How did you get started doing what you do?
As every other kid does, picking up colouring pencils when I was a toddler, making things from mud. I just carried on where many are persuaded to do something ‘useful’. I was always making and drawing things, partly because I loved it, partly because that’s what children do very naturally, partly because I had something of a facility for what I was doing and people seemed to applaud and therefore reinforce the activity and partly because I had no mind for sports. I wasn’t interested in playing football and was therefore pretty hopeless, so in a bid to be popular I set out to be the kid who was good at drawing.
How would you describe your creative style?
That’s tricky, largely because my ‘style’ is something which is continuously evolving but also because it is something which arises as a result of what I am trying to achieve rather than being an end in itself. I don’t set out to work in a particular style. I might be thinking about perspective systems and that would lead me to tilt up the ground-plan in a painting, giving a sense of hyperreality which some might interpret as a style. But that sense would be incidental. Having said that my style, such as it is, could be described as realist, or perhaps magic realist. I am constantly trying to move away from a dependency upon the subject or motif that I am painting towards a more abstract or painterly depiction but I find it difficult. This struggle leads to a tension, which I feel is often apparent in my work, between ‘the real’ and ‘the artificial’ or even ‘the theatrical’.
What’s your inspiration?
There are many artists whose work I look at, some of the more obvious ones being: Carravaggio, Gericault, early Freud, The Flemish old masters and many others but also filmmakers such as David Lynch, Werner Herzog, Roy Andersson and photographers such as Aneta Bartos and Bill Henson
What is art to you?
Art? Goddammit that’s a difficult one. I feel I have become more and more disillusioned with art over the years: art as an industry. I really have no time at all these days for art fairs, galleries, auction houses and the whole rather disingenuous way that art is discussed, appreciated and interpreted. Since moving out of London a couple of years ago to deepest countryside my sensibilities and concerns have taken me far away from ‘the art world’. I seldom even think about it these days. I spend my time planning how I am going to construct a sandpit for my children, whether or not to raise goats and where would be a good place to go kayaking with my four-year-old son. My time is filled with watering my cucumbers and learning how to feed my family with a degree of self-sufficiency. ‘Art’ from my point of view is now just a part of a life that is continuously creative in one way or another. The question of what to paint is akin to “what can I make for dinner with these courgettes I’ve just dug up?” There is no hierarchy of creative processes. The only difference is that I earn my living from my painting.
What does your typical day look like?
Usually with far too much admin. It is my curse. Time spent painting has been drastically eaten into in recent years. I spend a lot of time with my kids: driving my son to nursery, cooking and cleaning. I have recently taken to homebrewing and pickling, as one does in middle age: so I might have to rack off some elderberry wine into a demijohn or crush some apples. Things happen seasonally here, so when the fruit is ripe other concerns have to wait. Hopefully I’ll find a few hours to hide away in my studio, put on an audiobook and try and make some headway with a painting I’m working on.
How long does it typically take for you to finish a piece?
Luckily I work quickly, when I actually get to my easel I can make a painting in a day if I’m on the ball. The longest I have spent on a piece is six months. I’m not sure that I’d have the patience to spend that long now however. Life is too short
How do you keep motivated?
That can be difficult. In my twenties and thirties all I did was worked. The main motivation was the need to earn a living. I had to produce paintings in order to survive as I had no other source of income. In those days I had no children either so my work was my main interest. Being passionate about something is usually the way to be motivated. Good coffee helps as does listening to audiobooks. I can paint for hours and hours if I am listening to a good story. As I grow older it is harder to feel motivated, largely because there are so many other things going on in my life these days. I could never be like Lucien Freud who just painted all the time and didn’t spend any time with his children (Most of them didn’t even have have his phone number) I am a father first and a painter second.
How would you say your surroundings have influenced your work?
Having lived in London for twenty years it is taking time to adjust to working in the countryside. I am inspired by my surroundings and the landscape has begun to feature in my work. I expect that it will do so increasingly over the years as I come to understand what it is that I am looking for in the landscapes around me.
What do you hope to accomplish with your work?
Feed my family. That always has to be the first priority. I don’t suppose it’s an answer that people would expect to hear. Of course, I have artistic concerns and objectives but since I have never had a silver spoon to fall back on, my work has always had to put bread on the table. Ironically I don’t feel that this necessity has ever led me to compromise the work that I have made. Even when I make commissioned portraits I find a way of using these to explore my own concerns. Aside from earning a living I find great pleasure in the notion that someone, somewhere, at a distant point in the future, might be looking at one of my paintings and wondering about the person who made it. It is a strangely mystical process looking at old art: a kind of conversation with someone long dead.
How have others reacted to your work?
In various ways. A commissioned work was once turned down (for rendering Prince Philip naked with a bluebottle on his shoulder) but on the whole my commissioned work has been well received. In terms of the art world as a whole I feel my work has still to find a slot to fit into.
What do you want others to take away from your work?
Strangely, I seldom consider this. I’m not sure I make art for other people, that is, I do not consider the viewer when making work. I am too busy working out what I want to make and how I want to make it to consider how someone might receive it
What, if anything, would you tell your younger self?
Jesus. I would be a plague visiting my younger self. The advice would rain down from the sky on a biblical scale. I love these hypothetical conundrums. Of course one has regrets about mistakes that one makes but these mistakes often need to be made in order to arrive at a point of knowledge or understanding. Our mistakes help to make us who we are. I feel also that we must play the cards we deal ourselves rather than regretting poor decisions. One must commit oneself to something, even if it is a bad idea. Young folk these days seem to struggle to stick with something once it’s begun and flit about all over the place. Although I made many mistakes as a younger person (and continue to do so) at least I was tenacious in trying to make the best of the various melancholic scenarios I launched myself into.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
I spent a great deal of my childhood at car boot sales with my Mother who was attempting to scrape a living from the detritus of consumer society. She taught me how to bargain and negotiate and crucially how to sell things. That advice served me well and was no doubt more useful than three years at business school would have been
Any words of wisdom to aspiring artists who want to pursue a similar career?
In order to survive as an artist you’ve either got to have wealthy and indulgent parents, or be talented and prepared to work your arse off. Luck and opportunities are created through effort. The boring fact is in order to make art you have to be able to eat and live somewhere so you have to have money. You have to be clever to make money from art. It’s not easy. You have to also be hungry for success. You have to need it. Without hunger you’ll never have the drive. And without the drive you might as well give up before you start. Pursuing painting is also a very lonely occupation. If you are no good at spending day after day, year after year, largely in your own company then I’d suggest doing something else
What are your thoughts on art school?
Art schools are like different kinds of soil. You wouldn’t plant potatoes in ericaceous soils and so it is with art students. They need the right kind of space in which to prosper. Art schools offer such specific and different experiences that some might thrive in, others might dwindle in. Folk need to find the art schools that suit their sensibilities.
Have any future aspirations that you’d like to share?
I have really neglected sculpture in my practise. I’d like to work on at least one big sculptural project before I take the exit. I’d also like to have a go at ceramics. Aside from work, I’d love to live long enough to teach my grandchildren how to make Dandelion and Burdock beer.
What’s your dream project?
A huge copper sculpted head that you could walk inside and look out of the sculpture’s eyeballs across the ocean
How could the art industry become better in your opinion?
By exploding in an enormous multicoloured fireball reaching high into the sky.