Maudie: Exquisite Portrait of the Artist by Sally Hawkins and Aisling Walsh
Maud was that rarity - a well known female painter, with a male muse.
Picasso, Monet, Renoir, Degas –every artist has their muse. So too did Maud Lewis, one of Canada’s most famous folk artists, and now beautifully re-drawn by Sally Hawkins and Irish artist-filmmaker Aisling Walsh. Maud, was that rarity - a well known female painter, with a male muse.
Maud, born at the start of the 20th century, found her muse in her husband Everett, played in the film by Ethan Hawke. The film depicts a rare love story – him a loner, her disabled at a young age by arthritis, living in a tiny hut by the side of the road in Nova Scotia, selling her hand-drawn Christmas cards along with his fish. She also painted their home over their thirty years together with tangles of butterflies and flowers of colour, until it –and she – became famous across North America. She painted still when, riddled with arthritis, she could only move her hands with extreme pain.
Painting means a lot too to Aisling Walsh, who says that she “always wanted to make a film about a female painter, and as soon as I saw the script, I hoped that I’d found my story and this was it.
“I really felt ‘I’ve got to fight to make this film.’ It turned out the producers had been trying to make it for a decade, but sometimes the pieces all come together at once.”
In keeping with Maudie’s spirit of perseverance, it was a fight to make the film – waiting for both Sally and Ethan to be available for shooting, filming in the Newfoundland winter (if you see the film, you realise not even a Spielberg budget could recreate that amount of snow) and re-building Maudie and Everett's tiny, two-room home.
“We built an exact replica of her house, I insisted on it,” Aisling Walsh recalls. “We built it by the side of the road, as hers was, in as near to a landscape as we could find. Hers was in Nova Scotia, we filmed in Newfoundland. And we never removed the walls for ease of filming – apart from anything the winter wouldn’t allow for it.“We shot in chronological order, so it helped to see how she transformed that dirty old hut into this beautiful, crazy place. Her greatest work of art is the house."
Maudie, however, is not just the portrayal of an artist , but the depiction of a relationship of a painter and her muse, who became her husband. Maud arrives at the shack as the servant to the almost feral Everett who values her slightly less than his hounds. In one horrible scene, he strikes her. Yet somehow they move into love.
"You’ve got to be so patient with films and believe they’ll happen. We took three years to make Maudie which is nothing, the film I made in 2003 took me twelve years." Aisling Walsh
“It’s extremely rare to have a script which details a relationship like that,” Aisling points out. “The power of the relationship- the ebb and flow – you never think at the beginning this man is going to take care of her. They recover from the hitting because he realises something about himself and he changes. I have been married for a long time and nearly everyone I know identifies with aspects of the relationship."
“It’s rare to see a story about the male muse of a female painter, and it’s interesting to think about how differently their stories would have ended without each other. I always loved their wedding picture, a sort of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.
I love seeing the relationship artists have with an individual over the years – she first sees him and puts him in a painting, and her painting changes too. Before that it’s quite naïve. She realises from the start that he’s important. He features in so many of her pictures.”
Are the qualities of endurance and perseverance that Maudie displays so effortlessly essential to filmmakers too? Aisling Walsh believes so.
You’ve got to be so patient with films and believe they’ll happen. We took three years to make Maudie which is nothing, the film I made in 2003 took me twelve years.
“We waited for Sally for a year, and Ethan, and you have to have an element of fatalism about it. I knew Sally would be brilliant, and something told me that Ethan was the right actor and we’d have an unique, great relationship working together on the film. That’s what making these smaller indie films are all about.
“You have to be what I call ‘battle ready’ for a film – it’s six weeks of pre-production, six weeks of filming, ultimately it becomes at least a year out of your life and then you have to let it go and move on, and all the time you’re hoping you’ve made the right film that’s in your head.
“You’ve also got to believe that you are going to make the film, you have to hang on. Some films take five years, some ten and some twenty to make.”
But then comes Maud Lewis again with her life lesson of happiness simply in the creative process.
“Folk art often comes out of necessity,” Walsh continues. “People painted walls as they couldn’t afford wallpaper. But for her it was just a way of expressing herselfand whether she sold a painting or not, she would have been happy.
“She became much more well-known after her death. Since the film came out, Canada has re-gained interest in her art. Visitors to her museum in Halifax have gone up by thousands recently. I just wonder what Maudie would have made of that
Maudie is on release in the UK and Ireland from August 4 2017