1. Where do you look for inspiration?
I travel occasionally, keeping my eyes open and with a few potential themes in mind. Sometimes this is productive, though equally often memories or imagination trigger a painting. I like to experience countries where life is less regimented, where private dramas or social tensions fuelled by surprising motives spill into public. Before I begin painting my idea I try to find other similar artworks in books and online- if I feel my idea has been expressed already in paint, I paint the next idea instead. I always have a long list of ideas waiting to be painted, my ‘backlog’, the problem is trying to realise them faster and with more clarity.
2. How do you record your visual research?
Drawings, photos and memory, but most of all long lists, and annotated diagrams for the most complex sections of a painting. When a detail is difficult to realise I first sketch from imagination or memory, or combine multiple photos then resort to sketching from life.
3. Do you work on more than one painting at a time?
Only on smaller paintings, as I found this approach can lead to frequent repetition and lack of intensity on larger canvases. A painting with dozens of figures and swarming details has plenty of variation within a contrived cross section of an institution or place. I would like each painting to be as different as possible even within a themed series.
4. Is it important that people understand the narrative behind the images?
Certainly, I like to think of painting as a very considered form of communication, where each detail has a meaning or function. I like my paintings to demystify a subject, if the viewer looks closely. In my ‘religious’ paintings I fix an atheists eye on the real, worldly motivations of the hierarchies and their followers, too often even sceptical artists have served these vested interests for money or through coercion.
5. How much value do you put on the overall aesthetic of your images?
I always know exactly the colours, mediums and brushes I will use before I start a painting, I get ideas as fully formed mental images, so the aesthetic, subject, meaning and intent behind an image are inseparable. Achieving clarity in an image is extremely important, I always paint a subject from an angle that has a clear compositional structure. Otherwise any meaning and visual intensity is lost and swarming details become an unintelligible morass. Each technique is always at the service of my subject matter, requiring knowledge and near absolute control of my materials.
6. What is the longest time it has taken you to mix a specific colour?
I use a glass palette for oils which triples the drying time, and a plastic ‘stay wet’ one for phosphorescent acrylic. In oils it can take four days to mix my average palette of 1000- 1400 colours, each in tiny quantities. I once spent 6 hours trying to remix a specific luminous dark red (not an oxymoron in this case) in phosphorescent acrylic after the stay wet palette became covered in furry green mould. I recently found through trial and error that modern translucent oil paint pigments (diarylide yellow, quinacridone red, stil de grain brown, certain synthetic alternatives to cobalt violet) can be mixed into single colours that can be red, yellow brown, purple, and green depending how thickly the paint is used. I was experimenting with these variations for 2 days, and it dramatically improved the subtlety of midtones in my last painting ‘A Prodigal Son? Madagascar’.
7. What drives the work other than obsession?
A liking for solitude, the concentration required means I am never bored and it is very satisfying when a painting meets my expectations. This is rare, but then I feel my efforts and the time invested (usually 800- 3000 hours) were not wasted. Perhaps a slight megalomania! I love the physical properties of oil paint, garish colours in unexpectedly subtle gradations.
8. Are you trying to raise awareness with your work?
I think awareness of futility and the human inability to meet any imposed set of standards is important. Hypocrisy and corruption result when these standards are adopted or imposed. Misunderstandings fascinate me. Raising awareness for a ‘cause’ is for charities and activists, I would like to portray the complexities of human nature which are unchanging, though often coloured by time and place.
9. Do you see your work hanging in people’s homes?
If people want hellfire preachers above their mantelpiece and familial disputes above their dining table then that would be wonderful! Whether people buy my paintings and what they do with them is their decision. But I don’t think the context of a painting is important, making paintings to ‘match’ current fashions in soft furnishings doesn’t interest any artist. Smaller prints of my paintings require less space and are more practical, but I like a painting to dominate a room, especially one with small windows.
10. Is scale integral to the image?