You may not immediately associate Ronnie Wood, art, music and parties with the brightly coloured and decorated canal boats that frequent the scenic backwaters of Britain's canals and rivers. But you should. Historically, working canal boats were frequently decorated by the families who lived on them, traditionally with pictures of 'roses and castles'. These boats were painted with a pride and skill passed on to each generation. Ronnie Wood's father Arthur, was an extremely skilled artist his talent extended to his three sons. Arthur, Ted and Ronnie.
Ronnie Wood, one of the first of his family to be born on dry land, hails from a long line of navigators and helmsman, with a family lineage dating back to the 1700's. Ronnie affectionately refers to them as 'water gypsies'. Both his parents, Elizabeth and Arthur, were born on canal barges, respectively the 'Orient' and the 'Antelope'. They were employed by a contractor, Sabey & Company, moving cargo up and down the canals between Manchester, Stratford-upon-Avon and London.
During the war Ronnie's father was not permitted to enlist. Working the canal barges moving vital cargo around the country was considered too important for the nations survival. Once the war was over Ronnie's parents settled down on dry land in Yiewsley, Middlesex; near enough to the 'cut', as they called the Grand Union Canal, for his father to keep in touch with his bargee friends and take Ronnie fishing and messing around with the boats.
For Ronnie Wood art and music were the two things that would dominate his life. One of Ronnie's early art memories is of helping his mother, Elizabeth, make collages of crinoline ladies, figures she would outline in black on glass and fill in with coloured paper and sweet wrappers; she would also subtly hand tint black and white photographs. Both his brothers, Arthur and Ted, attended Ealing art college and were very influential in his choice of art and music. For Ronnie, art college and the 'hip' music scene his brothers inhabited was an enticing new world; one he was determined to join. At school Ronnie Wood's art talent was recognized early on, with 'A' grades on his report card, he also won the art cup. But it was his mother's determination, that Ronnie had the same opportunity as his brothers, that got him accepted at Ealing art college.
Although music was important to Ronnie Wood, art was very important too. He was always drawing and sketching; frequently sending in art to the BBC's sketch club. When a piece of his art won the show's main prize it was a pivotal moment; getting his work into an exhibition and making him realize how important art was to him.
The Ronnie Wood caricature, "Gypsy Ronnie' is a fond rendition of his families origins; in the immediate foreground is the prow of a canal boat; the 'Orient' the boat his mother was born on. A dark, romantic Romany gypsy figure sits a small boy on his knee, while a flamboyant dancer invites the viewer to hear the music and join in the fun. A gypsy caravan in the background completes a scene rich with symbolism. Interestingly, although roses and castles are not much in evidence in his art; it would be fair to say that Ronnie's artistic talents pay tribute to the creative skills inherited from his parents and his 'water gypsy' heritage.