Lose the Script: Adam Riches' Unique Approach to Portraiture

In the build up to our 2017 Winter Exhibition we meet rapidly emerging artist Adam Riches and learn how he found his voice in art and explore his unique approach to portraiture. 

Self Portrait, 2017 | Pen on paper | 29.7 x 21 cm

Self Portrait, 2017 | Pen on paper | 29.7 x 21 cm

When did you first realise you wanted to be an artist?

About five years ago I rediscovered drawing and started making portraits, really realistic pencil ones. I was in awe of people that could make really photorealistic work; I thought "I want to do that." I used to draw when I was much younger, pretty similar stuff to what I do now actually. I went back to this style because I realised how constricting, time consuming and laborious photorealism was. You know, I made some, and the more I did, I improved and learnt more, but then I realised I don’t really want to do it; it was as constricting as a nine-to-five job.

What were you doing it as a job then?

No not as a job, I was doing it for passion really, but then people would say "oh, I’d like to buy one of those." I realised that as soon as someone offered money for one and I knew I had to do one, and how long it took to do, it stripped all the fun from it. The enjoyment went and it became another job.

I guess when you are doing that technical style of drawing you are following a formula, structuring it, getting it perfect, you can see your route from A to B and there is less exploration of the unknown in the process.

Untitled, 2017 | 80 x 60 cm | Oil on canvas | £550

Untitled, 2017 | 80 x 60 cm | Oil on canvas | £550

Exactly, that excitement you get along the way comes with making work that is less scripted. Sometimes it goes right and sometimes it goes wrong, but when it does goes right you are excited by it and the happy accidents that occur. I didn’t find that with the photorealism, at first there was the novelty of thinking "wow this is cool", but it just becomes repetitive.

Around that time I decided to do a BA in Fine Arts at Ipswich or the University of Suffolk as its now called. It gave me the opportunity to chuck all of that to one side, have fun and experiment. At that point I hadn't used oil paint before, it was quite liberating really. I realised it is much more fun to let the medium or material find its own way to some extent.

Lets talk more about the materials you choose to work with.

I do oil paintings and pen on paper; I drift between the two. I have done a lot of pen drawings recently.

What is it about that material that is appealing to you?

It is quite instant, so convenient and you can do it anywhere. I like the immediate black and white. The way that the pen moves, the ball point pen movement has a freedom that you don’t get with pencil. That movement allows me to draw expressively, without thinking too much.

Do you carry around a sketch book or work mostly at your studio?

I mainly create my sketches at home or at the studio, but mainly at home in the comfort of seclusion. I like to have my little art den.

Untitled, 2017 | Oil on canvas | 30.5 x 23 cm

Untitled, 2017 | Oil on canvas | 30.5 x 23 cm

Why do you choose to paint the human form?

I’m not really sure, I don’t get the urge to make work about anything else. I am interested in the way that humans behave with each other and the way that they look. I don’t feel the urge to want to make work about anything else. It seems to be something that I naturally want to represent. I guess with objects or houses there is a geometric shape, or mathematical straight edges and I like the looseness of the human form, it is organic.

What has been the most pivotal moment so far in your career as an artist?

Doing the BA because I always had the impression when I was younger that I wanted to be an artist, it was the only thing I had a passion for when I was really young. A while back I remember having an interview with a career officer and he said "no you don’t want to do that it's very competitive, basically it’s a waste of time." And when you are sort of fifteen years of age hearing that is a kick in the guts. Thinking "oh, the one thing I want to do is a waste of time so I won’t be doing that."

Lil’ Kim, 2017 | Pen on paper | 29.7 x 41.3 cm

Lil’ Kim, 2017 | Pen on paper | 29.7 x 41.3 cm

To be more specific, during the BA I started to realise, or maybe even more recently, that I could sell things. Even during the BA there was a kind of vibe that maybe I might want to do something within the field of art, not just for me, but in general to everybody, and I thought "oh, I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to sell art for other people and stuff. I want to make it". So when I started selling stuff and it became real, and this is recently, in the last year or so I thought "I actually might be able to make a living out of this." I don’t think that was an instant moment, but gradually over a period of weeks and months I realised that this isn’t a silly dream that I am going to have to knock on the head in a while.

I think selling is self perpetuating, because it gives you confidence and then you want to sell more work, improve it and then it snowballs. It can work the other way too, if you are constantly fed negativity about your work then you probably would go the other way. Luckily for me it seems to be going in the right direction.

Untitled, 2017 | Pen on paper | 28.8 x 21 cm

Untitled, 2017 | Pen on paper | 28.8 x 21 cm

You are quite active on social media, how does that help your practice as an artist?

I met my agent through social media and I have exhibited in quite a few local exhibitions in my relatively small town and surrounding areas. Even then those have come about through connecting with people through social media. I sometimes wonder how people did it before then. We wouldn’t be sitting here now if it wasn’t through social media. It’s a great way to connect with the people who are interested in what you are interested in. I read that social media is making some galleries, or at least the nights galleries put on, actually redundant because people are viewing it online so much. Before if you didn’t physically go to that gallery, you wouldn’t know it existed, but it is just there online now isn’t it. I think it works, I wouldn’t have done half the things I have done without social media.

Adam will be exhibiting his latest paintings and sketches in our Winter Exhibition at the Menier Gallery this December 12th-16th. 

Click here to RSVP to the private view on Tuesday 12th.