Artists Interviews with members of the Federation of British Artists and exhibitors at Mall Galleries. Featuring essays, Questions and Answers and lists of artists recent work.

Q&A with Maddy Buttling

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We were delighted to award Maddy Buttling the Mall Galleries Prize for Best Figurative Painting at last year’s Holly Bush Emerging Woman Painter Prize.

The prize is 8 Free Entries to Calls to Exhibit (worth £180), so we were excited to see what work Maddy would submit, and then keep our fingers crossed that it would be selected for exhibition by the Society’s Selection Committee.

We were very pleased to discover that Goodbye Mitsubishi! Was selected for the New English Art Club Annual Exhibition.

Goodbye Mitsubishi! Oil 16 x 21 cm £480

On an intimately small scale, Maddy's paintings ritualistically stalk household pets. She devotes herself to unironically deifying the ephemeral pet while observing the humour and tenderness of the relationship between human and animal. Goodbye Mitsubishi! bids farewell to a longstanding family car

We asked Maddy a few questions about her practice:

Past or present, what artist from the NEAC do you most admire? Why?

Gwen John (1876–1939). She paints small-scale interiors with cats!

Gwen John Girl with a Cat 1918–22 The Metropolitan Museum of Art

What is your favourite work in this year’s exhibition? Why?

I enjoyed On The Sofa by Max White. Within the fabric of the sofa I see the suggestion of a small black and white dog, but I think White is allowing you to see the things you want to see in this ambiguous picture of happy solitude.

Max White On the Sofa Oil 16 x 16 cm £300

What gallery did you first sell a work at?

My first gallery sale was at the RA Summer Exhibition 2020, it was a small painting of my deceased hamster called ‘Dead Pierre’.

Dead Pierre Oil on plywood 14 x 14 cm

Where do you produce your best work?

Being around my dog helps. I plan paintings through spontaneously taken photos on my phone. Usually in domestic spaces. Grief is also a huge influence, this idea of memorializing through the grandeur of oil paint. I really started painting when my childhood dog died.

What brand / paints make up your palette?

I mix a lot of colour so control and accuracy with my paint is important for me. I lean towards brands with a high pigment load, such as Michael Harding and the Winsor & Newton Artists’ line.

Do you have any rituals or routines when preparing and starting a painting?

Procrastination.

The New English Art Club Annual Exhibition runs from 25 June to 3 July 2021

Discover the whole exhibition

Book your timed ticket now

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Maddy Buttling, Goodbye Mitsubishi!

Catching Mice: An Interview with Peter Clossick NEAC

Venus de’ Medici Triptych by Peter Clossick, 2017. Oil pastel and paint on paper, 118 x 86 cm. Image Felix and Spear..jpeg

Peter Clossick NEAC talks about his influences to Lucy Cox of The Aura of Abstraction

Lucy Cox: You grew up in post-war London. What was your life like during this time, and could you recall your earliest memories of the city’s art galleries?

Peter Clossick: London, where I lived during my early childhood, particularly Kings Cross, Somers Town and Camden Town, was full of bombsites. Like many children, I played in them and later realised that they were the forerunners of adventure playgrounds. For the first four years of my life, I lived with my brother and parents in two rooms, with a gas stove on the landing and a toilet two floors down. I did not come from a position of privilege but have lived through free and privileged times.

Art galleries were not on the agenda during early childhood. Instead, it is more the business of day-to-day living. My cockney mother worked as a cleaner in the mornings whilst my Irish father worked six days a week on building sites and garages. One day I visited Tate Britain by myself. Blown away by Ivon Hitchens and David Bomberg, I thought, “I can do that.”

LC: Why did you decide to become an artist?

PC: I am not sure it is a decision you make, to be an artist, but something you have to prove to yourself. From an early age, I realised that play and imagination, rather than academia, were my best strengths. Perhaps it is a cliché, but, as a young child, I frequently lost myself in childish scribbles; drawing became a means of escape. So, creativity was my best hope for the future. Initially, I never considered this a career, but more an area of life in which I found myself.

