My work is rooted in the English Idiom: in the landscape, customs, traditions and eccentricities of this ancient land. It is a place of history and mystery: my work often references past legends and myths – both real and (more usually) imagined.
I draw my inspiration from the Eternal Cycle of the Seasons; from the fight between the Light & Dark; from the Battle of the Field; the twilight world; the subconscious voyage; a world beyond reality.
I see my work as continuing along the way of the absurd.
Drawing on elements of Folklore and storytelling these narrative paintings chronicle a world of the maybe and may have been.
What exactly is happening in these paintings is not revealed – it is better for the viewer to construct their own meaning, with reference to their own experience, beliefs and fears.
I had been painting in this vein or a while before I came across the terms ‘Pop Surrealism’ and ‘Low Brow’ – I thought I was alone in creating a chronicle of the odd and inexplicable. I found it immensely reassuring to discover that I was not alone.
So why work in this genre?
There is a strong tradition of Visionary Surrealism that has run through the history of British Art for over a thousand years – I do not believe that Surrealism originated in Europe in the early twentieth century – surely it had already been long established here? The English have long had a love of the magical, the strange and the absurd - from the skewed perspective and bizarre, miraculous occurrences in Medieval Illuminations; through William Blake's 'Portrait of a Flea' and Samuel Palmer's 'Magic Apple Tree'; to Stanley Spencer's resurrected villagers & commonplace saints and Kit William's Masquerading Hare. And Surrealism is a tradition that remains alive & well today.
Most ideas for my paintings come into my mind fully formed: the result of the subconscious working on the massed jumble in my head – trying to make some sense of it all. The first sketch, done in a flash, is everything – trying to retain that dynamic vision without losing it in a sea of technique can be devilishly difficult.
For the techniques I use always tend towards the labour intensive: the accurate and painstaking.
I work in various mediums on various surfaces – I prefer firm flat surfaces such as stretched paper, primed watercolour board or primed mdf (Masonite) – I don’t like the texture & ‘give’ of canvas. Drawing is a major component of the artwork – various elements may be drawn and then comped together in Photoshop & sometimes giclee printed onto watercolour paper before adding paint. I prefer oil paint as it retains its brilliance and translucence better and can be reworked while still wet. I tend to paint using glazes as I was trained as a watercolor artist – and it’s hard to get away from that. I also have a terrible tendency to use tiny brushes when bigger ones might be better.
I also frequently mix seemingly incompatible mediums – pencil with oil paint, acrylic with oil pastel (a recent much-favoured discovery – the random grainness and the brilliance of its colours often bring a painting to life).
Finishing the design of a painting can take years – I’ve got several designs nearly ready to paint which started as sketches or scribbles in the 1990s. Sometimes I’ll return to an old design and it will inspire me to add a new twist – an unexpected juxtaposition – which will lift it out of the ordinary.
A painting can take 150+ hours – I used to count the time but found it counterproductive: it made me think of how much I should charge to justify the effort (much more than I dare ask!) & led to me hurrying things. It is sometimes hard to finish paintings as new ideas come along & shout louder & always seem more fun than something that’s been in the studio for a while.
As a child I drew all the time.
It was the only thing I was good at and the only thing I really wanted to do.
At school I was bored, baffled and frightened by most of the subjects and all of the teachers. It was a very academic school – ‘art’ wasn’t a ‘real’ subject – so I rarely excelled at anything. My mother was very resistant to me going to Art School as she wanted me to get a ‘proper’ job. I went anyway.
I grew up in the dullest suburb of Southeast London - a grey, colourless place which lacked all forms of visual stimulus. In many ways this was a blessing - for Art became a refuge from an early age….looking inward, ‘always scribbling away’……always thinking and living in my imagination,
I trained as a ‘Scientific Illustrator’ – painting birds and flies and medical procedures in photographic detail, thinking this would be a safe corner of the artworld which might generate a regular income.
