What drew you to painting?
My mother told me that from the age of three I was drawing. I was always drawing and when I was in school, art was my favourite subject. I went to art college did visual communications as a degree, then spent the next twenty years illustrating greetings cards and working in that industry. I had always painted in my spare time for myself and then I decided that I wanted to bite the bullet and start creating on a more professional level, the artwork that I always wanted to do but stopped myself from doing because of time, and various other limitations. Now I have less limitations and I am trying to put as much time as I can into my own personal work.
How do you know when the time is right to become an artist?
When you are staring at the window and all you can think about is the painting that you are yet to start, or that you started and you haven’t touched for three months because you are too tired from working. Now I am working in a space with myself and it is a very different environment which I really like.
When did you make the move?
In 2014 I said bye bye to a very nice job where I was drawing and creating nice images 9-5, five days a week. In that work it’s like a language, a vocabulary for creating greetings cards, people sniff at it, but it is a real language that you have to learn. There are people who would kill for that job, but after doing it for fourteen years, and before that being a visualiser, I was ready. I would always have a corner in my room where it was the total antithesis of what I was doing at work. That was my balance, and there got a point where I thought the balance had to tip, I thought if I don’t do it now I will get to sixty or seventy and think I should have done that. No one is going to remember a teddy bear.
What is interesting is I used to be slightly derogatory saying that I have come from that background, but for twenty years I have been looking at five by seven canvas. So I have learnt a lot from an extremely commercial area to take into what I do now and it must be there somewhere. It’s a visual background and it’s kind of like playing Pictionary because you have to grab people’s attention as quickly as possible, which is quite psychological. But then to go from having four or five briefs everyday to the brief being yourself, it’s so different. You have to think every day what is my brief? I was worried that would be a struggle, but actually I really love it.
Which artists have fed your Inspiration?
Mark Chagall is a god, Cecil Collins, Picasso, Gauguin for the fact he escaped to another place. My theme is a lot about going back to a place I escape to when I paint. It is a place connected to my childhood, I suppose the constructive element of it is that I get lost in shapes. Every painting is a bit of journey really, because it is not like I am thinking ‘this is what I’m going to paint and it will end up like this.’ It never happens that way, as most of my paintings happen each mark tells me where to paint next. Painting is my meditation, it is somewhere else that I go to, I feel like I go within the painting. Canvases are like windows.
What would you say has been the most pivotal thing in your arts career so far?
Well can I call it a career? I’m only just starting really. Getting my paintings into exhibitions and people commenting is something. Even if I didn’t get anywhere with it I would still have to do it, the biggest thing for me is that I have bitten the bullet and I have decided what I am going to do this and I will stick to it. Rather than successes, it’s more about the state of mind I have got to. Having seen myself as a commercial illustrator for so long it was a big leap to ask me what I do and for me to say painter. It’s a psychological leap of faith.
In a way it’s a form of connecting with my inner child, I’m excited by the imagery from my childhood growing up in the 1970’s in the black country and so there is escapism, mythology, religious iconography and pop sensibilities from that time. All of that connects me to my childhood, but I am trying to look at it from the body of a 46-year-old. It sounds strange, but it’s like I have this eight-year-old version of me sitting there when I am working and it is like I am pleasing him and he is the critic, not me.
I consider myself an outsider artist because my training wasn’t in painting, it was in visual communications, so I’ve more tutored myself by painting everyday and I have learnt my way of painting.
Where do you hope to take the work?
To still have access to that place that I go to, for me it is a spiritual thing as much as it is to have the opportunity to exhibit. I don’t want to have the door barred from going to that place I go to when I paint. It can be difficult because people say ‘oh can you do this in this colour or in that colour’ and in doing commissions I sometimes have to trade in what I am for what people want, which is fine but actually I need to stay true to the eight-year-old self sitting next to me. I probably sound like a nutter.
Well you’ve got to be a nutter to be an artist!