LC: In the early 1960s, you attended evening life drawing classes at the Working Men’s College. Could you discuss your experiences and how drawing, particularly in the traditional sense, became fundamental to your practice?

PC: At fourteen, I had run away to Ireland and, after being picked up by the Gardaí and shipped back home, expelled from my catholic grammar school for moral turpitude. I was desperate to find my own space away from the crowded council flat, where I lived with my family, and the Working Men’s College happened to be close by.

I remember visiting the college’s beautiful Victorian studio for the first time; the smell of oil paint was like coming home. Although I was underage to join the life drawing classes, the elderly tutor, who had possibly trained under the likes of Henry Tonks at the Slade School of Fine Art, took me under his wing. The college provided an old fashioned art education whereby drawing and painting from the subject was the norm. Before I even started to question the meaning of drawing and painting, this traditional approach has stayed with me as the bedrock of practice. At the same time, some Royal College of Art students, through whom I became aware of the advent of Pop Art and Op Art, invited me to attend some of their classes. However, I was taught no knowledge of line, tone, colour and perspective, and wanted to learn more about visual language.

Op Art Study by Peter Clossick, 1963. Image courtesy of the artist.

LC: Which artists were you looking at during this time, David Bomberg, and the School of London painters?

PC: Those influences on my work came much later. Initially, I attended Leicester Polytechnic to study shoe design. After being rejected for a foundation course at London’s Central College, having no support or private funding, to make a living I decided on commercial design. This was the mid-1960s; therefore an exciting time to be young and fashion was king. Whilst working at a design studio above Browns, on South Molton Street, I became a successful shoe designer. Then, in my early 20s, I reverted to my original desire to study fine art and attended Camberwell School of Art, where the Bomstream ideology took hold of me. I developed an interest in Frank Auerbach and other painters within the School of London. The Human Clay exhibition, organised by R.B. Kitaj, also had a significant impact on my practice. Although I had dabbled in abstraction and other experimentations, over time, I knew figuration was where I wanted to be as it suited my thought processes.

Peter Clossick’s shoe designs, 1966. Image courtesy of the artist.

Abstract painting by Peter Clossick, 1978. Image courtesy of the artist.

LC: Why was The Human Clay exhibition important to you?

PC: In 1976, The Human Clay reinforced my desire to work from the human body and explore figurative language and its psychological implications.

Similarly, the 1984 exhibition Hard-Won Image also gave me the confidence to pursue a traditional direction. For me, it reflected contemporary art going back to basics. Art is about drawing from life, a characteristic that had become irrelevant. I thought the modernist narrative of ‘new-ism’ had played itself out. Undoubtedly, we were at a watershed moment, similar to the Mannerist period between Renaissance and Baroque, re-iterating the tropes of early modernism. By then, I realised that I was not interested in radical politics or opportunist irony as entertainment. Most obscure conceptualism can be discussed endlessly with art speak. As George Orwell wrote, obfuscation is ‘a cuttlefish spurting out ink’. Having already rejected the fashion world for what I regarded as a more serious engagement with my life, art as fashion had passed me by.

 

Portrait of Mother Asleep by Leon Kossoff, 1963, oil on board. Kossoff was one of six artists who exhibited in The Human Clay. Image: Mitchell-Innes & Nash.

Painting by Peter Clossick, Camberwell School of Art, 1974. Image courtesy of the artist.

LC: How do you begin a painting?

PC: I could say the beginning of any painting is on the back of one’s previous failure and is very subjective. Any picture is a journey into the unknown; everything I do is an experiment toward this end. I do not regard myself as a jobbing artist, making a product. Fundamentally, I believe in drawing in all its forms. My particular style is from the body and the Zen idea that the only changeless thing is change. My visual perception is in post-existential theory, from philosophers like Maurice Merleau-Ponty, who believed that we could not meet in the world in the middle, with Cartesian duality. I do not see any separation between mind and body; the world looks back and mirrors me. Self-construction is always in the moment and forever changing.

