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After studying art at North Tyneside College, I became self employed as a professional artist in 1984. I used this time to experiment with all medium including glass engraving, printing and painting, but always seemed to be drawn back to oil paint. Even as a child I can remember my grandmother using oil paint in a paint by numbers set. This caught my attention and I was fascinated with the medium. I always tried other mediums because I found the process of art exciting. At this time, I had a scatter gun approach to art, working in all areas and not really having any one medium to learn my craft. Times became difficult and I had to re-train. In 2000 I did a HND in advertising/illustration as a visualizer, studying at Newcastle. While there I worked on many live briefs and was successful in winning a NEPA award (North East Print Association).
After graduating and looking for work, I just could not keep away from art. I wanted one more try at being successful in art. After exhibiting in a Northumberland gallery, my artwork was taken to the London Affordable, where I had a sell out in one day. Things began to snowball. I exhibited in Edinburgh and in Dublin with equal success. Over the past two years, I have witnessed a change in my work. I feel that I have honed my efforts and skills into compositions that really express and convey a certain atmosphere or moment.
I have always been fascinated in two areas of art; the implicit meaning and the inspiration. I was inspired to paint a rain soaked street through films I saw at the cinema. I watched The Bridges of Madison County, a film about an accidental relationship between a man and woman. The film is always shot in beautiful sunshine, until the end, when the relationship has to end and the rain really falls, giving an implicit meaning that the relationship is being washed away. The Road to Perdition is another example. At the end of the film, relationships are ending, implied by the use of falling rain.
I like to let the viewer of the painting make their own mind up about what is happening with the characters in the composition. I like to add street signs pointing in two different directions suggesting that these two people are coming together, or are they splitting up? Maybe they are having an affair; is their love a secret or are they simply going back to the bar where they first met? This is also helped by composing the painting on a street corner. A view of two roads meeting or two paths crossing. In their relationship, has the bar become 'their bar'? The viewer has the answer.
As part of the working process, I am always inspired to experience what I am about to paint. I remember Billy Connelly saying that he hated songs about Scotland that were written by men in London: men who had never even seen the Highlands. In other words, if you are going to do something creative, get to the very heart of it first.
I did a series of paintings about Trawler men some time ago. I researched the project by going out into the North Sea with the men, on a trawler and sketching them while they worked. They thought I was mad, getting soaking wet, freezing cold and stinking of fish...but I loved it. I now use this approach to my rain paintings.
Living on the North East Coast we get our fair share of rain. When it rains, I feel the need to get out there and sketch. Look at how rain can bounce off the ground and car roofs; the reflection from car lights and street lights.
The paintings can be set in any city: again, it is up to the viewer. However, I do like to add a personal touch to my bars. My family tree stretches to Ireland on my mother's side and Scotland on my father's, so I like to name the bars in either an Irish or a Scottish name. I quite simply have a passion to paint and if I can get the audience to imagine a scenario of their own, then I feel I have achieved a connection between canvas and viewer.
I find myself constantly looking at buildings wherever I go. Because the composition of my work could be anywhere or any street, it is a wonderful feeling to see a street corner bar, or restaurant and be completely excited about how I can create an atmosphere on that corner. I see old pub fronts or contemporary restaurants and I am completely hooked. By sketching or photographing the bar, I am ready to paint.
I first choose a canvas and decide whether it will be portrait or landscape. I then have a strange ritual I like to perform. Quite simply I run the palms of my hands over the tooth of the canvas and get a lovely feeling through my hands from the canvas, almost a personal connection between artist and material. Then, with a heavy graphite block, I begin to lightly knock in a horizon and areas where buildings will be. I then use my fingers to make marks and shapes giving me an overview of how the painting will look. I like to feel every part of the canvas. At this stage the work is at its most vague. Streaks, smudges and finger marks are just enough to allow me a glimpse of the finished work.
After fixing the graphite, I am ready to paint, mixing five or six colours on my palette. Using cerulean blue, ultramarine, Van Dyke brown, lamp black and titanium white, I create a spectrum of greys and cools blues. The application of these colours is applied vigorously to the canvas using a common decorator's paint brush. I knock in all of the areas to create an undertone, then, always working from the background, I start to add suggestions of something going on. This may be a street sign, traffic, or street lights. I am now creating a perspective and depth of field. Working towards the middle distance and foreground, I apply the paint darker and heavier, pulling the foreground forward. At this stage I work on the bar front with its suggestion of light and perhaps a glimpse of the bar counter. After finishing the name of the bar, I can see where I want to place my characters or vehicle. Once they are in place I can now really enjoy applying the rain. I have developed a technique of stippling the paint with that common decorator's brush. Because the brush is old and the hairs are split, I can achieve a wonderful effect which leaves paint marks that are not constrained to a uniform pattern. I can get the same effect from this brush with falling rain. I run the brush down the canvas using only the weight of the brush. The split hairs from the brush allow the strokes to become rain.
I live in Monkseaton near to the North East coast with my partner, Alison and our son Chris. I work from a studio at home and I am an early riser, so I wake at 6.15am. By 6.45am I have made tea for Alison and after dropping her off at work, I usually start my work about 7.00 – 7.30am. I like to clear my studio before I start; it also clears my mind. I am very lucky in what I do for a living and can't wait to start the work. The night before I always make an itinerary of jobs I will be working on the next morning, so I begin by going through what is to be done; at the same time I get that all important big pot of tea on the boil. I then wake my son, Chris, make sure he has breakfast and all of his school equipment and is off to school by 8.40am.
I select a new canvas and go through my little ritual. After drawing out the work and ensuring that I am happy with its progress, I am hooked. When I start to paint, I am transfixed on the progress. To me, it is rather like reading a good book: when you read it you become lost within the story and forget where you are. That is how I am with a painting, even though I paint standing at all times. The only time I am disturbed from this hypnosis is when our cat, Bailey, wants attention. By lunch time I have my sandwich and tea while looking at the progression of work…I can't resist, I have to paint whilst eating my sandwich . Ham sandwich and oil paint make an interesting and tasty combination. My day's work can really fly by because I become so involved in the painting.
At the end of the day, I look at the result, but I often just can't help adding a little more here and there. I think that is always the case with a piece of art, you are always looking for that perfect painting to produce; always seeing if I can go just that little bit further. I really do not think that an artist can find that perfect painting within his or her career, because once you have, you will go on looking.
If I finish a painting that day, I am immediately drawn to the next one, and sometimes find myself painting into the night. When the day is done, and after copious amounts of tea, I finally have an evening meal with a well earned glass of red.
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