Subject is the means by which I explore the expressive potential of the medium and thereby develop my vocabulary in the language of abstract mark making. My interest lies primarily in the medium I am working with and understanding how it works and finding a common ground between it’s will and mine.
Art happens somewhere in the process of translation, through the medium, of what I’m looking at to what comes out the other end. The medium is the means through which I investigate the outer world which in turn gives insight to my own inner workings. The paintings are almost a by product in this process.
The first thought in my mind when I set out to paint isn’t to express my experience although this often happens. As a form of communication from one person to another a successful painting could be deemed to be one where my life experience is communicated with a degree of clarity allowing others/ the viewer to recognise something of their own life experience. In order for this to happen it is necessary for me to get out of the way; and so I concentrate my attention on working the medium which brings me full circle.
The three main areas of inspiration for my painting are Landscape, usually wild exposed places, the Urban Landscape and the human figure. Each of these areas offers it’s own scope for exploring ideas, themes and influences which in turn play into and inform the other areas of inquiry. It’s like playing in different pools, taking a little water from each pool and carrying it to mix in with the next. The conversation goes back and forth.
My explorations are almost exclusively carried out within the towns, cities, mountains and ragged coastlines of the British Isles and Ireland. Shetland has featured heavily in my work since my first visit in 2011 when I rented a studio in Scalloway for a month. This initial trip led directly to my first major solo exhibition in Shetland, 30 Days of Light’, at the Lerwick Museum and Archives in 2012. In 2015 Bonhoga Gallery hosted my second Shetland exhibition, ‘Between Rocks and Hard Places’.
’30 Days of Light’ exhibition at Lerwick Museum
Examples of my college work
My interest in the Old Masters developed whilst studying Illustration at Falmouth School of Art, Cornwall. One of the tutors on the course was well versed in old master techniques and preparation of painting mediums. Whilst it wasn’t part of the curriculum, I kept a separate journal of any advice I could glean from him.
This interest continued after college and I went on to be mentored a practicing artist and graduate of the Royal Academy. He introduced me to the work of Cezanne and an epiphany occurred. It was as though I’d gained backstage access. I learnt to see through surface tricks that had previously had me in their enthrall.
Painting and sketching out in the elements is integral to my working practice. The information available via the senses is unequalled by any other means. In his essay, ‘Doors of Perception’, Aldous Huxley likens the mind to a restrictor valve. Were we to have access to all the information that surrounds us every moment of every day it would blow our mind and we would be rendered incapable of functioning effectively; so the mind limits what information gets through allowing only what is necessary for biological survival.
Direct observation opens those doors to some extent. It feeds the imagination. It offers a key into the world around you. It’s the single best way of exploring your subject and your relationship to it.
This questioning of the outside world through the medium in turn gives insight on one’s inner world. On a good day it can be as though the barriers between inner and outer fall away. It’s a process of self discovery, personal archaeology. The visual imagination is fed and you replenish the well pool of experience which can then be drawn on to feed into the work produced in the studio. Though I am a figurative painter I believe everything is in essence abstract. For me, to paint figuratively with any success is to understand something of the abstract nature of the universe.
Sometimes the pressure of looking for subject matter gets in the way of seeing. It is as much of a discipline for me NOT to look for subject matter and just explore; we tend to see more when we’re not looking for something. This is how I approach my trips to the Scottish mountains where the technical demands are greater than in the Lake District. Often my focus is to just get up and down safely, especially during the short days of winter. Even so I keep a journal on all my explorations, the criteria being that if I choose to sketch, I do so for the pure joy of it. Just so long as all my attention isn’t taken up trying to keep a calm head whilst straddling a knife edge ridge in the Cuillin or I’m not being frightened off some lonely summit by thunder and lightening; so long as I’m quite sure I’ve enough daylight hours to get through all the main technical difficulties, that’s when I might settle down and record my time.
Since 1999 I’ve enjoyed over thirty solo exhibitions including shows in Dublin, Cornwall, Cumbria, Yorkshire, Lancashire and Shetland. I’ve also taken part in well over fifty mixed exhibitions, many of them at various galleries in London including the Mall Galleries where I’ve had work exhibited in the Threadneedle, New English Art Club, Royal Institute for Painters in Oil, Royal Society of Marine Artists and Discerning Eye exhibitions.
Awards include First Prize at the inaugural ‘Open Up North’ competition at The Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal, in 2011, ‘The Stanley Grimm Memorial Prize’ and ‘The Le Clerc Fowle Medal’ at the Royal Institute of Oil Painters Annual Exhibition at the Mall Galleries in 2014 and a regional first prize at the ING Discerning Eye Exhibition, also in 2014.