However as soon as I graduated it dawned on me that if I illustrated Bird Books and Nature Guides I’d never be asked to paint a gnome or pixie or to use my imagination – and so, very quickly, I had to reinvent myself.
I got work with a London-based Illustration Agency as a ‘fill-in’ artist: working in the varying styles of the other illustrators at the Agency who were too busy to take on extra work – I pretended to be them – the clients never noticed. From this I evolved into a ‘Pastiche artist’ – painting bottles of beer in the style of Rembrandt and bars of soap in the style of Van Gogh. Before Creative Suite this was the only way to create such images – by hand & brush.
As an illustrator I created artwork for advertising, packaging and publishing in a wide variety of media: from scraperboad, through watercolour and acrylic to oil paintings. Painting ‘in the style of’ the Old Masters I promoted international brands of beer, lard and hemorrhoid cream and, although it sharpened my skills, I ultimately found the ephemeral nature of advertising and packaging dispiriting: working at a feverish rate to meet a deadline one’s work is one day plastered over the billboards and metro stations of the capital – and then it is papered over in turn by someone else’s campaign a week or two later.
The money was good: it provided the necessary comforts to raise a family. But the quality of work was often compromised by a tight deadline and interfering Art Directors.
With the appearance of computer graphics in the mid 90’s illustration work declined sharply, whereupon I was forced to change direction – becoming a commercial sculptor for the collectable giftware company ‘Harmony Kingdom’ producing rather cute little resin gift boxes. These became, for a while, the centre of obsessive and competitive collecting, especially in the USA, and led to many a bizarre adventure. One of the first ranges I created for them – ‘Harmony Circus’ – remains my favourite. Its quirky, idiosyncratic, English humour is something which I still find endearing. Harmony Circus was commercially unsuccessful – it wasn’t mainstream enough - but it foreshadowed a lot of what I’m working on now, with its quirky approach.
Amongst the suburban streetlights of London one is barely aware of the changing seasons – and it was only long after moving to live in remote countryside, in my early thirties, that was I struck by the sadness of Autumn, the impenetrable gloom of Winter, the outrageous fecund glory of an English hedgerow in May – and the mood changes of the Seasons in between. These have proved an enduring source of inspiration ever since.
I became involved with folk culture – I danced with the local Morris team in villages and wrote a Midwinter Mummers Play – which tells of the fight between Summer and Winter, the Death of Summer and his rebirth by extraordinary means. We put on a performance in my village every Boxing Day (26th December) and it become part of the local calendar – I performed in it for 27 years before I left, and it’s still going strong.
As well as writing the play another reaction to living in the wilds was to sculpt a range of Greenmen wall plaques. The Greenman is an enduring emblem in these isles, but its origins and purpose are obscure. It is to be found widely in medieval churches and cathedral – but what such a seemingly pagan image is doing in such seemingly sacred places is something of a mystery. I believe it has something to do with death and rebirth.
The Greenman is such a dominant image – yet the Greenwoman is very rarely, if ever, seen. I thought this strange and I wondered what one would look like - would it work? So eventually I carved two or three - and these proved the most successful carvings I have created. My range of Greenmen (and women) have proved very popular over the past thirty years – I think they have endured because I took the trouble to carve appealing faces. I think to date I have sold over a couple of hundred thousand of the things.
In recent years I have been able to leave the world of advertising and packaging design & have earned a living more in the History Sector: I have done a lot of Archaeological Reconstructions of castles and manor houses and worked on Museum and Exhibition Design: this is much more interesting.
I have also designed quite a few Special Edition coins for the Royal Mint.
But more importantly - with my own work - I feel that, at last, I am creating something more lasting and attractive – as well as entertaining.
At last I have a little more time to work on my ideas – though I think I’m very much a ‘late starter’ in the world of ‘real art’.
My first paintings were been mostly figurative, with a leaning towards Surrealism and humour. However in 2022 we moved to North Yorkshire – and the impact of the dramatic landscape has reawakened my interest in landscape painting and it is now becoming increasingly central to my plans.
Watch this space.