In ‘my own world’. That was me as a child... in a dream! I didn’t ‘get’ much of what was going on around me, but somehow, without realizing, I was mopping up a world of sensory wonder.
Generally, then, I felt that I was on the outside looking in on the world of others. As a teenager, wanting to make art at Falmouth School of Art, I felt that the curriculum was out of my reach and expectations unachievable. Nevertheless, unbeknownst to me, I was logging up a huge reservoir of ideas about colour, an attitude to, and a feeling for life - even though I felt that I was walking in an unfamiliar world.
It is interesting that, as a child, things seem to have collected in my head, and often didn’t reappear until much later in my life. It is much the same with influences as a teenager. At that time the St Ives Art Movement was current, and I remember, very distinctly, how Terry Frost talked to my student group at Falmouth School of Art. That left a lasting impression – I thought that ‘picture making’ was a special thing that was held in place by one’s life experience and the people one met.
It was also the quiet presence of Patrick Heron and his strangely dreamy talks to us as art students that left me with a sense of ‘belonging with art’, even though I had no idea at that time of what I should or could do. I remember his eyes saying ‘We look in a different way!’.
Then there was the grace and gentleness that Bernard Leach brought to us young people… his words spoke of how to put a value on making art, and of how we were part of a continuum.
I am very aware that throughout my life I have been mainly offered the works of male artists to inspire and educate me. That is unfortunate…. in a sense, because though these are good in themselves I feel that there are key pieces of thinking that I now need to catch up on. Sandra Blow, Wilhelmina Barnes-Graham and Georgia O’Keefe have fired my thinking and interest me greatly. Yes, and also Tracy Emin’s bold and outspoken way of getting things across.
As an adult, and after my childhood days in West Cornwall (Newlyn, Falmouth, St Ives) I became a generalist primary teacher. Strangely though, despite what I had felt was an intellectual fog, I knew well how to engage children in expressing themselves as developing artists - making art accessible to their young minds.
After years of teaching, I crashed out of it all - after holding the weight of responsibility as a head teacher. Magically though, it was at that turning point that I rediscovered my purpose as an artist and began to explore techniques, media and intentions with a growing sense of how art ‘works’. I exhibited at that time as a representational artist, yet I was beginning to recognize a drawing back towards abstraction. To me this felt like recovery from something like amnesia! I began to build a picture of myself as an abstract colourist, and painted with purpose and inspiration.
Having initially explored water colours and oils I found that with some care and understanding acrylics were more appropriate to the way I was currently working. (This, even though acrylics become temperamental when the weather is hot and need a bit of coaxing.)
Regarding more recent influences and sources of inspiration, there is much I could say, but colour on boats and the landscape of West Cornwall were fundamental to the way I worked until recently. Since meeting with Patrick Jones (the English abstract expressionist) I have been evolving a new sense of how to use colour. I have headed away from colours stored in my memory, to colours that resonate with me in a more purely abstract, present time, context. This reveals and allows more of what I want to express.
The ‘process’ of painting is the thing that matters! I have arrived at this stance having previously worked much with an audience in mind, and I realize that thinking outside of the ‘creative process’ takes one away from the creative process itself. This may seem an elevated and perhaps unrealistic stance, but for me the best way to work is through turning up at the studio and pursuing creative thoughts and expressing them on the canvas. This is where the significance of painting lies.
One has to emerge from the singular world of making marks to explain the way of working and motivation to others. Frequently I ask myself as part of my work method… ‘Does this picture speak for itself?’
I paint to experience the process. It is that which fascinates me. When I work, I think of colour, shape, form, texture, composition. Initially I draw swiftly on to the canvas to establish the basic composition. Then I develop colour ideas for the work ahead. The canvas itself has to be acknowledged too. I use unbleached canvas that has tension, colour and texture… all of which affect the way of painting, and the outcomes.
Pigments must be correctly prepared before application. Mixing is essential to getting the right consistency and crucial to making an idea work. Finding hue and shade require time and thought too.
Often I am asked how long it has taken to complete a piece of work. For me before getting out the paints, there is much thinking, mulling over ideas, research and dialogue with myself…. all of which precede the act of ‘painting’ itself.