The Transcript of my gallery talk at White Moose on 25th February
I drew when I was young. At infants and junior school I drew birds, insects, trees, farm animals but no people. Then when I became a teenager I started to draw people, I drew all over my exercise books, I drew pop stars that I copied from magazines. I drew the Ronettes, Dusty Springield, and Mary Wilson, the cute one from the Supremes. I was obsessed with music and fashion and that drove my interest in drawing. I had never thought about art. There were no pictures in my parents side of the house. My Grandparents lived in the other side of the house. We didn't have electricity in either side so the old dark oil paintings they had were hardly visible in there dark rooms and landing. I do remember a Landseer print of Stag at Bay in the lumber room. The living room was a bit lighter and they had the Landseer print dignity and Impudence (Landseer-Dignity and Impudence). The rest of the walls were covered in formal sepia photos of relatives. Farmers and their wives in their best clothes.
So I didn't really come across art until I was a teenager going to parties at other people's houses. I remember on one occasion sitting all night in the corner pouring over a book about Hieronymus Bosch with large full colour plates, all around me everyone else was getting pissed, falling over and being sick. I was amazed by this work and then got into Breughel, and Grunewald. I liked these because I found inventing and drawing demons and fantasy animals easy.
In 1967 I became a hippy for a couple of years, stopped working on the farm and hitch-hiked around the country going to see music and meeting other hippies. They spent their time taking drugs, sitting around listening to music, looking at art books and saying 'Wow' to everything. I was just making a living selling drawings to magazines and doing posters for pop groups. The first time I noticed painted portraiture was at the house of some hippies. I was already becoming an artist when I picked up a book on Albrecht Durer. I saw one of his self portraits (self portrait at 28) and realised that that was what you had to do to become an painter. You had to paint yourself to show off your skills and to show who you were. I wanted to do this but when I looked into the mirror I didn't see anything interesting. This is one time I tried but I hated the result.
I did on the other hand draw other people. When I first met my wife she sat for me, but as she got to know me she couldn't be bothered and I had to paint her when she was asleep. The same was true of my children - I painted them as they slept. I did manage one formal portrait of my wife which she grumpily sat for for hours and hours.
On the other hand I did a few illustrations for "Tit Mags" in the early seventies. There were tight deadlines, so drawing from life was the only option, my wife was at hand so she had to model. We didn't have a camera at the time to take reference photos and even if we had a camera taking photos was a long process, taking the film to the village chemists who would send it away and you'd get it back in a week. On these magazines I could do a finished painting in a couple of days, then go into Exeter St. Davids, put it on a train (red star parcels) and it would be with the publishers in four hours. I got a lot of money for this work, a month's farm labourer's pay for one painting. Unfortunately it dried up when they got them printed abroad and they were impounded by the customs. This kind of stuff could be sold in the UK but couldn't be imported, so the customs wouldn't let them go.
I kept trying portraiture, some of it was okay, but the one I did of me and my wife got into the Royal Academy millennium exhibition. It was called me and my bird and the only time I got accepted by the RA. Maybe they have a sense of humour.
After this I did an exhibitions of portraits of "old geezers", 50yr old men of my age (over 50 at the time) that I had known well over the years. I tried to get an exhibition for my latest paintings locally but without luck so I turned half my house into a studio/gallery and did an exhibition of portraits of "old geezers", 50yr old men of my age (over 50 at the time) that I had known well over the years. I had two rooms one room for my paintings and the other for the portraits. The portraits were all the same size and in pencil. This was very successful and it inspired me to do more portraits of men - the next generation which I exhibited in the Burton Gallery together with many of my recent paintings. I did more portraits some of which I sold.
At this time I was attending at least one life drawing session per week and using myself and a mirror to paint or draw self portraits. I found now that I'd reached this ripe old age my face was suddenly more interesting and by using myself I could draw someone who wouldn't be offended by the way they turned out and as I get older my face gets more and more interesting.
I also did a few commissions at this time. I used my family when I needed to experiment.
