Winston Field was shortlisted for The Columbia Threadneedle Prize 2016. Artist, Nick Holmes discusses how he experimented with genre-bending in his latest series of paintings.

A range of magazines passes through our house, any of which could have been the starting-point for the series of portrait collages to which ‘Winston’ belongs, although my agenda for the series was to mix the ‘impossible’ (painting/photography, ancient/modern, abstract/representational). Art magazines, especially those accumulating from the Art Fund were essential to that purpose and a few old copies of ‘Sight and Sound’ were ideal.

For those who might try this kind of genre-bending, my recommendation would be to pay attention to scale and position (looking left/right, ahead etc) when cutting out a range of potential heads and shoulders. I’m none too precise about wielding my scissors when I start my mixing - what remains of hair, ears and neck as I chop away will often completely change the character of the head I superimpose or slide into place. Some extra cutting away might have to happen once the process starts in earnest. I’m all for a bit of humour to keep myself interested, so I rarely settle for the first option that presents itself. 

I find there’s a high drop-out rate - for every one that becomes a painting, there are probably 15-20 portraits that don’t make it for one reason or another, so I have sketchbooks filled with portrait miniatures that remain (and that I exhibit) as such. Moreover, as new material comes to light, there is a vigorous revision process that goes on, so the business is never really fixed until it gets selected.

To enlarge the image for the next stage, I use acetate pens and clear acetate sheets with an overhead projector, although the traditional squaring-up process would do as well. I’m usually in a hurry by this stage, and prefer the quicker method. I might have to use a printer with an enlarging facility to make the collage big enough to trace.

There is no limit, of course, to the size of the image when it’s projected, or to the kind of surface onto which it is transferred. My choice of paper and a small scale for ‘Winston Field’ was dictated by a decision to reduce the size I usually work to produce a more refined end result. 

Whatever the scale or surface you choose, you need to get to a point at which the painting takes over from its miniature template and defines a character of its own. That’s the point at which you can abandon the little collage, and the painting takes off.

View The Columbia Threadneedle Prize 2016 exhibition online now