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Margaret Pepper is one of many artists taking part in this year’s Woodford Festival. Here, the local painter explains what led her to produce what is often controversial work

I have been asked to contribute some thoughts on the Woodford Festival art trail, in which I began taking part around 2008. 

To make some sense of my art, I need to explain my background. I was born male in 1944, lived near Soho until 1967 when I moved to Woodford and got married. The first time I ever painted anything was around 1976, a period in my life when everything went wrong at the same time, and I found painting gave me a form of at least partial escape from my troubles.

By the beginning of 2002, I suddenly found myself alone, and being trans promptly took control. I had sex reassignment surgery in March 2004. By 2005 I had retired from work and decided to paint a picture for my mantelpiece. I suddenly found I was able to work in a much more fluid way that saw my creative energy explode as never before. Within weeks, I painted anything that came into my mind, and I now look back and realise how good painting was as therapy – a way of expressing one’s thoughts and feelings. Soon, I began to exhibit my paintings at parties and nightclubs, and then cafes and restaurants in Soho. 

By 2009 I became involved with the Royal Free Hospital and sat on one of their consultants’ group committees, where we produced an NHS staff booklet. I was asked to use my paintings to illustrate this publication. Later, I was told this was reprinted 1.3 million times. About the same time, I got to know some filmmakers, and took part in a film entitled Latecomers, which appeared on Vimeo and was also shown in various cinemas in the London area. Since then, I have given talks to invited audiences, generally around east London.

I had made it my habit to visit as many art galleries as possible, and to talk to the dealers, who told me to get into social media, something I was initially reluctant to do as I felt it rather adolescent. But about a year ago (with the help of a friend who’s a computer expert), I began to go on Twitter, and was taken aback at the reaction I got from people who feel their opinions count for nothing and that they themselves feel powerless and forgotten.

Many of my recent artworks may be considered controversial, but I make no apology for any offence caused. 

In a way, this brings us to what is the whole purpose of art in the first place. Is it to inspire, educate, amuse or, as I feel, move the soul? Why paint a picture when you can simply take a photograph? Surely, the aim of an artist is to express that which cannot be photographed in the normal fashion, and perhaps push boundaries into new territories not yet explored? I must state I am constantly seeking that purely original idea no one has yet come up with in art.

To return to 2008, when the Woodford Festival idea came up, I was only too eager to join in, and have taken part ever since.

I must say, I am surprised at the amount of talent in our neighbourhood. Not just in the visual arts, but pottery, music and drama, and also the number of diverse venues that take part, such as local churches and shops, as well as people opening up their private residences.

This year, I intend to see some new artists, and wish them all the best of luck in expressing their ideas.

Art is much harder than it looks!

The Woodford Festival 2018 will take place at a range of local venues from 6 to 14 October. For more information on Margaret’s work, visit conceptualpainting.com

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