Paintings document teacher's French move

Keiron PimRenovating a French holiday home is many people's dream and when former art teacher Bruce Rushin took the plunge, he decided to record the transformation through a series of paintings. He spoke to KEIRON PIM ahead of his new exhibition in Norwich.Keiron Pim

Five years ago Bruce Rushin and his family bought a dilapidated house in a village in western France. Today, after a scrupulous renovation on a shoestring budget, they have a second home in which they hope to spend an increasing amount of time in the coming years.

Just as some people take a diary on holiday with them to record their memories, Bruce always takes a sketchpad along when he goes away. Believed to be more than 200 years old, the house was a shell when they took it on, and now the restoration is almost complete.

Along the way, Bruce has created a record of the house and its environs in a series of paintings, which from will be displayed at Norwich's Assembly House this February.

Bruce, who lives at Horsford, near Norwich, was head of art at Flegg High School in Martham for 18 years.

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His design talents brought him into the public eye in 1996 when he won a national competition to design the new �2 coin.

'It came into general circulation in 1998 and for many years I told myself I would find a year when I would try to live on my own creativity,' he says.

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'My opportunity came in July 2008 when I left full-time teaching.'

Now he has made the most of the opportunity by arranging this exhibition, which opens on Monday, February 2, in Ivory's Caf� Bar at the landmark Norwich building.

While the paintings were created during the process of modernising the house, Bruce was often more concerned with capturing vestiges of the original building rather than documenting the changes he had made.

The results are delightfully evocative of the faded charms of rural France. Paintings depict the deep blue and white street signs, rusty hinges, painted wooden shutters, and light playing on roughly-hewn old stonework.

'As an artist, I'm often more taken by the peeling and decaying surfaces than the pristine new finish,' he says, 'so there is an element of mixed emotions in the renovation.

'All the paintings are of details of parts of the house - mainly un-restored bits because I prefer the worn look.

'We keep saying 'We must replace the gate', but as time goes by I love it more.

'At one point it was the mairie, the town hall.

'When we bought it, it was a shell and there were three sinks in the three downstairs rooms so you had no clue as to what function each room had.

'The exhibition is an exploration of this love of texture and surface in details from our house and the surrounding area.'

The house is in the Poitou-Charentes region of France.

One of the pleasures for Bruce has been exploring the local area and finding bits and pieces to use in the restoration - but he points out that he has also made good use of the internet and discount shops back here in Norfolk.

The emphasis has been on saving money wherever possible, which has put him in a better position than some British second home-owners, who have been left in a tight financial position by sterling's fall against the euro.

'We bought the property for a relative pittance and have conducted the renovation on a shoestring,' he says. 'While insisting on keeping the house's character, we have sourced our purchases very carefully, making good use of the internet. I usually use the cheapest ferry crossings, often late at night, and make use of any vouchers on offer.

'I thought it would take three years but it has been five years and is ongoing. I have loved every minute of it.'

t Bruce Rushin's exhibition is at the Assembly House, Theatre Street, Norwich, from February 2-27.

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