I See Myself as The Most Normal Person I know

Emma Brophy talks to the Baroness behind The Black Sheep

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The Black Sheep is open open Thursday to Sunday, with late openings on Friday and Saturday on Acton Lane (and corner of Berrymede Road).

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Some know her as Baroness von Reichardt, others as the artist with an mosaic clad home but I’ve always known her as my friend’s younger sister Carrie who has lived in Chiswick all her life.

Names aside I went to visit Carrie at her latest venture, The Black Sheep, an art shop and gallery selling the “visionary, thought-provoking and eclectic” work of a number of local artists.

“We sell a weird and wonderful collection of artwork, such as sculptures, ceramics, stained-glass work and jewellery,” said Carrie, “There's no other shop like it.”

By rights for this interview I should refer to Carrie as ‘Baroness von Reichardt’ her artistic name, and historically, family name.

“My grandfather was made an honory general in the second world war by the Tsar of Russia.” She explains. “My grandfather was trading in that part of the world and during the war he managed to get food to the troops and tsar made him an honory general naming him Baron von Reichardt. He consequently lost all his money during the Russian revolution.”

“The family name was changed to Richards after they settled in England after the war ended because it was too German but my grandfather kept his title of Baron.

“Not sure whether legally whether I am allowed to use it, think it’s got something to do with paying off debts but I use it ironically, I am the Baroness. I had an American come to my house and say I’m not sure what to do, whether or not I should curtsey! I did it really as a joke but unless you put it with Mr Spunky and The Treatments Rooms it loses its meaning!”

So does Mr Spunky have a similar story to tell? “He didn’t want to use his own name so he came up with Mr Spunky. He was drunk and meant it as a joke but it stuck! You say things in your own house and mean them as a joke but then they take on a life of their own.”

Carries likes to use names to create a clear definition between her personal work and her community work hence the different identities; Carrie Richards who does community work and Baroness von Reichardt her own art. One of her community projects involved creating sunflower mosiacs with the children at Southfield School.

"I've been speaking to Charlie Morris and hope to resurrect some of the mosaic projects that we have ongoing there. The trouble is I have less and less time,” says the mother of three “but I don’t want that to stop me doing what I believe in which is being proactive in the community you live in.” She is hoping to work with the school children to cover the front of the shop with mosaic. "The thing about my house is that is it my home which is why I want to use this shop to build inroads into the community."

Her home attracted hundreds of people during the Artists at Home weekend earlier this year. "I had around 300 people come through my house in three days. A lot of people think my house is a community centre but it is actually my home. I was mosaicing the back of my house at the time so two of my friends were doing the tours; it was so weird to hear about myself in the third person."

"Some people see me as this weird eccentric of Chiswick – I see myself as the most normal person I know. I can understand why people think that because I what I do is slightly outside of the box isn’t it?"

Admiring some Banksy style art brings us onto street art "I can’t believe that people find it that offensive," she says. "Tagging is a different ball game, tagging is like a dog p***ing in its area, it’s just relentless and it’s awful but I can see why kids do it because it empowers them, it’s like they’re marking their territory.

"But actual street art is different, where its allowed to thrive it’s beautiful. I'd much rather see art on the street than blank walls or be bombarded with advertising. Why should you if you have money dictate what people see? I don’t care if my daughter sees a bit of street art but I really object to the fact that wherever she walks she’s going to see an advert that tries to sell her something she doesn’t need. People never argue about this but mention street art and you get endless debate.”

The Black Sheep is open open Thursday to Sunday, with late openings on Friday and Saturday on Acton Lane (and corner of Berrymede Road).

Emma Brophy

November 25, 2008