Head Study by Peter Clossick. Charcoal and chalk on paper, 67 x 50 cm. Image: Cotswold Contemporary

Mirror Mirror by Peter Clossick. Oil on canvas on board, 2016, 80 x 68 cm. Image courtesy of the artist.

LC: How do you stay motivated?

PC: Motivation is never a problem. Creativity poses too many questions, for which I do not have answers; the engagement with the act of painting and not knowing the outcome is forever entertaining. My motivation is curiosity. By not creating a work of art solely to sell a product or treating it as a means to an end, the activity becomes my form of total freedom. I make the rules and set the parameters.

LC: Do you have a favourite painting of yours?

PC: Some works of art have become markers along the way. The best practice is not necessarily the most recent. To make any judgements about what I produce, I need distance. For example, Goya’s painting The Dog became a subconscious influence on my work. In the early 1980s, Frank Auerbach’s model, Joan Yardley-Mills––‘JYM’ for short––sat for me as a friend over several years. Only years later did I make the connection with Goya’s painting through the broadly similar composition. They say originality must have an origin. Art history is significant to me, from prehistoric cultures to the present day.

       

Goya’s The Dog 1819–1823. Oil mural on plaster transferred to canvas. Image: Wikipedia.
JYM (After Goya) by Peter Clossick, 1983. Image courtesy of the artist.                                                                     

LC: Which other historical paintings are essential to your practice?

PC: Three obvious favourites are Rembrandt, Titian, and Goya at the National Gallery. When my daughter was born, I drew Giovanni Bellini’s Madonna of the Meadow, probably reflective of my catholic upbringing, as was Titian’s The Tribute Money. One of my biggest thrills was having an actual Rembrandt etching (loaned!), which I copied. Later, by drawing Goya’s Portrait of Doña Antonia Zárate, I noticed the compositional stability of a triangle within the rectangle. Picasso once said artists should steal, not borrow.

       

Three Studies of Old Men’s Heads (After Rembrandt) by Peter Clossick. Image courtesy of the artist.
Three Studies of Old Men’s Heads by Rembrandt, 1630. Image: Wikipedia.

      

Portrait of Doña Antonia Zárate (After Goya) by Peter Clossick, charcoal on paper. Image courtesy of the artist.
Portrait of Doña Antonia Zárate by Goya, 1805. Image: Wikipedia.

To learn, I observe other works and ideas and find digging through the past more fertile than contemporary art. I could name a long list of historical paintings and sculptures that have influenced me, from ancient to modern: my initial surprise at seeing Rubens’ painting, Descent from the Cross (such a vast scale!), and Holbein’s The Ambassadors, wondering how the human mind conceived such works; Van Gogh; Giacometti; Etruscan votive figures; Cycladic sculptures. They are all influential. I have a full-size plaster copy of the Venus de’ Medici in my studio (the original copy dates back to 1st-century BCE), a source of endless inspiration, which measures the distance between then and now. I love history.

Venus de’ Medici Triptych by Peter Clossick, 2017. Oil pastel and paint on paper, 118 x 86 cm. Image: Felix and Spear.

Lockdown Studio by Peter Clossick, 2020. Image: The New English Art Club.

LC: You have been making art for over fifty years. Have you ever been discouraged? If so, how did it affect your creativity?

PC: Being an artist in our capitalist-driven world, you learn to accept rejection and roll with the punches. When I was a boy, I received a medal for ABA boxing. Boxing taught me not to be frightened of defeat; it is all part of the contest. As someone once said, the art world is hugely competitive, with too many artists and not enough crumbs on the table. Over time you develop a thick skin, so much so that the only real judge is yourself.

LC: What are the components of truthful painting?

