How long have you been an artist and how did your artistic career begin?
Without it sounding too corny, I guess like most people, I’ve been drawing since I first learnt to make a mark with something. Saying that, I didn’t begin any formal academic training until I was introduced to the Monday evening art club when I started 6th form. My teacher encouraged experimentation and gave us use of amazing facilities from working clay to silk screen printing.
My artistic career really began during the early 80’s while studying at Birmingham Polytechnic. It was a multi-disciplinary Visual Communication degree, which as the description suggests helped develop skills in design and illustration. During the 3 years there I was fortunate to have a number of art/illustration commissions. After the degree I was hired by a medium sized design studio, then called Jim Allen Design, where I was lucky enough to work on both design and illustration projects.
Why do you make art and what themes do you pursue?
Fast forward 20 years (not doing much with illustration or art) and I’m working from my own studio at home, when I was encouraged to join a small local group, who got together once a week to discuss and create works. Joining the group re-invigorated my passion to explore and experiment with ways of making work. Initially painting, I enjoyed abstracting landscapes and light. I then developed a series of works where I would encourage members of the public to help me paint portraits of notable people, from the likes of Banksy to Churchill.
The Symmetree oak….
My main project, which has now spanned more than 6 years, is the Symmetree Oak. It started one misty morning in October. The tree sat on the hillside adjacent to our house and had prime position, on its own in the centre of a large farmed field. That morning I decided to photograph it. Walking around the oak tree, knee deep in Kentish clay, I was awe struck by the way it sat in the landscape. At that point I decided to return to it when there were unusual weather or atmospheric conditions. I photographed the tree over a period of 3 years, gathering hundreds of images.
I’m glad I made the most of the opportunity, as in the spring of 2016 Storm Katie barrelled in and toppled the oak. Interesting, this wasn’t the end of the project. In fact it was the start of something special. An opportunity to work directly with wood and other material harvested from the tree. Using the material to create mixed media pieces and sometimes combining the previous photographs. The oak tree had begun to create its own narrative, which for me, allowed me to try to recreate some of the experiences of spending time in the landscape around it.
Can you describe your first big break?
I’m not sure of the notion of a big break, but from humble beginnings courtesy of the marvellous South East Open Studios, the Symmetree Oak is now represented by a number of galleries and has collectors from as far away as the US. Walking into the marquee at Hampstead Heath for the Affordable Art Fair and seeing the work on the walls of the Clifton Fine Art stand was certainly one of my personal highlights.
What gives you joy?
There is an element of egotism in creating work and one of the best things about doing it is receiving feedback. Having conversations around the work and hearing how the artwork connects with others is the best justification for creating. A beautiful illustration of this happened when I got a message from a mother who was visiting her daughter in Bristol. Having a look around the city she had popped into Clifton Fine Art and was completely taken by a piece. She said that until that point she had never really ‘got’ art but when she stood in front of a Symmetree piece it had moved her. She now understood what some friends had been saying about how important making art is.
How do you like to spend your time when you are not being an artist?
As friends on Facebook will tell you, one of my other passions is mountain biking. I’ve been doing it twice a week for over 15 years now. Not only is it great exercise but the circle of friends and moments we create have been amazing. Pedalling through woods in the middle of the night, catching the sounds and movement of the nocturnal wildlife, weekend adventures across the UK and dealing with all weathers and conditions are perfect material for a chat over a pint in a pub.
What is the best piece of advice that you have ever been given regarding your art?
Shelley Rose, a very good friend and incredibly knowledgeable artist, instilled in me the importance of the collaboration of materials. As a designer, I have always been aware of a visual aesthetic. Reflecting your subject matter with an aesthetic is one thing, but considering materials to create the aesthetic raises the game and opportunity to make.
Is there anything else that you would like to mention?
By way of a sign off, I have to mention everyone who has been or are still involved in the glorious ArtSpring Gallery. There are an incredible amount of very talented people that the gallery continues to support. It does this by the collective responsibility and cooperation of all the artists involved and from the feedback I’ve had provides a refreshing creative point on the High Street in Tonbridge.