We drop by the South London studio of Martin Grover to chat about screen printing, Hopper, and artistic perseverance

Martin Grover lives and paints in Lambeth, South London. His work can be found in many private collections throughout the UK, and also in Holland, Italy, Spain, Mexico, USA, Australia and Hong Kong.

Sun and Fun, acrylic on canvas, 104 x 150cm

When did you realise you wanted to be an artist? 

I can’t remember the first time I thought it and I still don’t know if I am an artist; I see myself as a painter really.

I always knew I was good at art, but I didn’t know I wanted to live by it. I just wanted to do it. I was always working in my room as a child and I was good at art at school. I suppose when I finally left college and I realised I didn’t have that support mechanism anymore I thought, “right I have to do this in the real world now” so, since then it has been a process of finding my way.

Was this after your MA at the Royal Academy?

Yes, I was 24 or so. I came out of college, and knew that I wanted to carry on painting. I was unsure how to manage that goal and make a living as I hadn’t been approached by any galleries. Some people get approached by galleries during university and get put onto this, kind of, conveyor belt, but I never had that. I wasn’t very good at the process. I chose to be random.

How did you find your experience at the Royal Academy?

When I came to do the MA in London, one of the biggest cities in the world, it had that sedate atmosphere that went with all those layers of history. It was a quieter experience even though I was at the centre of a bustling metropolis.

I did MA Fine Art there and the first 3 months were probationary life drawing. You were under inspection and they could have thrown you out; that was quite a shock as I hadn’t done any life drawing for quite some time. It was like stepping back into another century. It was weird and very special at the same time.

How much do you feel like it changed your process of working? 

There wasn’t much in the way of tuition, after those three months you were sort of left to get on with it. What it did do is cement the fact that you need to be self-motivated. As an artist you have to have that; you have to get on with it and work our your own practice.

It was a three year MA and in some ways it delayed having to face the real world. I think my work almost stalled a little bit. Once I came out of that institutionalised bubble I had to get a job to fund what I was doing. That’s when I really started progressing, nevertheless those three years were important because they confirmed that I was an artist.

From which artist’s work do you take the most inspiration?

I would choose Edward Hopper. I have always been inspired by his work. Even though it’s a century old it still has modernity. It is realist yet painterly and almost clumsy sometimes, which I find appealing.

I like the melancholy nature of his work, his nocturnal scenes, the feeling of isolation and the drifter element of his artwork. There are many other artists that inspire me, but it is Hopper that I go back to again and again.

One day we'll look back on this and cry, acrylic on canvas, 100 x 135cm

When did you sell your first artwork?

At school before my O levels I had some really nice teachers including one called Mrs Drew who bought some works. I used to copy album covers and recreate rock star imagery in chalk pastel. I can’t remember what I got for them, probably not more than £5.

Even these days it’s still a thrill to sell my work.

What do you think has been the most pivotal moment in your career?

When I left the Royal Academy my friend Julia Lancaster organised an exhibition for me in a disused hairdressers. I think that crystallised the thought that I had to do things properly. That was 25 years ago now. It was a moment when someone believed in me and told me to put on shows. I was quite intent on doing the work, but I wasn’t good at exhibiting or marketing. I really admired Julia for doing that; she’s now working for ACME and deals with artists all the time.

Of course I would have continued painting, but I think sometimes its good for someone to give you a little push because even today I can lack in self-confidence.

Countdown, screen print

Countdown, screen print

What’s the hardest thing about being an artist?

When you live for yourself it’s all right, but when you have a family it needs to be justifiable and fair. I could live by myself in a hovel and be happy, but the rest of the family isn’t so keen.

Aside from trying to make a living, which is the hardest part, I think keeping your ideas fresh, having a solid work ethic and not waiting for inspiration, because if you wait around for inspiration you’ll end up an old man not having done anything. It’s almost like you have to work towards inspiration. Just do something and then the ideas will flow from that application. Some people wait for the ideas as if they will float into your head from the ether, and sometimes they do. Mostly though, you have to make a load of mistakes first, do something practical and that offers you your way in.

What advice would you give to someone commencing a career as an artist?

I’d say work really hard and be focused, don’t get despondent if galleries don’t accept your work. Just take it on the chin and someone out there will be right for your work. I think its perseverance; if you are passionate about it you’ll do it anyway. Most artists are driven people; there are not many who are shirkers who just get lucky.

It’s a balance between getting your artwork out there and then getting on with it. I have always been over on the getting on with it side. It’s in the last ten years that I’ve really focused on getting stuff out there more.

Also, in some ways it’s all about longevity. People will start to recognise your work once you have been doing it long enough; it starts to validate you in people’s eyes. Youth is great because you have lots of energy, but people like to see progress and a body of work, which has grown over the years.

Brixton Skyline

Brixton Skyline

You use screen-printing as one of your primary mediums in creating art. Tell us more about this passion.

Ever since sixth form I’ve been screen-printing. I really got into it during my degree. It died down for a bit after college, though now I do loads. I always loved the process, and after a while I realised it can be easier to sell small limited edition prints rather than large canvases.

To me I am still painting because I paint directly onto the screen, I don’t use any photographic processes, so it’s the same as a canvas. I have developed from very simple screen prints where I didn’t want to replicate a whole painting, to now where I am replicating paintings in print. It is great, but they take as long as a painting. The idea originally was to do something a bit quicker and in a different style. That’s what I love about it, I’m still learning.

I love the excitement when I print a colour, you can’t imagine what it’s going to look like. With a painting you can go anywhere and it can take months. With a print you have a start and a finish and a more linear path. This satisfies me and allows me to simultaneously spend months on a painting.

Another reason I do more printing now is that one can now use water-based inks. This was a great development as it allowed me to set myself up in the studio. I like the idea of being my own cottage industry. It’s worked well and has been what has saved me from getting a “proper job.”

As artists we get this a lot from. Explain what you mean by "proper job"

Well I treat it like a proper job out of respects for my wife. She gets up and goes to work everyday, so I can’t be seen laying in bed and saying I don’t want to go to the studio, but it’s very rare that I would ever feel like that. Most days I am very eager to get in to the studio and crack on.

Martin Grover will be exhibiting his painting, sculpture and limited edition screen prints in The Londoner's Compass this October 18-23rd at The Strand Gallery.