AT the age of 85, former primary school teacher Esme Alexander, from Thornton Heath, has been selected from thousands of hopeful artists to show a painting at the prestigious Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition.

THE Thornton Heath pensioner captured from a black and white photograph this scene of her late mother Priscilla Elizabeth sitting in a garden in Guyana.

During lockdown, fashion designer and illustrator David Ross, who volunteers his time with Thornton Heath charity ASKI, ran on Zoom art work shops for older people. 

Esme wanted to recreate the memory she had from that day in Ghana and decided to recreate the scene in acrylic paint from the photograph.

The budding artist remembers being 15 or 16 when the photograph was taken and said: “I remember the colours she was wearing, a navy blue dress embroided around the neckline.”

Out of this Esme developed the art work which David suggested she should submit to the Royal Academy.

Esme’s painting was successfully selected from thousands of entries to feature in the RA’s Summer Exhibition 2021 coordinated by renowned artist British-Nigerian Yinka Shonibare.


unassuming pensioner said about her achievement: “Well it is nice to be acknowledged at some point in my life for something!”

She admitted that her mother would have been ‘proud’ of her accomplishment.

Subtitled “Reclaiming Magic” the exhibition focuses on works by “previously invisible” artists, with an emphasis on pieces by and of people of colour and first-time entrants who can quite easily find their entries next to work by the likes of Grayson Perry or Tracey Emin, who were at a star studded preview night.

Esme attended the champagne reception along with other artists who feature in the show, including: comedian Harry Hill and painter Sally Muir, rubbing shoulders with the stars ahead of the opening on September 22.

Esme painted with the Vale Art group in Streatham and with the Age UK art group in Brigstock Road, Thornton Heath and every free moment she has she paints as it relaxes her and she feels in her “comfort zone”.

Esme said: “I got interested in art when I was at teacher training college. I knew I had the skill and every now and again I would do something but it was not until I was well in to my retirement that I picked it up again.”

The exhibition also gives artists the opportunity to sell their work but Esme has chosen to keep the painting and plans her own private viewing at her Thornton Heath home.

She admits to having built up quite a collection of paintings over the years and says she best enjoys landscapes and paints wherever she finds “interesting or takes her fancy.”

She added: “I could have sold my painting but I decided not to as I am thinking of having my friends around to show them all the paintings I have done over the years.”

The RA exhibition runs until January 2 and you can also browse the artworks online or if you are a friend of Esme you might get an invite in person!