Below is a short live* autobiography which I hope helps to give some insight into what I'm doing and where I've come from.
Disclaimer: If you think this kind of thing is self-indulgent, probably best not to read it; you'll get annoyed. I refuse to compensate people who following reading this believe 'that's an hour of life i'll never get back'. You have been warned, and if you'd rather spend an hour doing something else, now's your chance.
*'live' autobiography means that I'm still alive and still remembering things. So i'll add to this as new things happen or I remember better ways of describing things that already have happened.
I was born in Sunderland, North East of the UK in 1983. I was part of a loving family made up of father, Martin (a highly respected dentist and multi-talented sportsman), mother Cheryl (originally a lawyer, but who then moved into teaching and finally managing my father's surgery; and who also loves theatre, reading, and learning languages) and younger sister, Hayley (now a lawyer, who was a talented musician and singer at school). There was a bit of art in my DNA; my uncle had been a good painter and my grandfathers who both pretty handy with a pencil. As a kid I was terrible at sport, singing, dancing, music etc.; but I was reasonably strong academically, without being a good student - by which I mean I found it easy to learn information and apply it in my own way but struggled with the discipline of learning and didn't really like the school environment. I loved Maths (I could jump to the answer and do it quickly so minimal homework) and English (I could think creatively on my feet and avoid doing too much work) but found anything that required a methodical approach (such as science, languages or history) frustrating. My family encouraged me to be free thinking and independent, and make my own mistakes, and so I made quite a few so as not to disappoint them.
I first started painting when I was around 13, decorating lead soldiers of aliens and space soldiers. I loved the detail and the environments you could create though didn't enjoy the games so much as they were complicated and I would lose concentration and ultimately be ruthlessly defeated. I had occasional art lessons as part of the curriculum at school and first started painting actual paintings as part of the art GCSE (middle school education in the UK). Mostly the schools used water based paints as not being just about painting, the curriculum also included things like Clay, woodwork etc. I wanted to do something different so initially tried lino printing (which I enjoyed a lot) and copper etching, which initially was great until I realised you needed to think about things like materials and chemicals, which was science; therefore methodical; therefore I was bad at it. I became interested in reading about some of the great artists during this course and realised all the artists whose work I most liked painted in oils on canvas, so I bought myself a set of oil paints and some canvas panels. My art teacher did try to teach me how to build a canvas, constructing a wooden frame, stretching the canvas, applying rabbit-skin glue and primer etc. there was a method to this which meant it was unacceptable to me, so I just bought my canvases from there on in.
The first artist I really loved was Salvador Dali, as I was really fond of his technical skill and surreal subject matter. It followed that the first painting I ever did in oils was of a naked woman in a fruit bowl with an apple for a head. The second was of my face as a baby in an egg on the beach. I produced quite a number of paintings in oil for the exam, most of them were terrible (mainly because I didn't actually know how to use oil paints properly) but some were good enough to give me confidence to carry on afterwards.
Due to my plan to become a lawyer, for senior school academic choices I chose English, Maths, History and German (the most methodical of the world's languages). I did really want to continue art, but if I'm honest this was more because I liked to spend time hanging around in the art studio playing with clay than any serious academic interest in it at the time.
I did fine, then went to university in Nottingham* to study law; which, being a highly methodical, I wasn't great at. I managed to get through the degree, respectably enough and then went onto law school. At this point I decided to take a career break and go off the rails for a while working (drinking) in the hospitality industry (bars).**
* I actually came reasonably close to going to Cambridge University. I applied for Downing College which is one of hardest schools to get in for law as it only takes 12 people a year on that course. I don't think 'Because John Cleese from Monty Python went here' was the answer they were looking for to the question 'Why do you want to study law here?'. They 'pooled' me (if they think you're ok, they make you available for other colleges to choose you) but no-one picked me up. Life could have been so different!
**I actually came pretty close to getting a job in the UK government. I'd done some online puzzles that were part of an assessment process and I ended up getting all the way to the final interview. I don't think 'Because I think John Cleese from Monty Python might have worked here' was the answer they were looking for to the question 'Why do you want to work for the British government?'. Life could have been so different (and I definitely wouldn't have been allowed to make this site)!
For a few years in between the age of 16 and 25 I would paint very occasionally. Normally if someone's birthday came up, rather than buy a present I'd do a small painting. My technique wasn't great at the time, so i didn't have any qualms about giving them away. Working (drinking) unsociable hours (all day and night) in the hospitality industry (bars) and then later moving into an HR job that was a 90 minute drive away meant I was struggling for time to paint.
