Andrew Lansley, artist and curator of our Buy Art | Buy Now: Egg Tempera Selection discusses his appreciation for the medium and his recent trip to Antarctica.
With their flat, geometric appearance, the paintings of Andrew Lansley could be viewed as abstract compositions rather than conventional landscapes. While the artist is greatly influenced by nature, his work doesn’t attempt to recreate what he sees, but rather what he feels. In doing so, his paintings evoke a deep sense of place.
Lansley recently returned from a trip to Antarctica, funded by the Friends of The Scott Polar Research Institute, a place he had always dreamt of visiting and had painted often, despite never having been there – a fact that is irrelevant to the conceptual way in which Lansley works. “The thing about these polar regions is that I had actually been painting pictures which I kind of imagined. The whole place existed in my imagination before I ever got there.” Describing these works as a “stream of consciousness abstraction,” he likens the process to that of Abstract Expressionists of the 60s: “It bizarrely relates back to how people like Rothko and Pollock, or someone like Patrick Heron [used to paint]. They were really reliant on the stream of consciousness. A bit like the beat poets and all of the people experimenting with that [way of thinking].”
"Innuit Ice", Andrew Lansley
How did the Antarctic of his imagination differ to that of reality? “It's a bit more industrial than I thought it would be,” he ascertains. “A lot of the time we had this really thick snow cloud cover, with these holes in it so you'd get these shafts of light coming down and everything was dark. When I photographed it, it really did look like a Game of Thrones kind of dark place. I was kind of blown away by that. I think this gives me a chance to edit out a lot of colour and produce something that is quite blank, which is interesting.”
That said, his polar paintings are already distinctly darker than his other landscape works, so it will be interesting to observe what might emerge in these new paintings. “Until I start working with materials I can't tell you exactly what will turn out. I can tell you what I'm interested in, in terms of the composition and the abstractness of the whole place, but until I actually start working I couldn't tell you.”
The primary reason we are speaking to Lansley though, is not his Antarctica trip, fascinating as it is, but something else just as exciting! To celebrate Easter, we enlisted Lansley to curate a special selection of egg tempera works (see what we did there?) for the Buy Art | Buy Now section of our website, bringing together paintings by some of his favourite egg tempera artists.
"Nuuk Fjorden Rock Face", Andrew Lansley
Lansley’s love of egg tempera is infectious. Speaking about the medium with great passion, he compares its flow to the feeling of becoming immersed in “a really thick book, where you get into it in the first few pages and before you know it you're on page 554.” With a view of the process that is almost poetic, he describes the way it “imitates nature” and “has its own rhythm”. He explains, “Sometimes things are done really quickly and that's it, you don't want to touch it anymore because that's how the magic has happened. And other times you really do want to get into something that's quite meticulous and analytical.”
His affinity for this singular painting style dates back to his time as an art student. He was first struck by Samuel Palmer’s use of the technique. Though it was David Tindall who really led him to a major light bulb moment. Lansley recalls seeing a TV programme featuring the artist discussing his practice and realising in the moment he saw Tindall crack the egg, that this was how he wanted to paint. Lansley cites the American painter Andrew Wyeth as another influence.
According to Lansley, egg tempera artists are a “minority” with just half a dozen people in the UK working in this way on a professional level. Lansley has a number of theories as to why this might be. He estimates that many are fearful of working with a seemingly slippery material. “I can't speak for everyone, but my impression is that people are put off by the fact that sometimes when you put egg tempera on, it can seem a bit unwieldy. Either you haven't got the patience for small marks and you think that's the only way you can paint with it, or it can look a bit muddy.” On the other hand, Lansley supposes that some people are just lazy. "They like to squeeze the colour out of a tube. And the idea of cracking an egg and making paint – although it is dead easy if you do it all the time – I think that puts people off.” Lansley is dismayed by the lack of knowledge around "how paint works and how easy it is" and extols the benefits of making paint as opposed to simply buying it. "I think you have a deeper understanding of the medium." It's true, egg tempera can be time-consuming in comparison to other painting methods. Firstly because you have to mix it up yourself, but also because it takes a considerable amount of layering. However, many artists emphasise the merits of the luminous quality this build up gives their paintings.
"Unchartered III", Andrew Lansley
The Buy Art | Buy Now selection features a small pool of dedicated egg tempera artists including Andrew Scott George, Sarah Harding, Robin Lee-Hall PPRP, Ruth Stage NEAC and Lansley himself. The uniqueness of the medium means that each artist "has kind of taken their own journey,” says Lansley, with each using it in a different way. He points to Ruth Stage as an example of this: “She has this wonderful way where she just blobs it on and it looks almost careless and then you step back you think, 'Oh my God, that's really magic!' and I can't see that being impersonated by anyone at all.”
An ancient technique widely associated with the Renaissance, it is the rich history of egg tempera woven into its textures which truly gives it and the artists who use it, its distinctive sheen. "I think there is something about it that does delve deep into the traditions," says Lansley. There's an awareness of the context in which that person is working and I think all of the people in this selection show in their work that they have got that sense of the time and place in which they are working."