Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Untitled, acrylic on canvas, 20 x 15 cm, 2011

What are you working on in your studio right now?

Now I am working as always, on paintings on canvas or MDF, quite small, usually acrylic, which have slowly evolved over the summer often switching to collage, gouache, and watercolours to break up the routine and to keep it fresh and look for new ideas.

Can you describe your working routine?

I like to get to the studio early in the day, three days a week and often after work in the evenings if I’m not too tired. I usually sit there and look long and hard at what I did the day before or read the newspaper or a book and have half an eye on the work trying to catch it unawares. This can have a myriad of effects either starting work straight away after seeing some new direction/possibility or sit longer to put off working and do something else instead.
I usually work from early in the day to about 5 or 6pm depending on how well its going. I seem to have an inbuilt work ethic demanding I put in a decent stint. It’s easy to go home when it’s not going well but I usually do things to keep me occupied in the studio and more often than not I am rewarded when something can suddenly happen or look very promising. These moments are actually more useful in the long run. Often it’s a case of WAITING and not doing anything there and then. Only a fraction of the time spent in the studio actually involves painting the rest is looking and thinking.

Can you describe your studio space and how, if at all, that affects your work?

Studio space is about 300 square feet facing east, in an old disused factory in Hackney, London. It has a glass and timber roof, which means it’s on the top floor and is roasting hot in the summer and freezing in the winter. I often work on the floor which means the studio floor disappears from time to time and fight to keep some semblance of order in there and keep it reasonably tidy. Working on the floor denies a top, bottom, left and right to the picture and keeps me on my toes. I love being in the studio, it is a kind of sanctuary in which anything goes and the world can take care of itself. Having a studio in a block and sharing with other artists is a huge plus, meeting other artists particularly painters and engaging in dialogue and receiving constructive feedback as well as forging friendships and a community.

Untitled, oil & acrylic on canvas board, 35 x 25 cm, 2011

Tell me about your process, where things begin, how they evolve etc.

Paintings start from anywhere, rarely referencing the physical world directly. I almost never know what I’m going to do. But having said that I have recently worked from small collages which have turned out ok but the not knowing what will happen with the painting seems to be the whole point of painting for me but can be really frustrating with endless alterations, u- turns, changing directions, finding new languages, images, so the surface loses its integrity, becomes clogged and gets thrown away.

I work on several at once. Acrylic allows for rapid working and over painting. This is good and bad. I do not have much patience and often over-paint when I know subconsciously I should leave well alone. This has mixed results. Often work can look great one day not so good the next. Some paintings take months to finish while others can be finished in a couple of sessions, literally minutes. Colour and shape and their interplay fascinate me endlessly and the tiniest adjustment of each intentionally or unintentionally makes for innumerable inventions of visual joy. It’s why I paint.

The state of the medium determines the work really, that’s why I like changing it occasionally to get new ideas. The paint one mixes up, in a bowl or palette determines the outcome-its viscosity, strength and colour all have a bearing on the type of mark I’m about to make and then often react to the painted mark often changing to leave either a mess or something that looks promising. There is a sense of perpetual over-painting, layer upon layer, which hides or partly submerges existing colour and exposes a new painting to push forward. 

The more I let go and allow the painting to emerge the more successful is the outcome; tussling in my experience nearly always brings disaster. I need to lose the anxiety and the ego and ‘feel’ the painting as I work and the rest takes care of itself. I try to approach work with a ‘beginner’s mind’ mentality which allows for openness, invention and unpredictability as if I’ve never painted before. I can often produce many paintings in a few hours but very few of them survive the cull at the end of the day. Much of the work gets recycled anyway and reused for other paintings.

The idea of painting in its raw state with support, brush, and paint and the millions of possibilities it offers never fails to amaze me or inspire me. And in the end the successful ones are paintings that not only look right but also feel right and do not need me to interfere anymore. They stand alone, independent and speaking for themselves. Once a painting is finished though I have no interest in them whatsoever even though it may have caused me endless agonies of one sort or another during the making process but once its finished its dead and I gladly move to the next one.

What are you having the most trouble resolving?

My work involves a coming together of contrasting languages, painting styles and searching for new spatial arrangements. This can often seem too much to ask for at times and produces many unsuccessful pieces but it’s something worth risking. I would love to paint bigger paintings but in the past for one reason or another I’ve lacked the courage and made a mess, I don’t know why this intimidates me but it’s something for the future maybe. Small paintings are ok but they do not have the power or presence of bigger ones.

Do you experiment with different materials a lot or do you prefer to work within certain parameters?

I recently started to use oil paint and this has its own problems especially after working with water-based paint for years. It needs a different mentality and patience and decisions have to be more concrete in a way. But it’s something I may experiment with again in the near future. Collage is a medium, which gives me the greatest control and allows for instant chopping and changing. I often put coloured or painted pieces of paper directly onto the painted canvas to disrupt the image- this has often proved very fruitful and allows for new possibilities.

Untitled, acrylic on canvas, 75 x 50 cm, 2011

What does the future hold for this work?

I don’t know really everyday it seems I am maneuvering slowly into position for better more resolved work but I suppose all painters think that. Stay in the present is a constant mantra for me and the future takes care of itself.

Is there anything else you would like to add?
I would say that exhibitions are probably too few and far between at the moment unless I do it myself. Doing the work seems hard enough without having to go out and sell it. Also doing this interview has made me think long and hard about my work and my methods, it’s something I haven’t done in a long time. Taking time out to actually analyze and examine one’s practice has been enlightening to say the least so thank you.
Teaching in an art college for 16-19 year olds also provides lots of benefits. I find younger minds can have a vision unencumbered by too much experience and history and can be very inspirational at times.

1 comment:

  1. This is a fantastic interview, my favourite so far, thank you Val. I can relate to so much of this, especially the difficulty in letting go of preconcieved ideas or ego, but when you do for those short few moments it can open up a whole new world of excitement. A really good, honest and informed interview, plus amazing paintings. Just reading this has got me buzzing to get back in the studio.