Tell us about your path to art?
My art journey began whilst working overseas. I have always loved art and always enjoyed visiting galleries wherever I was, but, I never focused on art or painting until work circumstances found me in a remote part of NW Papua New Guinea (PNG) in 2003. I had spent over 20 years in the military before the commercial corporate sector working across mining oil and gas and the resources industries worldwide. In 2003, I was in PNG working for a major mining company in the remote region and highlands of the Western Province, a wild and remote area high in the mountains. I was living and working in Ok Tedi surrounded by dense jungle and incredible wildlife (such as the wonderful Birds of Paradise) very near to the border with Indonesia. The local tribal people and their simple lifestyles had an impact on me too and I started to paint. Having some spare time and surrounded by wonderful inspirational landscapes, I joined a small group of like-minded artists to enjoy the challenge of capturing images of that environment. It was a unique and pivotal time in my life.
You are very well travelled- you’ve said your travels to places like Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East are the basis for many of your works.What provoked such extensive travel? How has all this travel influenced your work?
My father was in the British Army and my parents lived away from England for most of his career. Consequently, although British by birth, I was born in Singapore and grew up moving around the world. At age 7yo, I went to boarding school in England. For each holiday, I travelled to where my parents were living. These trips were to Singapore, Malaysia, Cyprus, Germany and North Africa. When I left school, I was commissioned into the Royal Air Force in 1968 and continued travelling with the RAF to various places. I worked in the UAE in Sharjah, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Oman, Germany, and I served in Northern Ireland.
The travel bug never left me, a legacy perhaps of my upbringing and early career. Today, I enjoy travel and encourage my family to do the same. In my later life, I worked in South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, the Philippines, East Timor and Indonesia on short assignments. I have always loved Europe too and since taking up art, I have painted in Czechoslovakia, Italy, Greece and South of France.
My last 19 years have been in Australia. During this time I have travelled widely having lived in Sydney, Canberra, Kununurra and Perth. I have a love of the North West in particular the Kimberley region of WA.
All these places have left me with a love of colour, light, movement and water. I paint from memory and rather than replicate the reality of a photo, I prefer to immerse myself in feeling for a place and its meaning for me now. I reflect my emotions I had at the time when I was there. In short, the journey I am on now in art is one of self-realisation and appreciation for my past and its adventures. The good and the not so good. The light and the dark. Seeking to capture the moods and feelings that were so much my experience at the time.
Is there one place you’ve visited that has been particularly inspiring for your practice?
Without doubt, the Kimberley in North West of Australia and its similarities with Dhofar, the southern province of Oman in the Arabian Gulf is indelibly marked on my memory. The reason is the rugged outback country, the mountains and rivers and creeks. The ebb and flow of all life. The harshness and the fragility. The heat and cold. The dry and wet. You have it all there. It’s all life.
Your fascination with the French impressionists is quite apparent in your frequent use of soft brushstrokes and bright colours. What is it about this style that resonates with you?
It may sound odd to a non-military person, but I was never that comfortable with conformity. I often found myself in challenging situations. I would always look for another way or another approach. I certainly did not always succeed. But, you can be sure I always tried hard. In hindsight, this made me see things from a different perspective.
Similarly, I love all that the French Impressionists stand for, because, they too didn’t want to follow conformity (they were pioneers). They made the radical and controversial move, at that time, away from the dark towards the light. From painting indoors to painting outdoors and to seek light and movement. Impressions rather than reality. Perhaps because of this love I have enjoyed moving from the conformity of indoor art and found so much enjoyment ‘en plein air’ – in the open air. In other words, to paint light.
The Impressionists did this because they saw the world through different eyes to all the conforming masters. Radically, they shook up the stale norms and attitudes of the art world at that time. They also challenged the ‘snobbery’ of art and pushed new ideas and techniques into a stale market. Of course, not all of them succeeded and even the most famous had hard times but they pursued their creative passion and their belief in themselves regardless of the prevailing artistic opinions of others.
To me, the advent of the impressionist art represents a struggle and a journey based on a belief in one’s craft. To be true to yourself is the hardest thing for an artist to do. To work emotionally between the insecurity of failure versus the arrogance of success or fame.
