Berkhamsted brilliance

PUBLISHED: 11:36 05 August 2014 | UPDATED: 11:36 05 August 2014

Air Force One, Sunil Pawar

Air Force One, Sunil Pawar


Sandra Smith meets three artists putting Berkhamsted on the cultural map

Atlas, Sunil PawarAtlas, Sunil Pawar

There’s nothing like the disarray of an artist’s studio to demonstrate the myriad of creativity it houses. And Sunil Pawar’s converted stable premises don’t disappoint.

Here in Bourne End, the Berkhamsted artist has stacks of large canvases that compete for space with wooden crates, while tubes of acrylic paint invade every surface and the bold, colourful images that Pawar has become know for, demand attention.

‘I started selling my illustrations when I was at school, I just went for it!’ Sunil laughs while brewing tea. ‘Then I set up my own company (Slingshot London). I’m lucky now because I’ve built up a reputation. My style develops every day. The bare bones are there but I look back at my work from years ago and I see the progression – but I can tell it’s my body of work. That’s important, identifying my pieces. There’s a learning process all the time and sometimes things have to change.’

Sunil’s illustrations are sold around the world and he regularly works not only with private clients (including singer Kelis, rapper Kanye West and fashion designer Junya Watanabe) but also on films and TV commercials. Despite his global success, he is as grounded as he is inventive. With growing excitement he relates one of his latest projects: limited edition bakeware items, which are on sale at HERE cafe. I particularly admire his mix of styles. Retaining an element of tradition at the same time infusing a contemporary twist is a demanding balance, one which Sunil appears to have effortlessly achieved.

Tomomi Sato, Espinosa Dance Shool. Photo: Rob HarleyTomomi Sato, Espinosa Dance Shool. Photo: Rob Harley

And there’s an alter ego at large, too. ‘I DJ once a week. Sometimes it means I don’t get any sleep, but art and music are intrinsically linked and I can’t give anything up!’

Personable, enthusiastic and talented, it’s easy to see why Sunil is one of this country’s leading illustrators.


‘The audience is so close here, I like that I can see their expressions, I feel they are with me.’

Tomomi Sato, Espinosa Dance Shool. Photo: Tom DerbyshireTomomi Sato, Espinosa Dance Shool. Photo: Tom Derbyshire

The diminutive Tomomi Sato, a Japanese ballerina is explaining the intimate atmosphere at Espinosa Dance Project, based at a converted warehouse in Northbridge Road.

Sato, who took up ballet at the relatively late age of eight, says, ‘When my mum suggested classes, I didn’t know what ballet was!’ But with an innate ability, her potential was soon recognised and she progressed to a more experienced teacher and more frequent lessons. From that moment, her future was established.

in 2000 she moved from Japan to the UK, where she enjoyed a flourishing career with the Scottish National Ballet before relocating to Berkhamsted and joining Espinosa. Here, she not only performs, she also teaches young dancers who have the opportunity to learn from and perform with leading professionals. ‘I train on my own each day then hold classes,’ she explains. She also guests for other ballet companies and dances at charity performances.

The modesty of this elegant artist prevents her from dwelling too much on herself and it falls to Corinna Chute, creator of Espinosa, to describe the gifts Sato brings to the company: ‘Tomomi is a good coach and teacher,’ Corinna says. ‘Plus she is a choreographer for shows and performs. She is at the top of her career and trying to find a balance to continue the expert training she gives to young dancers as well as develop as a ballet star herself.’

Elizabeth Elliott, Berkhamsted Speakeasy, Kings Arms. Photo: Adam HollierElizabeth Elliott, Berkhamsted Speakeasy, Kings Arms. Photo: Adam Hollier

I glance through the school’s 2014 programme (making a mental note to attend this month’s Senior Ballet Show) before taking a look around the academy. True, it isn’t readily identifiable as an artistic venue from the outside, but inside the facilities on offer are unquestionably professional and the vision and accessibility of the Espinosa project and committed teachers like Tomoni Sato makes it a desirable company for any budding dancer.


With a degree in journalism, a sideline in acting and a passion for radio dramas, it’s not surprising that Julie Mayhew’s talents helped her create what has become the hub of spoken word in Berkhamsted. ‘I was always a fan of spoken-word nights but some just concentrated on reading,’ she recalls. ‘I wanted to break that mould and make it less serious, so I co-founded Berko Speakeasy in 2012.’

As we sip fruit juices in the arty atmosphere of HERE café bar on Lower Kings Road in the town, I am soon admiring her prolific publishing successes. BBC Radio 4 this month records another of her afternoon dramas, her short stories have enjoyed accolades in some of the country’s most prestigious competitions, and her first novel Red Ink, a powerful tale of superstition, denial and family myth, has been shortlisted as an outstanding debut novel for children. Yet she seems unfazed by her workload. In fact, she confesses, ‘I quite like not taking too long in each world – novel, short story or radio.’

Adam Loxley and Jaz Deol, Berkhamsted Speakeasy, Kings Arms. Photo: Adam HollierAdam Loxley and Jaz Deol, Berkhamsted Speakeasy, Kings Arms. Photo: Adam Hollier

Mayhew, whose creative space is a shed at her home where she writes when her children are at school, clearly enjoys the theatrical opportunities of Berko Speakeasy. Among a group of professional actors, she is a regular reader at the event which takes place three times a year. ‘During a typical evening, the audience sits cabaret-style and actors wander through the crowd, so it is interactive,’ Mayhew explains. ‘We all dress up and cover a broad range of stories from collections. Our unique selling point is that we encourage people to buy the stories via a Waterstones stall at each event. This way we keep the food chain going.’

It’s an admirable approach. One that not only supports writers, but simultaneously provides Berkhamsted with regular exposure to a most entertaining genre.

To find out for yourself, get along to the next session in the Greene Room at the Kings Arms on Berkhamsted High Street on Wednesday July 30 from 7.45pm. Full details are at

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