Dropping Out and Tuning In

During my childhood I drew quite a lot at home and probably
had some kind of embryonic talent, but in the broader sense Art was not present in my
life. I do not come from a family that has an interest in the arts or from an
environment that encouraged its pursuit. Fine Art was completely absent from my
life and I did not set foot inside a Gallery or museum until I was seventeen
years of age. Until that time I had no idea that it was possible to be a
professional artist or that contemporary art even existed.

At school I slipped through the cracks, left with a limited range of qualifications and no idea of what I would do next. After a month or so at home my father forced me to visit a careers officer and somehow the vision of an art college came into view. Mansfield College of Art and Design accepted me onto a two year course in General Art and Design, I immediately felt more at home there than I had at any time during my school years and although, by no means an ideal student, began to excel in some subject areas such as objective drawing and life class. The course encouraged experimentation but also had a great respect for the teaching of technical skills.  This was when I first visited a gallery and I can still remember that feeling of excitement today.

Following on from Mansfield I applied for several courses in Illustration but the college which accepted me was Bradford College of Art and Design which offered another course in General Art and Design. For the first two years I struggled with the course and the usual distractions and problems of a student living away from home for the first time.  In my view the teaching, such as there was, was poor to non-existent and to me seemed to actively discourage the type of work that I had any ability or interest in.

In the final year however something seemed to galvanise within me and a little self-confidence blossomed.  I increasingly found my own way forward and completed the course specializing in Painting, Sculpture, Printmaking and Illustration. Somehow I realised that I was predominantly a painter and that my personality was fitted to it. I intuitively understood painting better than any of the other disciplines and perhaps more importantly it excited me.

My final degree show included three large figurative oil paintings, crude in style and technique but I have never looked back from that point. That final year at college and the following three to four years are the period of my life when both my art and my life took-off and is the period in my life of which I am most proud.


Beginning the Begin

In 1986 aged 21, I left Bradford College of Art and moved to
London. I had no idea how the art world worked or whether there was any
realistic hope that I might make my mark as an artist. I had decided however that
I was going to try, and if I failed it would not be for the want of effort. So
for the next few years it was all about the work.

Not having had much support at college either for myself or
my work, when as a fledgling artist I leapt into the void of the ’real world’ I
did not feel its gravity. There were no expectations about what I should
produce or whether I might succeed, I really had nothing to lose and in retrospect
this gave me great freedom.

It was clear to me at that point that my work lacked the quality,
consistency and personal identity required to exhibit. I had been heavily
influenced by a host of artists. Rembrandt, Bacon and Giacometti-like styles collided
clumsily and anachronistically together on canvas. 

Over time I learned to excise the superficial characteristics of these artists from my work whilst learning from their essence. I developed my own technical and critical skills and the ability to work with calm focus for long periods of time. Over the next few years my work improved at great speed, it was an intoxicating and exhilarating time. I lived and breathed painting. 

I did not know any other artists and had no art connections of any kind throughout these years. In the current era of social media it is
interesting to reflect on the fact that that no-one ever saw or commented upon my
work in progress, ‘liked’ a piece of
work or encouraged me to persevere. This would be anathema to most artists now
but for me was ideal. My style evolved
naturally but in complete isolation. I followed my own instincts and trusted my
own judgement.

Eventually my personality, philosophy and technique fused
into an identifiable style of my own. My view is that the discipline of unflinching
self-criticism was my key tool in editing out anything which was fake, affected
or superficial.

After a few years I felt my work was ready for me to apply
for exhibitions and enter competitions, and met with some early success. In
1990 I held a solo show at the Tricycle gallery in Kilburn and coincidentally won
3rd prize in the B.P Portrait Award. Following favourable reviews I
sold work for the first time, and after several more solo shows I won first
prize in the B.P Portrait Award in 1993.


An artists life for me


For the past 26 years I have been living and working in the New Forest in Hampshire. My studio is in my home, part of a converted Victorian manor house. The grounds are surrounded by ancient woodland, it is teeming with wildlife. I try to take a few minutes day to walk around the gardens or into the woods to see what I can see out there. The great majority of each day however is spent in the studio.

Even after 35 years of life as a professional artist I know that
people still find it hard to believe that I spend the whole day painting, the
image of the artist as dilettante is hard to shift. I’m convinced that friends
and family believe that I spend my days wearing a smoking jacket and swapping
witty aphorisms with the characters from a novella by Oscar Wilde.

My typical working day will start at 8.00-8.30a.m. I love
not having to travel to work and the solitude of my working life suits me well.
 I tend to take a short break every 2
hours or so to give my eyes a rest particularly if I am working in close
detail. I usually finish work between 6.30- 7.30p.m. My technical style of work
is slow and painstaking so it is essential that I work fairly long hours. 

Admin and correspondence is usually done at
the weekends or if I can find time in the evenings.

My daily interactions are minimal. After my wife leaves for
work I will be alone all day and will probably not speak to anyone until the
evening.  I have always been more
comfortable on my own than in a crowd so this suits me well.

Many people find it almost impossible to work productively from
home without the social interaction, distractions and pressures of office life and
a ‘to-do’ list. I learnt long ago not to allow myself the option of whether or when
to start work.  Motivation is fortunately
never an issue, once I have started a painting it becomes an obsession that I
can’t shake off until it the work is completed. It can be quite a relief to
finish, sign the painting and get it out of the studio.

There is never a shortage of work to do as I have more ideas
for paintings than I could ever produce. My sketchbooks are full of notes and ideas
for paintings that I will never have time to make and for whole projects of
work that may never see the light of day.

I do have a life outside of art. More than anything else I
love to travel, the wilder the area the better. I am an outdoor enthusiast and there
is nothing more exciting to me than watching wildlife in its own habitat. One
day I would like to produce work which reflects that love of the natural world.

When I can find time I like to catch up on the cultural side
of things, Realist film directors like Ingmar Bergmann, Michael Haneke, Nuri
Bilge Ceylan and Alejandro González Iñárritu are favourites of mine and a real
inspiration to me.

If I am not in the studio then I can normally be found doing
some kind of physical training. Early mornings and most evenings are reserved
for the endurance sports of running, road cycling and Duathlon.

Overall the day-to-day working life of an artist probably
isn’t so very different from that of other professions but you do have to be
comfortable with solitude and be highly self-motivated to have a chance of
surviving long term. That said, if you can make it work then it can be a richly
rewarding occupation and life. It suits my personality like a glove and I find
it hard to imagine any other way of being.

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