(16 March 1918 – 6 May 2009)
British artist working in oil and watercolour
Mona Killpack was born Mona Gwendolen McLean in Brighton, Sussex, England, the second of six children. Her parents were Archibald and Gwendolen McLean; he was a well known local architect.
They lived for a while in Burgess Hill, then in Haywards Heath, Sussex, where at a very young age she first met her future husband, Guy Killpack, the son of a local doctor. They met up again as teenagers and kept in touch while he was at medical school in London.
The McLean family moved to Hassocks, Sussex, and Mona was educated at the PNEU School, now Burgess Hill Girls. She then studied at Brighton School of Art, where part of her training was in commercial art. In 1937 she went to work in Sweden. After more than a year there she moved to Paris, for work and study, and saw Guy who visited her there.
Mona Killpack worked every morning in her studio, a wooden outbuilding which had started life as a medical practice waiting room. Her paintings in oil and watercolour were exhibited in galleries in London and New York, and many hundreds of them now hang in homes and offices throughout Britain, Europe, Australia and the USA.
Her style was distinctive and constantly evolving, encompassing impressionism, tending to the abstract, but also realism. She had intense observation and understanding of her chosen subjects; there is a force of statement and sensitive appreciation of the natural world, the built environment, and the everyday scene.
Her topics are wide ranging, including city, land and seascapes, buildings and figures, portraits and flowers. Her paintings of London are much admired, and of New York, impressive and dramatic, where her use of heavy impasto is sympathetic to the cultural atmosphere of the massed buildings. Contrasting with these are her refreshingly quiet works of France, Corsica, Venice and Florence, and of England: the coastlines, the hills, the calm inland plains, all showing her ability to capture the essence of a particular place and time. Her figures, stylised and thought provoking, always intrigue; her flowers offer pure delight. The watercolours, fresh and vital, are as varied and interesting as her oils.
Richly layered palette knife and thick brush-strokes characterise most of her work in oils, on canvas or board, often large. Sometimes there is use of thin translucent paint, at others precise application where there is more detail. With studied understatement and a level of abstraction, she was a master of the medium.
She filled countless sketchbooks with pen and watercolours wherever she found images that struck her as sources for her work; whenever possible she had her sketchbook and paint box with her. She often worked on two oil paintings at once so one could dry whilst working on the other, and on many occasions she stretched her own canvases and made her own frames. The finished work was signed ‘Killpack’ in right or left lower front corner.
She did work on commission, often for companies; many of these were of buildings. She designed some book jackets, including the brightly coloured cover and twenty-one black and white illustrations for Madelaine Duke's The Secret People (Brockhampton Press, 1967).
In the early 1960s she was taken up by the John Whibley Gallery in London, initially in George Street before it moved to Cork Street in 1968. She had solo exhibitions with them (1963, 1965, 1968, 1970, 1973) and featured in mixed exhibitions around Christmas before they closed in 1975. The Sidney Frane Gallery in New York gave her a solo exhibition in 1968 and then maintained her work on permanent display until the gallery closed.
In the 1980s and 1990s she exhibited several times at the Ditchling Gallery near the Sussex Downs, which had been set up by the artist Margaret Milnes and continued by her daughters. In 1985 the Century Galleries, Henley on Thames, held an exhibition of her work. She had paintings on display at the Birman Gallery in Lindfield. In September 2006 the Savile Club in Mayfair, London, honoured her with a solo retrospective show. She was always an active member of the Attic Club based in Ditchling, showing her work in their annual exhibitions. There was a permanent exhibition of her paintings at her home.
Mona Killpack’s work sold and continues to be sold to a widening circle of collectors. She died on 6th May 2009 and her studio remains untouched. Guy had predeceased her in 1988.