Visual Arts: The Independent Collector: Jack Shalatain

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The Independent Culture
VICTORIAN FAIRY paintings have turned into gold since the Royal Academy held an exhibition of them a year ago. Gossamer wings with the name Burne-Jones, Watts or John Anster "Fairy" Fitzgerald attached have sprinkled the sort of stardust that even auctioneers and dealers can quite happily believe in. But where are the fairy painters of today?

If you go down to St Ives and tiptoe very quietly towards Tregenna Castle, you might discover a high hedge that only the strongest sword could penetrate. Behind it is a secret garden. For 20 years, only those who believe in fairies have ever tried to venture inside.

Inside, the air is perfumed by exotic trees brought from the East and there are wild roses and blossoming cherry trees. Legend has it that white peacocks once roamed here. It is still home to woodpeckers, badgers, rabbits and squirrels.

Jack Shalatain tends the magic garden for its owner, a retired film actress. In the garden's ivy-covered summer house, which also acts as his studio, he paints fairies. He paints unicorns, too, and angels, mermaids, knights and ladies on white horses. His pictures show them in the misty lakeland of his imagination.

With a paintbrush or pastel in his hand, it is the Pre-Raphaelites that inspire Shalatain. Now 41, he trained as a porcelain painter at the Royal Worcester Porcelain Company, after which his A Mother's Love, a portrait of a unicorn and her foal surrounded by galaxies, grossed $3m in the United States as a limited-edition ceramic plate in the Hamilton Collection. The work earnt him more than pounds 65,000 in royalties.

That was four years ago. The collectable plate market flopped shortly afterwards. But he has published greetings cards, and an angelic Tarot pack of his is about to be published by Bear and Co in California, together with a book of his fairy paintings.

In a world where fairies have been summoned into the commercial realm of Disneyland, children's tableware and New Age T-shirts, a genuine, visionary artist such as Shalatain is all too easily overlooked. His work offers, as he puts it, "the gentle, healing power of an image that enlivens the imagination in a positive way; that finds its inspiration in the angelic realm".

In Shalatain's magical environment, where lovers ride on winged unicorns and swans glide on rose-coloured lakes, there is no unhappiness, only bliss. For Shalatain, it is almost real, and The Angel's Embrace, one of his pastels, shown left, is perhaps even more real than most.

"She came to me in a vision," he says. "It was not sleep or meditation, but a sort of repose. She did not say anything, but I'm sure she is my guardian angel."

Prices: paintings pounds 1,500-pounds 20,000, pastels pounds 750-pounds 3,000. Free brochure from Jack Shalatain (01736 798007 or 0121-477 2237). Signed prints, pounds 39- pounds 75 plus pounds 2.50 p&p, packs of 12 cards, pounds 12 plus pounds 1 p&p from The St Ives Gallery, The Wharf, St Ives, Cornwall TR26 1LT (01736 794665)