A Recent Interview to Promote Local Art Exhibition...

Vronni Ward, the Marketing and Consultation Manager at my local council has asked me to do an interview for her based on my own experiences of practising in the visual arts. The piece forms part of a campaign to promote the recent contemporary art exhibition that I'm currently showing at. 

Do you come from an artistic background?

I didn’t have an artistic or bohemian upbringing as a kid. Instead my parents were and still are conventionally hard working and that’s a trait that they’ve passed on to me. I don’t think there’s any truth in the notion that you’re going to be artistic only if your parents are. I think that a decision to seek employment or practice under any sector of the visual arts is more of a natural calling and wouldn’t necessarily be the result of external influences.
At school any form of visual art fascinated me and I remember staring at pictures and ads in books and magazines thinking ‘what makes that work?’ and ‘why is that so good?’ It was this early obsession with fine art, graphic design and illustration that made me realise that I had to learn more about these subjects and also practice doing it myself.

Are you from the Maidstone area?

I was born and raised in Watford, Hertfordshire (England) which was great as a kid because I had the identity of being part of a small town far enough outside ofLondon, yet the galleries and gig venues of central London were just 20 minutes away. I was always more of an urban kid because I enjoyed the excitement of city life which eventually lead me to study Fine Art at Manchester. My wife jokes that I’m a fish out of water living in rural Kent but I wouldn’t change it for the world. Being part of a small community at the foot of the North Downs and having the trappings of village life is something that should be cherished.

When did you find out that you had a talent for art?

I started drawing characters from my favourite comic books and annuals sometime before I was 10 but I always doodled and generally made a mess with crayons, pens and pencils. The earliest piece of work I can remember producing was a poster sized image of E.T. in oil pastels made after I’d seen the film with the cubs! My teacher used it as an advert for a school project based on a review of your favourite film. I started using oil paints as a teenager and did a couple of self portraits on canvas board which I remember thinking were ok at the time. I don’t know where they got to but I’d really like to see them again.

What inspired you and/or what inspires you now?

I’m a self-confessed design, illustration and art geek! If I see a piece of work in a gallery or magazine that has a clear meaning or that fulfils a brief succinctly then it can make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up! There’s nothing quite as motivating as experiencing and understanding someone else’s work. I have a huge amount of online bookmarks to art and design blogs which allow me to keep up to date with new exhibitions and also tells me which design agency is producing the best work. When it comes to artistic motivation, colour, image and movement inspire me in equal measure. If I can create a sense of dynamism using an appropriate mix of colours and brushmarks then I can consider myself to be content. Artists such as Robert Rauschenberg and Mark Rothko used colour and imagery in an epic way.

Do you have a workshop?

I am probably the luckiest person alive as I have exclusive use of a farm building courtesy of my extremely generous in-laws. It has a lot of natural light and its spaciousness allows me to lay several large canvasses on the floor meaning I can work on them simultaneously. At home I’ve converted my garage into a makeshift screen printing studio. My Fine Art degree was based in printmaking so I knew exactly what I needed to set up and once I’d sourced suppliers and built the work surface I was able to produce professional quality screen prints at a fraction of the cost compared to using professional screen printing facilities.

How do you manage to fit in art with your busy day job?

Good question! It comes down to a combination of having a very supportive wife and having to manage my time quite intensely in order for me to produce work of any value. I currently manage the graphics department of a tv channel in south London and the demands of the job combined with the daily commute means that I’m out of the house for around 13 hours each day. I spend as many weekend early mornings in my painting studio as I can and around an hour or so in the evenings preparing work for screen prints. As you can imagine, production on any collection of paintings or prints is slow but can be really rewarding once they’re finished.
My time sitting on a slow and unreliable train has to be well spent too as it’s quite a large chunk of my day. Anything from press releases, my own artist statement and even this article have been drafted as I travel to and from work!

Have you exhibited before?

I’ve had a handful of exhibitions from my student days and more recently. The years after I graduated were spent developing a career in graphic design and so I neglected any form of artistic collaboration. Now I feel that working with like minded artists is more important and in a way I’m playing catch-up with my student colleagues who focused on exhibiting their own work after graduation. Recently I’ve shown work in a group show in a south London gallery and I’ve just finished a 6 month residency at the Lime Tree restaurant in Lenham.

What are your ambitions for the future?

The dream would be to create paintings and prints on a full time basis although most artists need a second job in order to stay afloat and I’d be no different. I also enjoy sharing my knowledge with art lovers who’re interested in screen printing and this is a side of my practice that I can see grow in the future. I’ve published some comprehensive guidelines online on my blog that explain how to build your own studio and produce your first print that have created some interest and this form of artistic collaboration really fascinates me. Blogging is a valuable way of documenting your work and influences so if I can continue to make one or two valuable entries per week then anyone who chooses to follow me will be kept informed of my progress.
To exhibit at a London show such as the Affordable Art Fair or the London Art Fair as part of a local gallery would be something that I’m hoping to achieve in 2011. With this in mind, I’ve recently met with a Tunbridge Wells based gallery to discuss this possibility so watch this space!

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