As a painter and draughtsman, Pamela Kay considers herself to work in the French tradition of Chardin, Ingres and Fantin-Latour. She is best known for still life subjects that often open out to include interiors and gardens, though she also produces landscapes and portraits. In addition, she has worked as a designer, illustrator, teacher and writer on art. Pamela Kay was born on the Isle of Sheppey, Kent, the daughter of Sidney Kay and his wife, Joy (née Savage). She studied at Canterbury College of Art for four years under Christopher Alexander, Alec Vickerman and Eric Hurren. During her time there, she worked part-time for two years as a studio assistant to John Ward, and he proved to be her mentor and most influential teacher.
Her tasks for Ward included modelling for the figures in his illustrations to Laurie Lee’s Cider with Rosie (which was published in 1959). In 1960, while still at Canterbury, she exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts for the first time.
Though painting was her main focus at Canterbury, Pamela Kay also studied textile design, winning a Sanderson wallpaper competition and showing work at the Design Centre. She went on to study design for three years at the Royal College of Art, and won a Cotton Board Design Award and travel scholarships. In 1963, she married Anthony Bryan, and they settled at 15 Castle Hill Avenue, Folkestone, Kent. Their children include the studio potter, Victoria Bryan.
On graduating, Pamela Kay launched a freelance practice, producing paper and fabric designs, which were produced by Tibor Reich, David Whitehead, The Irish Linen Mills, Liberty and John Lewis, among others. She was appointed Head of the Design Production Department at John Lewis, but decided not to take the position, preferring to concentrate on painting from the mid 1970s, by which time she was living at 19 Northdown Avenue, Cliftonville. She was eventually elected to the Royal Society of Painters in Water-Colours (ARWS 1983, RWS 1986), the Royal Society of British Artists (1984) and the New English Art Club (1985). From that time, she held regular solo shows with London dealers, first the Medici Gallery (1985 & 1986) and then Chris Beetles Gallery (1987 & 1988). From the late 1980s, she also illustrated books, notably for children, including editions of Edith Nesbit’s The Railway Children (1989) and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden (1991).
From 1990, Pamela Kay exhibited with the Catto Gallery, Hampstead, and the Richard Hagen Gallery, Broadway, Worcestershire. She has held other major solo shows at the Bankside Gallery (1993 & 2000) and in Durham (1997) and Canterbury (1998), the last as the Festival Artist for the Canterbury Festival. She has travelled widely – including the Mediterranean, the Baltic, the Middle East and Asia – and has exhibited the resulting watercolours.
As an educator, Pamela Kay has taught part-time at the School of Architecture, Canterbury, has written regular articles for Leisure Painter and The Artist, and has published Pamela Kay – A Personal View – Gouache (1995).
Further reading: Michael Spender, Pamela Kay, Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 1993