PC: Some artists use a two-dimensional surface with marks, shapes, colours, tones, and lines, all of which construct a visual language. These constructions, used for multiple purposes, can be read in various ways. We express verbal, written and musical communication through linear time, and visual language happens simultaneously. You know instinctively if you are lying, doing a cover-up job, or gilding the lily. So ‘truthful’ painting is purely subjective and cannot be proven rationally, except what it feels like through communication. It is not a claim to be better than others, only a way of thinking through painting. As Willem de Kooning said, when you see two people kneeling in church, we do not know if one is praying and the other is working out the shopping list. Jackson Pollock commented to de Kooning, “you know more, I feel more.” How can that be proven? Yet we know what he means.

The Last Few Days by Peter Clossick, 2019. Oil on board, 127 x 127 cm. Image: The New English Art Club.

LC: What is the best advice you have received?

PC: It is not advice that some sage artist has given me, but a two-word Chinese proverb that says ‘perseverance furthers’, which I read analogous for life, from birth to death. Another saying appeals to me for its rationality: ‘Matters little if it’s a black cat or a white cat, as long as it catches mice’.

 

Peter Clossick NEAC studied at Camberwell School of Art and Goldsmiths College. He regularly exhibits nationally and internationally. Clossick is a member and the Past President of The London Group, an artist collective established in 1913, and a member of The New English Art Club.

You can see Clossick's work in the New English Art Club Annual Exhibition from 25 June to 3 July

Discover more of Peter Clossick's work 

This interview originally appeared on theauraofabstraction.com

 

 

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Venus de’ Medici Triptych by Peter Clossick, 2017. Oil pastel and paint on paper, 118 x 86 cm. Image Felix and Spear..jpeg

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Venus de’ Medici Triptych by Peter Clossick

John Scott Martin RSMA on the Value of Sketchbooks | Part 3

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Continued from Part 2 - John Scott Martin RSMA PPRBSA FRSA shares more pages from his sketchbooks

St Malo

Two sketches from under the walls of the port. I was off the boat for a couple of days.  While I was having a beer, a few marker pen sketches were produced.  Again rarely miss the chance of quick drawing plein air.

Pittenweem, Fife

These sketches were produced as a teaching aid, prior to a month long cruise in the Med.  I was to show students how a location sketch  could be developed. Changing medium, composition, tone, colour and even the time of day. Drawing techniques were also to be discussed. Teaching on a cruise requires as much flexibility of style as possible, allowing for very variable levels of ability.

View John's works in the Royal Society of Marine Artists Annual Exhibition

The Royal Society of Marine Artists Annual Exhibition runs until 10 October.

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John Scott Martin RSMA PPRBSA FRSA , St Malo sketch

Plein air to studio with John Walsom ROI ARSMA

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Although John Walsom ROI ARSMA has not always been a plein air painter, he says "it's become the centre of my working life. It's a tricky business, and the results don't always match our expectations. They do usually have the immediate look of something done on-the-hoof (at least, mine do), but without repeat trips they can't have huge amounts of detail or re-working (mine again)."

"Lockdown forced a lot of us into different work practices, especially if we were used to going out to find our subjects. Making bigger pictures from my plein air studies was a way for me to keep happy working in the studio, and I'm doing it more, even now that (for the moment) I don't have to.

My most common plein air size is 12 x 16", I work on gessoed boards, with a mid tone pre-applied. Recently I've been carrying bigger canvases, usually 24 x 30", in pairs with spacers, but for marine subjects, the wind is very often a real problem with work of this size. My painting of Flushing in Cornwall, which is showing in this year's RSMA show, was almost completed on the spot, but I was standing at the edge of the quay, and a wind from my back got so strong that I was having real trouble stopping the canvas (with me attached) flying off over the water. It was my last day in Cornwall so I took a photo and finished it off in the studio.

