The narrative element of your work is something I'd be intrigued to find out more about, could you explain a little about what process you go through in developing a concept before even beginning to add paint to canvas?
There are similar themes to all my work which consciously and sub consciously are responsible for the elements within each painting. I do not start a painting with a specific idea in mind but go through a process of constructing a narrative through the juxtaposition of disparate elements. Typically a painting will go through many changes before I decide it has reached some kind of conclusion. When I start a piece of work I am aware that the first elements of it might well disappear. This is part of discovering a narrative within any individual piece of work. I am excited by the fact that nothing is predetermined and that as the painting develops I can see the possibilities emerging. There is no diatribe going on in my work as I wish the people looking at it to develop their own narrative. Obviously there are some big clues as to how the viewer will interpret the painting but it is always my intention to ask questions rather than give answers.
Compositionally there seems to be a certain weight to any arrangement
you decide upon, is this something you strive to incorporate, and why do you think this aspect is so vital in each piece?
I love playing tricks with composition. As a student I was really interested in the golden mean as a constant constraint in composing paintings. I liked the harmony it gave to a painting. As I have developed as an artist however I have enjoyed putting together compositions, which can make one feel a little uneasy. I have even made paintings by putting together separate canvases, which have been painted individually. Paintings like The Age of Reason or Salem’s Lot is really two paintings in one frame. The problem with explaining processes like this detracts from the fact that the compositions I come up with rely on intuition. Analysis like this is all very interesting but when I am actually making my paintings I am working very like an abstract painter. I am not a slave to photography or the verisimilitude of the image. I am completely absorbed by the actual process of painting.
A question often raised in the world of figuration is; 'Do you work from life'? Although I realise that working with a live subject reveals additional levels of detail in tone and light that a camera may not successfully capture, I don't feel this is something, which necessarily limits the success of any piece when all-out realism isn't the only mandate. What is your outlook on working from imagery, be it live, photographic or memories?
I work from a variety of sources. Photography is a fantastic tool in gathering information and enables one to be able to work with a great deal of information without the problem of having to getting people to pose for you for hours on end. Nearly all the people in my paintings I know well so it is always possible to go back to them if I have a problem with a photographic image. As you can see from my work however I do not just paint photographs. There are many elements, which come from other sources. Very often I just work from memory. In a painting like Loughros Point Revisited I started the painting by working purely from memory. The dry stoned wall is based on one in Donegal but is also referencing the wall around my garden in France. The ground the figure is set against is pure fabrication. The figure himself is based on a photograph of a person I knew several years ago who sadly died. The photograph I took of him at the time was essential in helping me successfully completing the painting. I do understand the limitations of photography however and realize the camera does lie. I have done academic life drawings throughout my time working as an artist, which has been invaluable in enabling me to successfully work from photographs.
Figurative work seems to be going through a resurgence in the marketplace at the moment. So I'm curious how you feel about the change in the contemporary marketplace over the course of your career? From the advent of online sales have you seen a marked increase in sales or do you feel any changes in the market for your work come from a change in your process or output?
I have been a figurative painter since graduating from Art College in 1978. At that point I had been told that painting was dead. In fact I was told that all representational painting could be is a trick of the eye. As you may gather I thought this was bollocks. Of course painting has always had a place in the marketplace as people like paintings on their walls. This was never a concern of mine however as I wanted to make paintings which I believed in and that carried a social message. Figurative painting did however enable me to work in situations, which suited me very well. Residencies at Sunderland Football Club and Birmingham Airport were possible because I was a figurative artist. At this time there was also an increase in the number of galleries selling figurative work due to a healthy economy. Conceptual Art did however swamp painting and the craft of making a painting was secondary to the concept. Personally I cannot see how you can divorce the two.
The advent of the Internet and the development of online galleries has seen an amazing transformation in the health of the art market. The artist can now have his or her work seen by people all over the globe. There is still a need for people to see the work in the flesh but I have been amazed at how people have bought paintings without seeing them in front of them.
Aside from the market place, what is it about the human form that you find important to investigate in each of your pieces, or is that just a component and is not in fact what you centre your work around?
The figures in my paintings are very important. I have only made one painting I can think of which does not have a figure in it. That painting is of a tree in Sachsenhausen, the concentration camp outside Berlin. When visiting the camp I, like everybody else who goes there was moved by the experience. The tree was old enough to have been there while the camp was in operation and I just had to make a painting of it.
My paintings are really about people and the way we perceive them. They are not meant to be specific portraits but paintings of people whom I know and become actors in my narrative.
Knowing you work from a studio in the South of France, could you explain what made you move your practice overseas? What are the benefits or draw backs from working in France and selling work in London?
I love the South of France and have had a house there for fourteen years and have been living and working between London and France throughout that time. A couple of years ago however I bought a hanger, which is a fabulous work space. It is now my main studio. A great advantage of being in France is that I could afford to buy a building of that scale which would have been impossible in London. When I am in the studio I could be anywhere, it is only when I go outside and see vineyards instead of buildings that there is a major difference.