I seek to strike the balance between insecurity on the one hand, and arrogance on the other.
Your work focuses on landscapes, including cityscapes. What is it about landscapes and cityscapes that inspires you? How do you go about capturing it?
I paint what I feel. Landscapes are representations of what I felt when I was there. Cityscapes are similar although I have been far more reformist in my representations of Perth city for example.
Perth is a wonderful place to live but, in my opinion lacks vision. Perth lives in the short term and capitalizes on wealth generation from exploiting natural resources. The State is driven by wealth creation from the resources sector and very little manufacturing. This resources wealth pays for the services we enjoy such as those offered by government. Interestingly, WA is a vast geographical region almost the size of Europe. So we have this massive region, small population and tiny city in global terms creating vast wealth for all Australians to enjoy. Short term thinking pervades our social world.
The contradiction of the artists is true for Perth too. Insecurity versus arrogance. My feelings for Perth are that vision is entirely based on the short term not the long term and a deep insecurity influences many decisions. I have tried to capture the contradiction and make people stop and think about the future and what it could be if we stopped and designed the future from a longer term perspective. The Chinese plan 40 years ahead. I wonder what Perth would be like if we did the same and what decisions would be made now for the future? We owe it to the future generations to conduct longer term planning and tackle the future in a less insecure or arrogant way.
What artists are you inspired by?
The Impressionists (Manet, Monet, Pissarro, Cezanne, Degas, Renoir, Sisley, Gauguin). Others such as, Klimpt, Picasso, Turner and Constable.
I am constantly excited and challenged by more recent or contemporary artists too. I love the work of major voices such as Anish Kahpour (his amazing ideas) Brett Whiteley (his representations), Streeton (his light) Olsen (his simplicity) Juniper (his landscapes) Boissevain (his honesty)Mac Betts (his courage) Pro Hart (his colours) and David Boyd (his innocence).
In my local scene here in Perth, I have been influenced by Brian Simmonds (his drawing and relaxed style) Ian de Souza (his freedom) and Jana Vodescil-Buruffi (her techniques) Andrew Tischler (his command of oils) Mitzi Smith (her loosness) and lastly, Richard Robinson and Kasey Sealy who are both pIein air painters of the highest caliber. I am a member of a local group called Perth Plein Air Painters (PPAP) who are on Facebook and all these amazing people (approx 200 people) paint remarkable work.
I am always amazed and impressed by the work of other artists and the wealth of talent some people have. It is a constant delight to see what people can do in art and I am always learning. In short, I love a variety of art and am stimulated by most art in general. I love to see what creative people can deliver.
What is your process? Walk us through how you make a work from start to finish.
I rent a studio at the Heathcote Art and Cultural Precinct in Applecross, Perth, Western Australia. My process is as follows. I begin with an idea or an emotion I want to reproduce in paint. It may be something quite loose such as a love I had for a particular place or the emotion I experienced at a particular time.
Next, I search for ideas in how to represent this best and will read avidly all the painters I have outlined above to see how and what they sought to confront. I will search through photographs and seek an inspiration. Light and water both work for me emotionally, so I naturally gravitate to those images. I will use the plein air studies I do every week to create additional ideas and compositions that might work. We are blessed with light and water in Perth. I will draw several loose images and work a composition in rough. I will then do a rough drawing in charcoal on the surface first. Selection of paint (oil, acrylic or watercolours) is next as is the canvas or board. I search for something that will work for the ideas I have. I have no fixed process or template. I do not keep to one size or think about frames at his stage. This stage is all about the feelings and how best to portray them. I do not use ‘soft’ images such as PhotoShop computer programmes or projected photos, as some do, preferring instead to work ‘hard’ copy. Its more risky but I enjoy the risk real creativity offers.
Next, I start into a canvas with the medium selected. Often I may begin in acrylics and then turn to oils. I work the light, perspective, composition and begin to feel the outcome and its direction. It is tiring and frustrating but I turn the music up loud and work well with Bruce Springsteen, Enya, Loreena McKennitt, Emmy Lou Harris, Mark Knopfler and Steeleye Span. Music works well to stimulate my emotions. I find this helps me enter the place some called their own ‘special place’.
