Any medals for Olympic Orbit?

Sutton St Edmund artist Betty Spektorov in her studio. Photo (MIKE DAVISON): SG100412-445MD
Sutton St Edmund artist Betty Spektorov in her studio. Photo (MIKE DAVISON): SG100412-445MD

LONDON 2012 will be remembered for many things – medals won and great sportsmanship – but it might also be associated in many people’s minds with a large red sculpture resembling a helter skelter.

The tangle of steel that is Orbit, a permanent artwork at the Olympic Park, has been talked about almost as much as the Games themselves.

However, one opinion probably holds more weight than a lot of the chatter: that of the artist Anish Kapoor’s former tutor, Bette Spektorov, now living in Sutton St Edmund.

Bette, a visual artist in her own right with a studio next to her home in Broadgate, taught Anish at the former Hornsea College of Art, but refuses to admit that she may have influenced the artist, although she admits they share an interest in the spiritual within art.

“I wouldn’t claim to have contributed to his success, but all sorts of things go to make up an artist’s development,” is all she will say.

Pushed to give an opinion on the Orbit in particular, Bette is diplomatic, merely saying: “It is really the intensity of the colour that makes his work. They are the ones that have an impact on me.”

That may be because Bette shares that love of colour in her own work, which used to be mainly oils, but she has recently discovered watercolours, and so now produces decoratively patterned paintings in mixed media, in vivid colours, an influence she attributes to being half Russian.

In fact, Bette has been in contact with a number of high profile artists from early in her career when she was in America teaching and at art school in New York, mixing in circles that included Andy Warhol and, through a friend, Elaine de Kooning, as well as American sculptors Robert Morris and Tony Smith, who was her personal tutor.

When Bette and writer husband James Hughes returned to London they lived next door to their friend, sculptor Richard Wentworth, who introduced Bette to one of his students, Antony Gormley, best known for his giant Angel of the North sculpture.

Bette, Antony and a few other artists shared a studio in what was a bohemian area near King’s Cross for a few years, working and exhibiting together.

Bette says: “That was a great opportunity for me because what I learned from Antony gave me a great chance to develop my own work and we put on shows together and he gave me some of his work and I gave him some of mine.”

Having known and taught many artists who have gone on to become well-known, Bette has learned that “talent is a very small part of success”, and that a lot of other qualities are needed to succeed as an artist.

She says: “Successful doesn’t necessarily mean great. You can be both, and there are many examples, but it can have a down side. Success can sometimes inhibit creative development. Not always, but it can because there are pressures.

“People forget it is a business and it is very expensive to have shows, but it was good for me to come in contact with these very focused people because it helped me to develop my work and I have shown regularly in London and elsewhere in the UK.”

The highly visible work of some of these talented artists, such as Anish and Antony, has also made art much more accessible to the wider public and given the arts generally a much higher profile, something Bette approves of wholeheartedly.

Bette’s intention was never to become a career artist because she says: “Teaching has always been very important to me. I was always very interested in the whole concept of creativity and its role in education. I never found just being a career artist satisfying.”

When she moved to Sutton St Edmund, at first during holiday periods and from the late 1990s full-time, Bette hoped to establish an art and design centre at her home, in addition to her own studio, but it’s something she has only been able to achieve on a small scale, in addition to teaching art locally in primary schools and colleges.

She feels passionately that it would be a great mistake to cut out creative subjects from the school curriculum because she claims the creative industries are the biggest after financial services, generating £20billion a year in income for the UK.

“There is a knock-on effect from art and design,” says Bette. “It’s not just giving students the chance to explore their own creativity – and it has been shown to give people a lot of confidence in themselves – but it produces a lot of transferable skills by thinking outside the box, so it feeds into all sorts of other subjects.”

n Bette does open her studio, by appointment only. Contact her on 01945 700441.