Fortunately, having all the social charm of a bout of gastroenteritis liberated me from the distraction of chasing girls so that meant I did have a window to work on a few things. However, I'd lost interest in oil painting at this point as it felt like a huge amount of time and effort but with little reward.
It was around this time that everyone was getting into this new thing called Facebook, so I signed up for that and one of the first applications I downloaded to my profile was 'Graffiti' which was a vector drawing program, which, like all the coolest things in the world, was developed by a few college students in the US.
'Graffiti' allowed you to choose another person's profile and then make a simple drawing on their 'wall'. The space you had to work in was around 5 inches wide by 3 inches high. The program allowed you to control 3 things, colour (choice of a small palette of colours), the size of your brush (a circle) and the opacity (how transparent). You could undo the last thing but couldn't do things like select, or save. For some reason (boredom) I decided to take it seriously and as I was one of the first people who seemed to do this, there was quickly a group of us (game designers, artists, tattooists, photographers and graphic designers) who were competing to produce better and better artwork on it. As an amateur it was cool to be in this company and I very quickly ended up with a fan base made up of hundreds of people in multiple different countries and had some of my work printed in a magazine. This was especially smugly satisfying for me as many of the others were using professional equipment like graphic tablets, but I was using the touchpad on my laptop, and had to use a tapping motion because it was too slow and unresponsive to allow me to draw lines. Hence some of the early efforts (black backgrounds with animals, Marlon Brando and a piece of cheese) look like pointillist paintings (dots).
It was nice to have a lot of support for these drawings on facebook; however I couldn't really call them 'art'. Most of them were attempts to recreate an image from someone else's photograph as accurately as possible in a very limited medium.
I was mainly interested in capturing effects such as smoke, clouds, water or glass.
Later there were competitions such as how 'Stick Man' which meant I tried something completely new.
The graffiti experience encouraged me to go back into non-digital painting again. There'd been a few occasions where I'd drawn something I was really proud of and the browser refreshed, or someone deleted their profile and I lost the work. This made me want to get back into the physical art, where you have something you can touch and it will exist in some form unless you burn it or cover it in corrosive chemicals (which I did recently, mistaking varnish for something else, presumably sulphuric acid or Xenomorph blood)
I'd enjoyed the digital experience, so the painting I tried was based on trying to mix digital and oil painting, but splitting a large canvas into 64,000 1/4 inch squares and trying to paint them all individually to form a larger image. It was inspired by the work of Chuck Close. I thought this might become a signature style, but later only did one more of these because the process of making it was so utterly funless that I could imagine it being used as an alternative form of punishment to prison.
Later, in 2009 I moved closer to my place of work which freed me up some time to pursue other activities. I bought a beautiful 1902 Edwardian terraced cottage in the picturesque British town of Leamington Spa. Really, what I should have done was enjoy the town and soak up the inspiration.
What I ended up doing was embarking on a property renovation project, taking this house and trying to upgrade it. I had the misfortune/stupidity of choosing a criminal builder, who nearly bankrupted me, (allegedly (but actually)) burgled me, and made the house uninhabitable. Essentially for several months I lived on a building site house with no roof, a bed full of dust and plaster and had to wash myself standing in a plastic bucket before going to work. It was a miserable experience and got worse when we had the coldest winter for some time in Britain. Eventually I craved warmth and cleanliness so some of my friends were kind enough to put me up (sometimes I had to ask people at short notice if i could sleep on their floor because the temperature in the house was -5/6 and I couldn't sleep for shivering. Eventually I got through it all with some great support from my family, friends and a helpful builder who wasn't a ******* **** piece of **** **** rabbit ****** ****** cake .
Through this experience I viewed life and people in a different way, and began to view life and my role in it very differently. I won't pretend it was as difficult an experience as many have but it had a big impact on my personal philosophy. I then had the opportunity to go to a remote part of Kenya for a fortnight on a research project where I met people who had, even at my lowest moment in the housing problem, a lot less, and encountered much more serious problems than I did on a daily basis, including suffering forced marriages in their young teens, walking hours a day just to get water, facing a daily threat from animals such as Hyenas and wild dogs. It completely put me in my place and I was in awe of the culture that developed in these circumstances. A particularly difficult moment I experienced was when we visited a local girls' school and had to stand up and introduce ourselves. I said that I was in HR for an engineering company and my father was a dentist, mother and sister were lawyers etc. When the time for questions came, the girls wanted to know how they could get a job with my company, or be lawyers, dentists or engineers. I wanted to tell them to study hard and read, and do their best and they'd be OK, but as I started talking I realised that the things I took for granted as a student or kid (such as books, and being able to go to school) just weren't available to these kids. I barely spoke for the rest of the day.