Flushing, Cornwall Oil 61 x 76 (76 x 91 cm framed) £3,200 - Buy Now

My plein air painting of two historic oyster dredgers at Mylor, the Six Brothers and Boy Willie, was only 10 x 12". I wanted to work at sight-size, because the shapes of the boats from this angle can be really challenging if you can't easily do measuring with your brush. I needed to be quite close because of the road behind me, and couldn't fit both the hulls into the composition, so I cropped off a bit of the one on the left, which I thought looked ok. I just managed to include enough of the sky to suggest the cloudy sky in the distance. I was working hard on getting the shapes and tones right, and thought much less about atmosphere or mood.

It was accepted for the RSMA exhibition in 2017, and I thought it was strong enough to be worked up into a bigger painting, so in the studio I used a 24 x 36" canvas. I widened the view slightly, to include both hulls, some more sky, and the bottoms of the prows, so the boats are more visibly sitting in the water. I think the extra sky and water has allowed me to show the atmosphere of the day better, so it's more than a factual record of what was there. Although there's more detail in the marina boats in the background, most of it is just made-up patterns of boaty shapes and shadow. This painting was shown at the RSMA show in 2018.

Boats at Mylor Harbour Oil 76 x 91 cm

On a rainy Sunday in 2017 I did a little 10 x 12" painting of Hammersmith Bridge at low tide. There were some nice bits of bright red on the barges sitting in the mud, and I liked the contrast with the dull green of the bridge.

Searching for lockdown projects in April this year, I dug this one out, and thought I could make a bigger version. I had a 20 x 24" board, and because the proportions were the same as the original, I did a basic squaring-up (just into quarters) to copy the shapes at double the size, as I quite liked the composition as it was. It's difficult to keep the immediacy of a hurried sketch in the rain, when you've got all the time in the world and a cup of tea on the side, but with the help of bigger brushes and a self-imposed ban on Radio 4, I got a result that, I think, keeps the feeling of a grey London day. A strict no-fiddling, alla prima only rule also helps at times like these.

I was going to Cornwall most years, long before I started to paint there. Last September, on a return trip to Mylor, on the South coast near Falmouth, I was at the marina, very close to the location of the Seven Brothers and Boy Willie painting above, but at low tide, while I waited for my kids and their friends to come back from kayaking around the creeks. I clambered around in the mud for a while, and got very interested in the sun reflecting from the coloured lines between the oyster dredgers and the shore. It was helped by a strong contre-jour light, with the sun above the right hand corner of the view (always carry a peaked/wide brimmed hat). I really wanted to get it finished before they got back and demanded lunch, and that urgency helped me to keep it fresh, I think. A yacht was out of the water being cleaned on the harbour-side, and I could see some activity between the masts and rigging of the fishing boats. The profiles of the hulls were very elegant, especially the way the black one was just gently touching the ground, with sunlight shining underneath. Amost the best bit for me though, was the surface of the mud, and the sun glinting on the bits of shell and rock.

It was only a couple of months later that I decided I had to make this into a bigger painting. The canvas I used is 70 x 100cm (about 28 x 39"), so a bit wider in shape than the original. I didn't want to lose any of the top or bottom, so just extended both sides, to see a bit more of the stone bank on the right, and the boats and blue tarpaulin on the left. Both of these help, I think, to locate the view and make it clear what's going on. Otherwise the composition is pretty much identical. I always work on a toned surface, and covered the canvas in something like the same colour which shows through in places on the original board - a purply mix of ultramarine and cadmium red. I made a bit more of the reflections in the mud, and highlights on some of the lines and bright edges, to bring out the contre-jour feel.

Mylor Yacht Harbour, Low Tide Oil 69 x 99 (84 x 114 cm framed) £3,400 Winner of The Baltic Exchange Award 2020 - Buy Now

I knew there had to be a reason why I kept hundreds of old plein air studies, often of dubious quality. It's good to know that, if the world keeps me stuck inside for a while, I've got plenty of material to work on, without having to get the photo album out."

John Walsom's Mylor Yacht Harbour, Low Tide was awarded The Baltic Exchange Award on 30 September 2020.

