Closely-observed domestic interiors washed with sunlight
When did you first describe yourself as an artist?:
I returned to painting full-time in 2003.
Describe your early memories of your emerging talent as an artist?:
My parents say that as a child, I always had a pencil in my hand, drawing or doodling on something. I found an old encyclopaedia with a yellowing label inside which says Prize for Art. I was eight; I think it was a painting of dinosaurs. In my teenage years, I experimented with other media, from photography to ceramics. I built my own kiln in the back garden, and I actually managed to fire up to stoneware temperatures, although my construction methods owed more to Heath Robinson than Bernard Leach. By the time I came to leave school, I was sure that I would do something in the art world, but I just wasn’t very sure what.
I gained a place at Oxford University’s Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, and after three hard working, occasionally wild, very occasionally debauch, but almost entirely enjoyable years, graduated with a First in 1982.
Clutching my degree, I moved to London, and wondered how to carry on doing something creative, and earn a living at the same time. I decided that the film business would do both of these things. I managed to get a job at a small video production company, starting, as most people do, sweeping the floor and making the tea.These were the heady days of pop videos, and I spent many long nights filming any bands who would cooperate. I learnt to operate cameras, to light and edit, but ended up as a producer.Within a few years, I was producing tv and cinema commercials. I managed to travel the world, shooting everywhere from New Zealand, to India, to the Nevada desert, and picked up a few awards on the way. It was a great business to be in, but it was also all-consuming, and one frustration was the lack of time for any painting. I never stopped painting, but my output was very small, and good-quality, concentrated painting time was minimal. So when the chance came in 2002 to leave the film business and move to a lovely farmhouse just outside Oxford, I jumped at it. So I would date my return to painting as 2003, and I haven’t stopped since then. My wife and I now live in the farmhouse with three small children, a dodgy Aga and a couple of chickens. The key things I took from the film making were the lighting - I loved to watch the Lighting Cameramen ‘create’ a scene, ‘painting with light’ , as one of them once said – and the art directing, constructing a ‘tableau’ for the camera. Small adjustments to shadows or the placement of a prop could change the atmosphere in a scene significantly. So now, I love the play of light over objects, whether solid, reflective, or transluscent; the shapes of shadows, the way that form can be half-hidden yet implied by a highlight or a distorted reflection. Window frames cast shadows across shiny flagstone floors; doorways stand ajar, disappearing to darkness beyond. Life is happening here, suspended in the sunlight.
I am trying to capture a mood, and sometimes a fragment of a story in my paintings. Clothes hanging in a window, a discarded pair of shoes, a mirror, an old chair – we want to tell stories about them. Who is here, off stage? What has just happened, what is to come? These are the ideas that I am playing with, and so what influences my work are first, the objects. Objects with maybe the patina of age, objects that embody some history, or maybe a dress with some Proustian significance. Or a chair that belonged to my grandfather; or a child’s toy; these all trigger memories, sweet, bitter, nostalgic. And then the light – streaming through half-shuttered windows, it can evoke feelings of hope, or of sadness. These things all combine in endless variations to influence my work.
Velazquez – to stand close to his ‘Philip IV in Brown and Silver’, for example, and see the virtuosity of his brushwork is to be truly dazzled.
Chardin – the greatest exponent of the humble still life.
Courbet – panache and brio and a sensuality that exuded from everything from lustrous nudes to a bowl of apples.
Hammershoi - a new discovery, a mysterious Danish painter who obsessively recorded his Copenhagen apartment.
Cornelia Parker – intelligence and wit in 3D.
Marcus Harvey – a YBA who could paint.
Gerhard Richter – a cool, sharp eye for nearly fifty years.
Role of figurative art:
I feel that art generally is a medium of contemplation, closer to the sensibility of music than, say, film or theatre. Yet much contemporary art has pursued a line of message and shock, areas which film and theatre do very well. One image, one single object does not convey a complex message very well, and any shock value fades fast. Much conceptual art has been very hung up on this sort of ‘meaning’, and moreover, has often done it with little depth of thought. Poverty of ideas combined with indifferent execution leaves very little indeed. On the other hand, a figurative image immediately ‘speaks’. We can judge its quality of execution. We can ‘read’ it – maybe fleetingly, seeing a pleasing image, a satisfying composition, or maybe in more depth, considering the detail, the narrative, the references that might be suggested. Classical themes? Art historical allusions? Maybe contemporary cultural references – these can all be embedded in the figurative image, adding layers to be discovered over and above the well-crafted image.
My favourite gallery is perhaps not a very original choice, but if it was to be just one, it would have to be the National Gallery in London. Many others, of course, have some gems – the Wallace Collection, the Cortauld, the Tates – but the National just has a lifetime’s worth of nourishment, some of the best examples from the very best artists across about seven hundred years.