When I got home to the comfort of the UK I felt hugely guilty about the privelege I lived in and also helpless that with all the comparative wealth I had, I couldn't actually do anything to help the people I met in Kenya. I decided to paint one of the girls i'd met as we visited a local village. She had some kind of disability that must have made life difficult for her in that brutal environment, but she looked fantastic, happy and strong in her multicolored clothing and handmade beaded jewellery.
Later I felt a similar experience in Vietnam on a family holiday, which also inspired my favourite painting (see gallery for this one)
So at this point in my life I found I was starting to build an emotional connection with paintings, and trying to capture a character or personal feeling.
Shortly after completing my vietnamese woman painting, I got somewhat busy with my day job, got into a serious relationship, bought a house with my partner, Emma, and we started doing up the new house (DIY requires a methodology so I paid someone else to do it; I did have a decent stab at randomised gardening, where I would just buy plants and put them somewhere in the garden. Some of them even survived despite me knowing nothing about soil pH, light, wind etc.). I finally had enough room for a little studio so started working on some paintings. After we'd been on holiday to Islay, Scotland together I started an ambitious landscape painting which took me around a year. During this time period the opportunity came up to move to China - and the expatriation process takes a lot of time and focus. I finished the landscape in time for us to pack it up and move to Shanghai.
When in my home town in the UK, I'd typically struggled for inspiration, with most of my paintings actually coming from trips outside of my home location. I'd wait for months in between paintings because of lack of any subject matter I thought was interesting enough to spend time painting.
When I moved to China, almost everything was interesting to me; it was wall to wall stimulation. Everywhere I looked was something weird or unusual to me. This manifested itself in a strong urge to paint stuff. My output went up from 1-2 paintings a year to around 3-4. I also realised that because I was paying attention to so much more, the detail was improving but also the confidence in my brushstrokes and use of paint, and I started to build up a body of work I was proud of. This is now visible in the gallery on this site. The art scene in Shanghai is also very dynamic, with lots of exhibitions to experience and the ability to connect directly with artists. I also got the chance to soak in another culture over a longer period and observe and understand aspects that I wanted to express.
Midway through 2018 Emma and I decided to end our 6 year relationship and continue as friends. Part of the process of dealing with this meant I started to make connections with certain groups to get my own group of friends and start to define myself as a single person again.
Early on, I got talking to a few people who gave me encouragement of doing more with my painting, and potentially holding some exhibits. The problem with my existing body of work was that there was no obvious thread. It was too esoteric. So, I accepted a challenge to try and come up with a series of character studies, 12 in around 9 months. Previously I'd taken around 3-4 months each to complete a painting (as my day job will often dominate my time). This required a much more rapid approach to painting but also applying a different thought process to each. I still try to get across the character of a person but through different ways (objects, faces, colours), but also try also to include some observation of the culture I'm immersed in, that takes advantage of my perspective of a foreigner. This exercise is making me think a lot more about how I choose the elements of a painting.
Technically, I still don't really know how to use oil paints. I don't know what the different types of paint are or do and what really happens when you add different oils to paints, other than I know how it behaves differently when you add oil or thinning agent. I still can't really use greens. I'm impatient, despite being detail oriented. I don't plan a picture, and I don't do studies.
My creative process is normally to assemble a few pictures and photos of subject matter and then start to chew the idea over in my head for a while until an idea forms. I'll sketch it out and then start painting almost immediately, usually modifying the picture many times during the process. I take different approaches with each painting. I remember my art teacher saying when I was 14 that you use oils in layers. Sometimes I've taken this to mean I work from the back to the front, so start with the background and work forward. Other times I've done the whole picture in light colours and worked to dark colours as the finish. Other times I've worked dark to light. I've got some pictures where I've started with the most interesting part and put off the boring bits to the end. I don't have a methodology and fortunately it's keeping it fresh for me. It also means I can have ideas midway through a painting and go with those ideas.
Really, oils are probably not the best medium for me to use, acrylics would be better, but i have grown fond of oil paints and ruined enough pieces of clothing and furniture with the messy little bastards to choose something else now.
I wouldn't describe myself as a photo realist, i'm not technically precise enough, nor am I a portrait artist or a landscape artist. I think that I try to take a portrait artist approach (capturing character) but apply it to multiple subject matters.
I also try to get inputs during the process of creation ( I learnt the value of this this during an IT job I had), so if possible i'll involve the subject matter or friends in the process and try and get their input. Usually, even if i don't take on their direct advice, it helps me check my own thought processes.
Finally, I prefer to not stick to anything that has been too heavily covered. I like to pick out the less obvious scenes, the people no-one really notices, doing ordinary things. I'm therefore not interested in signature skylines, or famous buildings.