It can be viewed, along with the rest of the Prize Winners, as part of the Royal Society of Marine Artists Annual Exhibition in the gallery until 10 October. 

Book your ticket to visit the Exhibition

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John Walsom ROI ARSMA, Mylor Yacht Harbour, Low Tide

Cheryl Culver PPPS RBA - Art in Lockdown

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Cheryl Culver PPPS RBA speaks about her life and work from her home studio during lockdown.

Cheryl currently has work in The Figurative Art Fair, the only exclusively online art fair for the finest contemporary representational art.

Cheryl Culver PPPS RBA Sunflowers (2018) Pastel, 85 x 48 cm, £950

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Cheryl Culver PPPS RBA, Sunflowers (detail)

Reception Selection: Lucy McKie Q&A

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Our Reception Selection is a seasonally rotating selection of works on view at our reception space at 17 Carlton House Terrace, curated by Depa Miah. The latest exhibition displays the work of still life and portrait painter Lucy McKie ROI.

Lucy McKie has been a member of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters since 2011 and has won several awards for her works exhibited at Mall Galleries over the years. We spoke to Lucy about her artistic upbringing, her fascination with painting still lifes and her longstanding relationship with the gallery.

Lucy McKie ROI, Seville Oranges in July Light, 51 x 56 cm, Oil - £2,400

Your website says that you were born into an artistic family. Can you tell me a bit about that and how it influenced you becoming an artist?

My dad was an illustrator and my mum a writer. Because I grew up around illustration, I spent a lot of time drawing and was always interested in observing and capturing detail. I began painting quite late as I was happy drawing and working in pencil initially. I think that led me to develop a “tight” style of painting that focuses on my attempt to record what I see. At first I wondered if I should try to loosen up my work, but eventually it dawned on me that it’s better to paint with your own natural style, whatever that is.

Before I start a painting, I always plan compositions carefully, spending time drawing and working through ideas and looking for interesting details. Sometimes people who have collected my paintings have said that they enjoy noticing new little elements over the years as they live with them, which I love.

Lucy McKie ROI, Early Light, 36 x 36 cm, Oil - £1,650

For those unfamiliar with your work, what are your main influences and how do you approach your subject matter and colour palette?

When painting still life I’m influenced by the subjects themselves. Quite often I’ll notice something that I’ve had for years in a particular light and realise that it would be great to paint. I also like finding random objects when I’m out that can end up being the perfect beginning for a painting. It’s funny how something can really grow in interest the more you look at it – a weird and wonderful item you find unexpectedly can end up transforming a composition.

My palette changes over time, but it’s always pretty limited. I tend to use a lot of grey tones within my paintings, especially in the background and foreground to contrast against the brighter focal points of the composition. When possible I try to use quite a chilly light as I think this helps me to attempt capturing quiet and stillness.

What attracts you to the genre of still life in particular? What do you hope to capture and convey in these paintings?

I spent many years working on commissioned portraits so developing an interest in still life has been a suprising but fascinating change of direction. Initially, I started to paint still life just now and then, but slowly it has become my main focus, although I still love portraiture.

I really enjoy painting everyday items and paying attention to small aspects that are beautiful but often go unnoticed. I’ve grown to appreciate this more and more over the years. There is a calm simplicity to that kind of focus, and I wonder if that’s part of what appeals to people who enjoy and buy still life art. The sense of time being almost “paused” is also interesting to try and paint.

Lucy McKie ROI, Peonies, Early June, 36 x 36 cm, Oil - £2,350

You first began exhibiting at Mall Galleries in 2005. What attracted you to the gallery and what role has it played in the development of your work and artistic career?

I was in my late teens when I first became aware of the Mall Galleries and started to make trips from Yorkshire. I would visit a few times a year and always looked forward to seeing what people were creating. In those pre-social media days, it was the main chance for me to see a mix of painters all in one place. I think things would have been very different for me without the Mall Galleries and all its exhibitions - it has had a huge impact on me.

