FILM and TV star Zoe Wanamaker opened an exhibition in west Dorset of a painter who was friends with her late father.

Zoe, who has appeared in Harry Potter films and sitcom My Family, cut the ribbon to open Philip Sutton's My Shakespeare exhibition at Bridport Arts Centre.

The exhibition is now open and continues until May 1.

Philip Sutton RA, who is still working at 90, has dedicated years to the depiction of Shakespeare and his characters, despite not being able to read until he was 12.

Philip became involved with the Globe Theatre when his friend film director Sam Wanamaker sought to establish a replica of the original 16th century building on the banks of the River Thames. Sam wanted a gallery and told Philip 'you must do something with Shakespeare.” Philip remembers the moment as 'like saying you should climb the Matterhorn.'

He went on to fill the space with Shakespearean paintings.

Sadly, Sam died in 1993 but his dream lived on and the Globe opened to much acclaim in 1997. Zoe Wanamaker, Sam’s actor daughter described Sutton's work as "Joy, energy and colour, I think that's the secret."

One of Sutton’s Shakespearean portraits has been displayed in Shakespeare’s home at Stratford on Avon, while Philip's glorious painting of Elizabeth I is the cover for the My Shakespeare exhibition programme.

Philip lives on the coast near Bridport. “I find inspiration everywhere but I love the sea.” He often uses a quill from gulls feathers found on the beach. “It’s very sensitive to pressure and records every slightest thing your fingers do, like a nerve centre. Then all you need is a pot of ink and some paper.”

Now aged 90, Philip says, “painting is part of who I am. I get up early and still work hard every day. It’s a great privilege.”

My Shakespeare celebrates the writer and his work through a galaxy of Philip Sutton’s most vibrant paintings.

Born in Poole but growing up in east London, Philip started work at 14, did National Service where he was at the Berlin Air Lift and eventually gained a place at London’s Slade School of Art. He was elected a Royal Academician in 1988.

His paintings have hung in 10 Downing Street – he helped design the Labour Party’s red rose logo - and in the home of composer Benjamin Britten, who championed Philip at the outset of his career.

“I was just a young painter and there were an awful lot of us in London in the 1950s,” Philip says. “But I had done a portrait of a student friend called Tony Tice, who sadly later committed suicide.”

Ironically, that painting was to change Philip's life.

“I won a scholarship to Europe. But before I left for France, Heather (his wife who died in 2017) had an idea I should have an exhibition in our rooms at the student hostel because they were empty over the summer. We invited everyone we could think of.”

The art school's professor – William Coldstream – liked Philip 'even though I was terribly messy.' Coldstream invited dealers to the exhibition including Roland, Browse & Delbanco who had a gallery in Cork Street. They asked Sutton to bring whatever work he did in France to them on his return.

“That was a gift,” Philip recalls, “because if you went to a gallery they'd say 'who are you?' You were nobody.”

He fulfilled his promise and took some pictures to show the gallery, including the portrait of Tony Tice. They liked it and put it in their window. Peter Pears (Benjamin Britten’s partner) was passing by and bought it. He wanted to know who the artist was and then he and Ben invited Philip to lunch while they were rehearsing one of Ben’s operas at Covent Garden.

“They said they had this empty cottage in Suffolk and asked if I would like to see it,” remembers Philip. “I said no, I don’t need to see it.” His son had been born in Paris and the young couple had nowhere to live. “So we went on the train with the baby in a cardboard box because we didn’t have a pram and stayed in Suffolk for the next four years. It was a miracle.”

Philip has dedicated years to the depiction of Shakespeare and his characters, despite not being able to read until he was 12. Later, his wife Heather introduced him to literature and he “fell in love” with Shakespeare’s words. “He kaleidoscopes history,” he says. “Here is a man who can take historic facts and reassemble them in a magical way.”

For more information on the exhibition see or call the box office on 01308 424 204.