Gallery, which also incorporates the Greenhouse Gallery. There’s a lot to see there, and lots of imaginative events. For history lovers, the Occupation Museum is a great place to visit. The Coach House Gallery in St Peter’s is always worth a visit as they show the work of a wide range of artists, so there is something for everyone.”
Can you tell us any local secrets that visitors don’t usually know about?
“I have already mentioned the Orchid Fields in St Pierre du Bois, which many people miss out on. Some of the coastal paths are not well known and turn up hidden treasures. The Vale Pond is also fascinating to visit and, if you are interested in birds, it’s a must-do. I would also recommend that visitors try just wandering through the lanes, being careful, of course, to make sure they know the way back!”
Are there any other artists from Guernsey that you admire?
“I think there are a number of very good artists in Guernsey. I like realistic work; I believe painting is a form of communication. Two of my current favourites are Mark Cooke, who is an extremely talented and versatile artist and I also like the work of Olympia McEwan.”