In Germany, where I now live and work, I am considered a ‘traditional’ painter. It’s not a classification I’d personally use - to me, Traditional evokes concepts/techniques based on academic/and/or classical influence, (which I don’t much relate to), but here I realise, traditional simply means using paint in a more or less conventional way, and perhaps using subject matter based on an external visual reality. So, in an attempt to assist the reader, I could categorize myself as a Traditional Neo-Impressionist. “So, in an attempt to assist the reader, I could categorize myself as a Traditional Neo-Impressionist. That’s about as analytical as I get, for what it’s worth!”
I grew up on farms in the southern English countryside of Dorset and Hertfordshire - my father was a dairyman (he had originally hailed from Gibraltar, a very small rock in the Mediterranean Sea, without a single cow). My mother had attended painting classes at the London Central School of Art, but had to temporarily give up her artistic work for a busy family/farm life, post-war.
So the rich English rural landscape, with it’s seasons and skies, woodlands and rolling hills, are a fundamental part of my DNA, and now that I again live in the countryside (this time in Northern Germany), surrounded by quite similar landscapes that I was born into, I easily understand my deep affinity with the visual elements that inspire me. Although my current work is largely based on the sea, coasts and skies, it is all rooted in the British and French Schools of landscape painting, dynamic traditions which have been constantly refreshed and renewed over the years by many of the most gifted painters since.
I normally try to work on a series of paintings, often unified by subject/location. So in recent years I produced a series based on a local river, from stream through woodland, out to lake in center of Hamburg. Another project used the Downs landscape around my previous home in southern England. More recently I’ve concentrated on sea/coast and skies - I’m more and more drawn to skies for their ‘moody’ potential - and coasts without precise location, hoping to create ‘archetypal’ landscapes into which the viewer can enter. Although I use photographic reference and often simple sketches as a starting point, the painting develops a life of it’s own, and the final result can rarely be anticipated.
My materials and techniques are a combination of traditional and personal preference. I normally use ready-made canvases unless the work requires a large or unusual format, and I prime with a Gesso ground, sometimes working with a second Gesso coat tinted with acrylic color for ground base, and often adding more ground tone sometimes with texture paste with a large brush/and/or knife, working up the basic composition and areas and creating ‘accidental’ spaces/planes and textures which can be manipulated later. Often I will continue to work with acrylic color (sometimes only in monotone) to establish and develop the picture - the great thing I like about acrylics is the speed one can work and change the picture at will, and almost instantly alter things. Either I will complete the painting just in acrylics, or more often I will continue in oils. Glazing and painting over the acrylic underpainting is a variation on traditional oil painting practices, and I find it suits me fine. I use Windsor & Newton ‘Artisan’ Water Soluble paints - it means no turps odors in the studio, brushes can be washed in water and soap, and there is a variety of conventional mediums/oils which can be mixed with the tube oil paints which handle and perform (and even smell) just as normal oils.
For me, the forms that landscape painting come in, vary from high-realism to minimal abstraction, from poetic atmosphere to formal construction, from high drama to fleeting moments of subtlety. I do find that every painting has it’s own developmental journey - and the act of painting is a passionate process of making permanent those initial impressions and visions. My starting point is usually an emotional response towards a chosen subject, and my choice of ‘style’ or treatment varies accordingly. For me, the painting is not so much about a particular subject as it is about how that subject illuminates itself. Therefore, in terms of my technique, I do sometimes paint very rapidly and at other times there is a slow process of excavation. In any case, I’m always sustained by a sense of curiosity and wonder at the outcome, aiming to discover the ‘magical’ potential within each painting.
Of course, true alchemy is rarely, if ever achieved (and not for me to judge), but it is the pursuit of some rather-hard-to-define qualities that keeps me awake.
I have had a few months break from painting - we recently moved house and I’ve made a nice new studio with a view out to fields, farm and trees and a good patch of sky. As I begin work on a new series of canvases and drawings I am as excited and apprehensive today at sixty-four, as I can remember being at twenty-four, sitting with a sketchbook and watercolour box in the shade of a rock on the Spanish Costa de Luz, trying to make sense of too much light and colour, and understanding why Matisse painted mainly indoors in the Mediterranean! The adventure is unending, and I am eternally grateful for this benediction, however elusive and problematic.
Put simply, I love to paint, and I love what painting can be, both for me and in the work of other artists. And when someone enjoys a painting or drawing of mine sufficiently to part with a stack of hard cash, I never forget that the buyer could have used their money for a host of more practical purposes. It’s an affirmation that I don’t really seek, but am always delighted, and a little humbled.