Can you tell me about your practice? How do you get started on a piece of work?
From obscure queer histories; to Irish nationalism; to north-eastern folklore I use historical narratives to catalyse a playful and inquisitive approach to painting. From near total abstraction to figurative landscapes I like to experiment with representation, depth and collage throughout my practice. I love researching history, whether it's local to Gateshead/Newcastle where I currently live, or further afield’ and from this research I earmark historical narratives that I find particularly engaging or visually compelling and start planning some compositions. I try and have a handful of different primed canvases ready at any time, so I can respond to moments of inspiration/free time and just get down to work.
Who or what are your biggest influences?
This is a tough one. Frank Auerbach was the artist who first got me into painting, so he will always occupy a special place among my influencers. At university, my favourite artist was Helen Johnson, an amazing Australian painter whose historical focus, use of figuration and flat composition always intrigued me. I was blown away by the textures of her paintings when I saw a relatively small exhibition of hers at the ICA in London in 2017. She rakes her acrylic, resulting in subtle grooves running throughout her work, and she also plays a lot with printed patterns. If you look at her figures’ clothing you will get what I mean. Outside of artists, my biggest influence will come from regularly visiting museums and sites of historic interest/capital.
Can you talk about how you explore historical events in your painting process? How do they guide and influence your practice?
So I usually only use historical narratives to provide a starting point when planning a painting's composition. I find it's a great way to get over the fear of a pristine blank canvas, but after that initial spark I don’t really consider the historical narrative that much. Instead I focus on the painting in isolation. In a recent application I wrote how I am not that interested in revering or reforming history through my painting. Instead, I am more interested in the historiographical potential in painting the past. What does it mean to create new, sometimes heavily abstracted, documentation of historical events? Hopefully, my work invites audiences to make new playful connections to their past – a little like a Dr Who episode perhaps.
How important is the choice of material in relation to realizing the concept of your work?
I use oil paint because I have been using the medium for over 7 years and I still feel like I have more to learn. Oil allows for plenty of layering (thin to fat and all that) and gesture. Painting medium wise I use Zest-it, linseed oil, beeswax, Liquin and thinners regularly. I also use oil primer. I am a big fan of the stuff. It prevents the oil paint from sinking into the canvas at all and helps achieve a bright, high gloss finish for my paintings. I also find that the oils are easier to manipulate on top of oil primer. You can work back into the paint with a rubber tipped brush and remove all the colour, producing a crisp white drawn mark. Materiality is noteworthy in my practice, but fundamentally not that important. I use oil paint as a means to an end really.
What is your most important tool? Is there something you can’t live without in your studio?
It would have to be my mobile phone. I take photos of a canvas after each painting session and review them occasionally away from the studio. Normally just before I go to bed. Seeing a condensed miniature version of your painting helps recalibrate your own impression of the work. If that makes sense? As a painter, you can get bogged down in the tiniest of details on your canvas. Taking a digital step back and reviewing the work as a whole helps keep me focused on what the overall painting really looks like.
Can you give us a book recommendation that has been important in your practice? And tell us why it’s important.
Finally, is there anything new coming up that you would like to tell us about?