Charles Hutchinson meets the York great grandmother taking painting lessons at 95

JO Clampitt was in a rut. Or, rather, her painting was in a rut.

"I needed someone to jolt me out of it, and Andres was that person," says the York artist, who duly joined Andres Jarovlavsky's painting classes at his home studio in Lesley Avenue, York.

Nothing out of the ordinary there, you might think, except that Jo is 95. "It must be about 20 months ago that I started. I just picked up one of Andres's flyers and came along."

Andres, an Argentinian artist who is as proficient on the piano as he is with a paint brush in his hand, was immediately struck by Jo's talent for portraiture. "She is a remarkable artist, very modest about how good she is, and she's still improving," he says.

"When I first saw her work, I said, 'why are you attending this class? You paint like a dream. All you need is a kick up the backside'!"

Yet Jo confesses: "I came here at first in absolute terror; I'd experienced trepidation for a week." Why? "I was worried because I've always recognised myself as an artistic failure," she reasons.

"I'd painted when I had the opportunity and the time, but never consistently, and I felt I was in a rut, which is why I decided to come to Andres's classes. I thought, 'in the few years left to me, maybe I should have another go', and I decided I'd concentrate on acrylics and oils."

Andres's classes are held on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and it was on one such Thursday session that this interview took place, with fellow artists gathered for that day's class.

"I always want to come back each week, no matter what," Jo says. "I feel I understand more with each class, giving me the confidence to try things. If I have a method at all, it is to flounder and hope for the best!"

Jo is no stranger to displaying delicate artistic skills. "I used to work in a photographers' studio, re-touching the photographs, at Taylors in Micklegate, and at a Lendal photographers too," she recalls.

"At the time, they used glass plates, which all needed re-touching with a pencil on the plate. Then, when the photographs were printed, you would have to take out all the little spots with paint, which was the 'photoshopping' technique of its day."

Jo did attend art classes at school at Knavesmire Higher Grade, "but I don't remember much about them," she says. "For a short time, later on, I attended a life-drawing class and a little bit of oil painting, and then I started using pastels, because they're easier to carry about," she says.

" I did some ceramics for a very short time as well. My art has always been a hobby, rather than anything more than that, though I was a member of York Art Society for some time."

Jo may play down her artistic prowess, but nevertheless she took home first prize in a portrait competition at the Grand Annual Muker Show, in Swaledale, North Yorkshire. "It's a lovely little show, always held on the first Wednesday of September," she says. "I entered a little pastel of my granddaughter and won the cup."

Jo 's preference is for painting portraits. "I've never had much interest in landscapes, but human beings are fascinating," she says.

"The eyes are so important. I did quite a lot of dance, when there was a saying that 'without eyes, there is no being', and that's the same for portraiture."

Jo's ambition is to paint portraits of all her family, "if I have enough time left," she says, as she contemplates the challenge of depicting her three daughters, Glynis, Moira and Wendy, six grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

"So far, I've done my second daughter, and I'm on with first and third daughters now, and I've started on one of my grandson's wife and baby, Emma and Ellie."

On this particular day, Jo was working at Andres's studio on her portrait of grandson Alistair. "I'm painting more than I've ever done, trying to paint for Andres, so I paint three days a week now, but the housework still has to be done, the pots washed, " says Jo, who lives off Heslington Road.

"I'm lucky enough to have a two-bedroom flat, and I'm afraid to say the second bedroom has become a studio!"

Her pleasure in painting is ever present. "Sometimes it's so wonderful, it makes you weak at the knees," says Jo. "Painting is therapeutic in a way; when you're doing it, you can't worry about anything else."

Andres finds Jo's passion for painting inspiring. "I think the shock for us is seeing someone who's so driven and such a professional, who happens to be 95, but it's the quality of Jo's painting that stands out," he says.

"Rather than mellowing, Jo has become more demanding of herself, more driven. Convincing Jo that her work is good, sometimes that's not enough, because she's always pushing herself – and she's a great example of not slowing down when you grow older."

Jo reckons she is "not as good as painting she might have been" because she spent half her time dancing instead. "That's my first love, because it's done to music," she says, but her dancing days are behind her. "I gave up tap dancing at 93," she reveals.

She does not envisage holding an exhibition. "I paint mostly for myself. I've never seen my paintings as saleable: people don't want portraits as they're old-fashioned. Besides, I don't think I could get enough paintings together for a show; it would be too big a task; too much work," says Jo.

"I'll be happy if I just get all the family portraits done, but if what I'm doing at 95 encourages other people to do things, that would make it worthwhile too."

If Jo's story has sparked your interest in joining one of Andres Jaroslavsky's art classes, contact him on 07913 920118.