When I eventually started to submit paintings I was lucky enough to get a few accepted and also won some awards. The member artists I spoke to at the previews were very friendly and encouraging. This helped me to feel less intimidated by the process of submitting paintings generally, which I think can be quite daunting for many people at first.

As the years have gone on, getting to know lots of artists through Mall Galleries and the Federation of British Artists (FBA) and all the friendships have been lovely. It’s great to spend time with other painters who are a really broad range of ages and career stages, but share the similar experiences of being an artist. I think Mall Galleries is pretty unique in the way it acts as a focal point for art and a community of artists.

Lucy McKie ROI, Stoneware Jar with Irises, 46 x 46 cm, Oil - £2,150

You exhibit often and have won many awards. How do such accolades impact your practice?

Awards can be very encouraging, and this is particularly true when you are starting out. It’s not always easy to maintain focus and belief, especially in the early days (and when you are getting plenty of rejections!) If you are lucky enough to receive an award, it can really help and knowing that other artists support your work means a lot and spurs you on. I think prizes aimed specifically at young artists are vital for this reason. All of us can remember how it felt to begin our careers as painters and the associated challenges, so the awards can be very positive.

How did you find creating new works for the Reception Selection?

I thoroughly enjoyed it. Luckily for me, I was working on the paintings throughout summer so I tried to bring in a lot of the light and colour that I was seeing at the time.

Shop Lucy McKie's Reception Selection

 

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Lucy McKie ROI

Q&A with In the Studio's Maddie Exton

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Maddie Exton is a conceptual artist from East Anglia and one of 22 artists from Mall Galleries' In the Studio initiative. During In the Studio's group exhibition in August, Maddie Exton ran a workshop with Central Southwark Community Hub, inviting participants to respond to the artworks. Using recordings of these conversations, Maddie has created a short film: All Philosophy Starts With Wonder. Here Maddie discusses how the project came to be and her thoughts around the accessibility of art.

Tell me about the idea. How did it come about?

I write a lot of exhibition reviews, casually, and for myself mostly. Even as I write them with no intention of sharing, I worry about writing negative things about art, it's like I unconsciously try to write positively even when I don't like the work. I think it is a difficult thing to properly talk about art, there's a lot of psuedo intellect and a lot of passivity. It got me thinking about what would make art easier to talk about and I started thinking about how candid and genuinely children speak about almost everything, really. Children are too young to worry about the social script around art, the connotations of a gallery are much less of a focus, the work is the only thing that interests (or doesn't interest) them.

The title "All Philosophy Starts With Wonder" comes from the idea that a passing thought can grow to be a whole philosophy. In this project, some of the most poignant lines are delivered completely absentmindedly.

 

Can you give some background on your practice and how this project relates to it?

I'm a conceptual artist which is a blessing because I get to work in so many different ways, but a curse because questions like this are hard to answer both professionally, at times like this, but also when asked by extended family. Sometimes I appropriate materials as sculpture, sometimes I make text drawings and sometimes I run around a gallery with 35 children and £1000 worth of loaned recording equipment telling them to "talk about the paintings please, not dinosaurs".

This project has led me down roads of Tascam recording equipment usage, subtitle formatting and teaching. It relates to my practice because despite my inconsistent style, I am consistently interested in other people.

Workshop participants exploring the In the Studio exhibition

How did you find working with the participants? Were you surprised by any of the responses? 

There was a huge age range from ages 6-16, so it was interesting to see how literally the younger kids worked, trying to copy paintings image for image, and how experimental the older kids were. At one point when testing a pen I scribbled on 16-year-old Barclay's paper and he came back and showed me it boxed off and underneath he had written "Maddie Exton's signature". At that point I thought, hey I've got some competition here.

I was surprised by how equally abstract and realist works ranked for the kids. It makes you wonder at what age do people stand in front of abstract art and say "a 6-year-old could have done that", because to a 6-year-old abstract work is wonderful and very much something they want to do.

