Tell us about your background before you began to make art?
It’s really since 2010 that I have been seriously getting back into the world of art. I studied graphic design at the London College of Printing in Elephant and Castle, going on to start up a design agency with my partner Paula - very much working in the music industry on logos and art direction of record sleeves and all aspects of that world. It was a great experience and there are lots of stories from that time. It’s fair to say that over the twenty-odd years of our company we ‘rose to the top of the ladder’ in our area, but we came to realise it wasn't necessarily where we wanted to be - and that’s the point I started to reconnect with the painting and charcoal landscape part of me that had been there through my professional life, through sketch books, but I’d never focussed on until that moment.
What would you say is one the biggest challenges of being in the art world?
At the risk of being glib, I’ve never subscribed to be one of the overly cerebral thinkers who suck their own life force out of themselves in the name of being an artist, but I think my biggest challenge at the moment is matching my own expectancy.
I’m relentlessly driven and the harshest of self critics as I would imagine most artists are. It took me a while to feel at ease with calling myself an ‘artist’ because I didn’t study to be a fine artist or go through the channels I thought I had to go through. As a result, I have never really had any preconceptions about the way it “should be going” as I’ve been more intent on getting down on canvas, paper or board, what I feel in a landscape I see.
What do you think needs to change in the art world?
I have never really been a fan of “art as elitism”. A painter like Van Gogh was a gifted visionary and his work and his life informs the way we think about so much in art and our own psyche, but I find it hard to weigh up that his ‘Sunflowers’ painting sold at auction in 2015 to a private investor at $66 million when there is so much that can be improved in peoples lives with that kind of investment.
If you had four weeks to train me, how would you approach it..?
In the first couple of weeks there would be a mixture of studied observation followed by rapid quick fire mark making while experimenting with mono and colour. Life drawing would be essential in this period. recording form, tone, volume. In weeks three and four, we’d go into the landscape and listen to music (have a glass of wine if that helps!) while feeling the environment and letting these experiences inform what you are painting en plain air. I find the creative process is at its height with a sense of wonder and interaction with the surroundings.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Apart from my main inspiration which is the landscape I look for references in the areas where I least expect it - mainly in books and records. As much as I like surfing online for inspiration, I don’t like the way that algorithms (and the way the corporates behind the internet data mines you) start to preordain your ‘’likes’ for you. I do love going to a record shop and being seduced into buying an artist I have no idea if I will like on the basis of a shop owners recommendation, as opposed to listening to a music App which says, “Like this? Try that”. Music being packaged as a lifestyle bolt-on rather than artists appreciated on their own merit does annoy me.
More about Paul: http://www.p-west.co.uk/
What is the main conversation you want to begin with your art?
I think that over the past few years I’ve realised that my work is mainly about my fascination with the landscape and man's ongoing connection with that land - a ploughed field, or a field of wheat with the scars of the tractor trails are fleeting signs of our connection with that environment. It’s fleeting because nature ultimately reclaims what was once hers.
At college we studied Mary Webb’s “Precious Bane” - a ‘Romantic’ novel set in 19th Century Shropshire. We were taken through the dualism of the ‘light’ awareness of nature with it’s ‘dark’ side of human nature - prejudice, witch hunting, sin eating and a primal fear of superstition which had an impact on me and I’ve reread the book often.
What would you say makes you different?
In painting, I work on canvas but my preferred base is wooden board (which is more ‘utilitarian’) and my use of paint interacts with its natural texture – contrasting impasto application with the roughness of the grain. I find the abrasive action of removing layers with sandpaper further evokes a whole set of feelings. When it comes to charcoal drawings, I work to a more analytical, graphic style - creating brooding landscapes, balancing quietness with frenetic bursts of energy.
I come from Dorset and the landscape is very beautiful and lush, but that is not where my inspiration lies. My inspiration lies in Northumberland - there is something ‘primal’ and barren in these landscapes that I find overwhelmingly inspirational. I’m co exhibiting at The Old School Gallery, Alnmouth from April 28th - June 9th which I’m really excited about.
How has your painting technique developed?
I had one of the most important weeks in 2016 when Paula and I went to the Wye Valley in Wales with the most incredible views across the valleys to the Brecon Beacons way in the distance. I started the week painting studies of the landscape, but I was getting really frustrated.
It was as though I was trying to capture the curves of the landscape by being too literal to the curved hills and valleys, until my breakthrough moment when I realised I should be interpreting the view in a series of straight, angled, lines - which created the illusion of curves in a more geometrically abstracted way. As soon as I realised that, it was almost like I had un-cracked the secret of the landscape in my own mind. It took me 4 days to get there - lots of cussing and hating what I was doing, then I actually started enjoying what I was creating and the work flowed.
What is your definition of success?
There is always the aspiration of a of ‘monetary success’ that most of us can understand, we all want to be able to afford to do what we love, I think that success is meeting people, like ArtThou, and making a connection with the people who like what it is that you do - to the degree that your work goes before you and strikes a chord with the people who know it or are captivated by the mark making or idea behind the work.
What book would you recommend?
I love a book on Neolithic culture titled ‘The Modern Antiquarian’ by Julian Cope, who fronted The Teardrop Explodes - I was really into them when I was growing up in the 80’s.
This tome is about him travelling to, and recording megalithic sites in the UK from stone circles to barrows and other sites lost to time. The notes and poems are extensive and quality of the site photography add to the fascination he has for the subject - taken on a pretty inexpensive feeling camera, which is where the attraction is for me.
When it was published in 1998 it really created a media storm - I was fascinated that such a multi-talented artist could produce something of such ‘learned wonder’. Cope gave lectures (turning up in leopard skin trousers, top hats and capes) but he combined a wealth of knowledge, in a very anti-disestablishment, rock-and-roll ‘far out’ way. I always rated the books personality and soul.
Tell us about your Silent Voices project...
Silent Voices is an edition of fourteen etchings and large format (50x70cm) charcoal drawings. I combined the launch with an ambient installation distributing around 200 screen printed leaves with messages across open spaces in towns and cities I visited at that time.
The work is inspired by the age old belief that trees listen to our thoughts and whisper back to us with their leaves in the wind. It struck me that in a progressively disconnected world, a leaf message on the pavement lies as unnoticed as our own individual desire for connection.
I knew that 99% of them would not be seen but hopefully - just one might connect with a stranger. There was no contact on any leaf, justscreen printed messages including “This Is Your Story”, “Memories Are Selective”, “Take Courage In Your Bravery”. One day completely out of the blue I was emailed by a lady who found a leaf saying "It's When You're Frail I Love You Most" that I had distributed in one of the London parks weeks earlier. She had recently had a bereavement and said discovering it quite by chance felt like someone was watching over her at that moment. She found it was me by searching through Instagram and finding me through a process of hashtags. Apart from the sadness of the situation, it was a moving moment as all I hoped for was the idea of one connection between strangers in two hundred leaves.