Usually if I spend time doing a preliminary drawing I don't use it in a painting, because I've already worked it all out in the drawing and I find it boring to do it again. I find this more so in my usual nature paintings - if I ever work anything out too much I can't transfer them to canvas. There are exceptions. I have used a few life drawing as a basis for finished work. Both drawings and paintings. The fallen angel one I did with the Weare Giffard group where I'd asked for the pose and had three hours to spend on the original life drawing. This one in particular is where I had an idea and actually carried it out and still like the finished drawing. Other examples of paintings based on life drawings.
Usually if I have an idea in my head when I come to paint it the idea turns out not to be so good. My original ideas are usually banal and I soon find this out when I try it out on a finished painting. Ideas change as the painting progresses. For instance the painting in this exhibition of Dixie. My original idea was to do a painting with her on the right and on the left I was going to paint a life drawing of her hanging on a wall. I made the stretchers, stretched the linen, primed it. I painted her on the right but it looked rubbish when I painted in the life drawing. I liked the composition as it was and left it - accidentally it works.
When it comes to my nature paintings I don't have any heroes, no painters of nature that I like, I feel that I paint the paintings I want to see and I don't see other artists work that appeals to me. I do have favourite artists but I don't try to emulate them. I love Rubens for his figure drawing and composition and I love Monet for his ability to mix paint beautifully.
When I come to portraits then there are many artists whose work I love and many I hate. I don't understand Leonardo -girl with ermine, she seems to lack personality and I've no idea and no interest in symbolism in paintings. The same goes for Rosetti and Burne Jones. These paintings show me not what to do. I don't think I've come across anyone that vacant looking.
On the other hand I love this self portrait by Gentileschi (Gentileschi self portrait). I like it because this is so difficult. She must have had two mirrors to paint this angle. She is painting, intent on her work, advertising herself and her skills. Who wouldn't want to spend time in her company. I love Rembrandt for nearly everything he did. His self portraits and this lovely one of Mrs. Rembrandt. I love this one by Repin of Musorskij, and from the last century Stanley Spenser's self portrait of him and his wife with a cured ham, and Maggie Hamblin's one of George Melly singing. My favourite is Alice Neel's painting of Andy Warhol.
So with these portraits on the walls here. I wanted to paint women because I'd done kids and Men and I felt I had to do women. It was the painting of Suzanne that started me off. I painted over a landscape I'd done of fields near Swimbridge. I'd exhibited it many places - nobody liked it so I painted over it. I'd seen the work Suzanne had been doing about climate change and stuff like that so I started off by doing a big canvas - an abstract which had the feel of countryside, Google earth, the coastline and I wanted to portray her in front of this image so I went to photograph her in her green velvet coat. Now that I look at the finished painting I feel I at least did the coat justice.
I then embarked on more. I did a couple then went to White Moose with my idea., booked in an exhibition 18months hence and embarked on photographing the subjects. I had a list, a long list, many of whom I never got to, but I had to stop when the deadline for the catalogue approached. I worked all from photos. What makes a good photo doesn't make a good painting. I started off trying to do them all in a different ways, in different sizes and in different media, but soon realised I liked painting acrylic on rough linen. Then I discovered winsor and newton ready primed fine linen ones which were a joy to work on.
Some came easy and some were hard - I took photos of Louise in her workshop but as photos they were great. I tried to paint her using one of these and spent three days painting her shirt on a large canvas of her in her workshop but it wasn't working so I painted over it - I tried this drawing and it worked straight away.
The one of Cath I did using two photos. One in the dark with lovely reflections in the glasses and one outside with her head turned in the right direction.
I also had to learn to paint open mouths, teeth, smiles. I've always thought that portraits of smiling people were crap but now people are proud of their teeth they show their teeth all the time. I couldn't avoid it.
I never liked Franz Hals but now I realise how hard it is to paint mouths. (Young man and woman at an inn)
New design for a Starry-Eyed and Laughing 45inch single on Shagrat Records
New Book. Artist as Muse. To go with my exhibition of the same name and available from White Moose Gallery in Barnstaple. It's 32 pages, a limited edition of 100 and is £10 from White Moose
New painting Beech Leaves in Plantation, acrylic on linen, 40x50