16 February 2012

Squinting at Spring

It's there.  Somewhere.  You can see it in the distance if you look hard enough.  For the first time in months I am sat typing away WITHOUT the heating on.  Granted I'm wearing a hoody; it's still bloody February after all.  But I'm pretty sure spring is a-coming.  Well in fact I'm positive, as I did learn that spring follows winter when patterned leggings were big the first time around.  But you know what I mean.

Inspired by the tropical-in-comparison-to-last-week's-snow weather we're having I made this delightfully colourful tuna and lentil salad for lunch today.  So long stews, catch you on the flip side casseroles, peace out pies.

7 February 2012

Still Life

Second article I penned for The Clothes Maiden about the lovely Alice Neave.

The first things I notice about Alice Neave’s paintings are their honesty.  The emotions and life experience of her subjects reach out to you from the canvas.  The starkness of the images she creates reminds me of Lucian Freud’s portraits.  Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that Freud is one of Alice’s idols.  If she could paint anyone it would be him; “such a great painter” she whispers, “that or someone with a really interesting, craggy face”.  Alice has always been interested in faces: at A-level she created a project “where I could just paint faces for two years”.  

Alice doesn’t seek to flatter her subjects; she prefers to capture their essence.  While her portraits are startlingly realistic as a whole, they retain a certain abstract quality that really brings them to life.  She uses colour to convey the subject’s personality; in her portrait of her father she predominantly worked with red tones because “his new wife loves red and it’s like their colour…it means a lot to them”. 

Creating commissioned pieces has challenged her working style, as she has had to meet specific requirements.  Her portrait of Johnny Cash was confined to black and white so she had to work harder to capture him, however focussing only on tonal quality on such a large scale really boosted her confidence.  “That was a real learning curve for me” she says.  Working on a larger scale means that Alice’s portraits are now mostly confined to canvas, which she tells me is also “very good to sleep in, I learnt recently!  Very warm!  I bought 3 metres of it and went to a party, didn’t have any bedding…it’s just a great all round thing!”  She returns to watercolours for her smaller prints but is enjoying her larger scale canvas portraits. “I still like working on little abstract prints but I think big paintings have a lot more power”. 

An upcoming challenge for Alice is a commission for a portrait of a child.  “It’s not because I don’t think children have character, they do.  There’s just not as much to go on.  It’s so much better doing older people, I don’t know why.  I just think it makes a better painting, it’s a lot more interesting.”  She has decided to focus more on the abstract element of her painting when she creates this particular portrait.  “They grow up so fast, they’re really transient and I want to put loads of life in it and make it a bit blurry.  Pictures of children can be a bit creepy if they’re just a snap shot and I want to make it a bit different.”

Alice is somewhat of a perfectionist; with one painting taking as long as 63 hours to complete.  “He got completely reworked several times, it was my own fault: I kept changing it”.  For Alice, a portrait begins with her subject’s nose.  “Some people sketch it out beforehand but I always seem to start with the nose”.  She works with a lot of layers and then keeps reworking elements until she is satisfied.  “It’s amazing, you can tweak one thing and it changes the entire face”.

Coming up for Alice is a possible collaboration with an illustrator, and she would really like to put on an exhibition in the next year.  Her only problem is creating enough work for this to be possible.  Currently her pieces are being bought too quickly for her to build up a collection.  Looking at the captivating quality of her work, I can see why.

6 February 2012

5 Minutes with Lucienne Simpson

I thought I'd share some articles I wrote for The Clothes Maiden magazine as they feature some amazing artists I think more people should know about!
This is an interview I did with Lucienne Simpson who does amazing paintings taken from photographs.
Her final collection of painstakingly detailed photo-real paintings was so popular that pieces were bought by her own university.  Now she’s using her skills working for a best-selling artist.  I caught up with Lucienne Simpson to find out how she has adapted to creating someone else’s vision.

What was the inspiration behind your final pieces?

I’ve always made paintings from photographs.  Painting and photography have a continually difficult relationship because, in a way, they both do the same thing; represent reality. My work pivots between the photo’s instantaneous, reproducible nature and painting’s laborious manual method. The seemingly ‘ordinary’ snapshots are infused with atmosphere through painterly-ness, and the work then functions on its sincerity and simplicity.
What made you choose the images?

I use Google to find photos.  They must be typically photographic, including focussed and blurred areas. I prefer ones which don’t look digital; I like the imperfections you get from an analogue camera.  Second hand images [are] neutral and somewhat authorless; in painting them, they gain a status and I validate them as art. 
It was brave of you to create pieces on a small scale, was size an important consideration for you?

It was a natural progression. I was painting on canvas before, at a larger scale, but the end result looked too grainy, and the 3-dimensionality of the stretcher ruined the illusion. The logical, next step was to use a smoother surface, and work at the same size as the original image.  I’d managed to trick people into thinking that they were real photos, so continued to work similarly from that point.
 Your work shows great skill, is this important to you?  What do you think of the trend in contemporary art that prioritises conveying a message or a concept over showing technical skill?

This was always the issue that kept cropping up during my time at University. I felt that I had to justify why I wanted to go down the seemingly old fashioned route of painting whilst everyone else was making more conceptual work. My mind-frame was focused on the idea that it’s problematic to simply paint a picture in contemporary art, which I can now see is a quite an irrational and negative viewpoint.
 What have you been doing since University?

I spent a good 6 months unemployed, which [gave] me a lot of time to catch up on the long list of commissions I’d gained following the degree show.

I’ve recently found a job as a painting assistant in an artist’s studio, which is incredibly lucky considering how few and far between creative jobs are at the moment.                                                        
 How have you adapted to creating someone else's vision?

It can be quite strange spending so much time on a painting, making sure it’s as good as you can make it, then it not being yours. But that feeling didn’t last too long, and you soon differentiate between work and your own personal practice. I think I now spend more time painting – both in and out of work – than I did when I was unemployed!
 Which artists do you admire?

There was an exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in London, ‘The Painting of Modern Life’, which I constantly refer to. The participating artists confronted the mass-produced pictures of today, and used painting to focus on how the making and reading of images is an important activity in modern life. They examined the relationship between painting and photography and presented the idea that the process of translation becomes a reason to paint, which is closely linked to my own practice.