Why does a painter feel the urge to represent a three-dimensional world by smearing paint on a two-dimensional canvas? For me, it’s not so much an urge, more a need. It’s my way to make sense of the world around me and reflect it back by creating images that convey the essence of a place, or a person or an object.
In a landscape, what lures me is the chaotic array of vegetation, that seemingly unintended display, new life alongside decay, an intricate assembly of wild beauty, deep shadows and the play of light. I want my paintings of woodlands and hedgerows to evoke the smell of vegetation, the sound of a quiet clearing. I frequently make series of paintings, often scenes from my immediate locality, revisiting places, repeating the same themes, the meadows, country lanes and vantage points I know, in order to observe subtle changes, getting to know the spot intimately. Similarly, when making a portrait, drawing a person repeatedly allows for nuances to work through - those small gestures, glances and idiosyncrasies that reveal the individual.
I often paint on a bright red or earthy terra cotta ground, as a base, which helps to make the greens and blues sing out. Sometimes I work outdoors, often making small-scale representational sketches in paint or pencil. As the light changes rapidly, this has to be done at speed, which is excellent for making the eye connect directly with the hand – there’s no time to engage the conscious brain, so actions must become automatic and intuitive. It’s a great discipline and although the work’s swiftly finished - two, maybe three hours at the most – it can be pretty exhausting. Usually these quick pieces become the basis of larger works completed in my studio, when things start to get more abstract.
Life drawing is another important activity - like a pianist must play scales, this how an artist ‘keeps the hand in’. Naturalistic images can be satisfying to make, but a greater challenge is involved in creating less obvious images – something that evokes the more elusive elements of the subject. Frequently, after direct observation, I go on to develop the original representational image and by a reductive process, abstract the subtleties, seeking out my own visual lexicon in order to describe the place. I have a strong visual memory, carrying scenes and colours in my mind for future reference, although I’ll also use photographs – my own or other found images as a starting point.
Painting is seeing something anew, describing and re-interpreting. I can create naturalistic work, but photorealism is not for me. My aim is to reveal a fascination, a passion even, for the subject, and so present something more than is casually observed.