As I go, I will layer my work often using some textured materials and even going over parts many times correcting and changing my work. It is never a simple ‘paint by numbers’ activity for me. I am on an emotional journey. This will go for any number of days although I have on occasions finished a work in one sitting when my emotions have synchronised well with my choice of composition.
I continually seek the opinions of other trusted artists to comment on my work as I go and eventually abandon my work when I have finished what I want it to say.
What is a typical day in the studio like for you? Do you paint plein air, or prefer to work from photographs or memories from your travels?
I paint in the studio usually 2-3 days per week. I paint ‘plein air’ each Thursday and Sunday is usually a day in the studio open to the public.
A typical day will be in the studio by 10am and out by 4pm. Lunch is on the run. I will typically work on several works at once and seek inspiration as I go. I will discard work and start again if the work is not coming together as I wish. I may very well spread out beyond the studio itself. I am lucky to have a small verandah to use and often spread outside.
‘Plein air’ sessions are conducted every week in a different location around Perth. There is no instruction unless a specialist painter has come to do that. Mostly the sessions are in a lovely location and I take my materials and paint alongside other artists. These include those doing water-colours, acrylics and pastels as well as oils like myself. Outside, I have to paint fast and I have to mix my colours well to capture the essence of the scene so it s a marvelous way to hone these skills and force improvement on myself. Plein air is a huge challenge not the least because the weather, temperatures, rain, wind and of course the regular visits by curious spectators. All these contribute to increasing the technical and creative quotient. Once I found myself standing on an ants nest as I painted. Not a comfortable experience.
My ‘plein air’ work provides a major source of stimulus to my work back in the studio. I am rarely satisfied with my studies outside and use the time back in the studio to spend time and energy on refining the essential skills and techniques.
You’ve said that “In history, art and creativity have always been valued as the basis for creating the future”- can you elaborate on this? What is your role in contributing to this continuum?
My many travels and visits to galleries and artistic locations and ancient sites overseas in particular to France, Greece and Italy have shown me just how creativity and art influence change in society and social evolution. Art has been a reflection of human creative progress. It has also promoted change and advancement such as through architecture and design.
Mankind has used creativity to grow and develop. Creativity and art are synonymous. The development of so much of what we take for granted today stems from artistic endeavor. Creativity is the key to our advance and development as a species. Art is a building block of creativity. To me, the connection between a civilisation and its art is bound in history and we are condemned if we forget this vital source for our future generations.
Mankind is plagued by problems and today these are laid bare for all to see in the media as never before. More now in the history of mankind, evolution depends upon creativity to find solutions to these problems we now encounter. Art is a key avenue for the creative spirit to foster and grow. In my view, today, art is more important than it has ever been to realising new creative answers to solving global problems. It is really that important and my study of art has shown me this is no less a challenge now than it was thousands of years ago. Art and creativity has shown the way. It is perhaps a commentary on my life in general now that because I have worked in both logical and creative endeavours, the value of keeping a proper balance in both is paramount.
When do you hope to embark on your next travel adventure, and to where?
I am going to New Zealand in Feburary 2016 to paint ‘en plein air’ with Andrew Tischler. He is running a series of painting workshops in the South Island to Queenstown, Wanaka and Milford Sound. He is very gifted young man who paints in a style and ability I admire so to spend time with him in such a beautiful place will be a delight. I am looking forward to it and to the inspiration it will bring to me. I will advance technically with Andrew’s influence I’m sure.
Do you have any exhibitions coming up?
Yes I have an exhibition in Perth from 29th August until 30th September 2015.
The exhibition is called “Uncorked” and is a collaboration between myself and 2 other talented artists, Mary Crawford and Honor Lovis. It will be held at the Houghton Winery, Middle Swan just outside Perth. Houghton Winery is renowned for its excellent wines and food so it promises to be a terrific few weeks. If you are in Perth come along and say Hi!