Workshop participants drawing beside Celeste C. da Luz's artwork

What equipment did you use to record and edit the piece?

I used 5 Tascam dr-40's loaned by my university (Norwich Uni of The Arts) and Premiere Pro to edit, along with some subtitling software.

What did you learn from this project?

I'm 21 and this is the first time I've really "taught art" which I never thought I'd be interested in, but I found it so interesting. The whole workshop was like research. I feel really lucky to have worked with the team at Mall Galleries, especially Elli Koumousi (Head of Education & Cultural Strategy and Founder of In the Studio) who takes this kind of workshop in her stride.

Do you hope to continue this project, if so where?

I originally proposed this project for The Sainsbury Centre in Norwich, but I didn't have enough time to create the work before a deadline so kept it on a slow burner. This project isn't site-specific, it's about kids thinking about art so it's very malleable. I think the Tate might be a bit exhausting with 35 kids, but degree shows would be really interesting.

Maybe I can start some alternative gallery tours where you're led around by a 6-year-old with a microphone?

What do hope people take away from the film?

I hope people can see that there's no right or wrong way to talk about art. That critique is supportive and not inherently negative. And that the best thing to do in a gallery is to pretend you're not in a gallery and see how your behaviour changes. Just don't touch any paintings.

 

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Southwark Foodbank 2, Claire Anscomb

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Maddie Exton

The Perceptive Portraiture of Kelvin Okafor

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Kelvin Okafor reflects on the milestone moments of his ten-year career so far, ahead of his first ever retrospective exhibiting at Mall Galleries, 11 to 15 September.

It's easy to mistake one of Kelvin Okafor's meticulous pencil drawings for a photograph. So detailed are they, that each and every pore, eyelash and wrinkle is visible on the page. Despite their impressive specificity, the real force of Okafor’s portraits lies in their perceptiveness. Whether it is Naomi Campbell, Adele or Okafor’s friends and family, the essence of the person is always palpable. Each and every one packs a distinct and powerful emotional punch. This ability has won the artist much critical acclaim. Art critic Estelle Lovatt has dubbed his incisive style as “emotional realism”, while The Guardian's art critic Jonathan Jones deemed Okafor “a miraculous artist.”

This month, Okafor will host his first ever retrospective at Mall Galleries. The focus of the exhibition is the unveiling of a specially commissioned portrait of John Lennon, based on a photograph by the famous rock ‘n’ roll photographer Bob Greun. At 215 hours, this is Okafor’s most ambitious portrait yet. Alongside this landmark piece, the exhibition will feature a series of milestone works created over the last ten years.

Kelvin Okafor Timeless, Graphite and Charcoal Pencils on Archival Paper, 42 x 59 cm & Melvin, Graphite and Charcoal Pencils, 43 x 61 cm

Two beloved portraits of Okafor’s relatives will be on view. ‘Timeless’ depicts Okafor’s cousin Jamal. In Jamal's thoughtful expression, Okafor aimed to capture a sense of stillness and presence, something he felt reflects the gracious personality of the subject. This drawing was awarded the 2013 Runner Up Best of Show Prize at Cork Street Open Exhibition.

‘Melvin’ was awarded the prestigious de Laszlo Foundation award for the most outstanding portrait by an artist aged 35 years or under at the 2013 Royal Society of Portrait Painters exhibition. This portrait invites the viewer to see Melvin through Okafor's eyes, as someone who the artist perceives to be “wise beyond his years.” These early works are indicative of a perceptiveness that would endure and evolve throughout Okafor’s practice.

Kelvin Okafor Maya's Interlude, Black Coloured Pencil on Archival Paper, 72 x 67 cm

More recently, Okafor's ability and desire to imbue his drawings with a contemplative stillness has developed into a series titled ‘Interludes’. In these portraits, all of the models have their eyes closed. “The meaning behind ‘Interludes’ for me,” Okafor shares, “is a meditative reflective state. It’s about all the possibilities we have within us.”

The collection began with a piece titled ‘Mia’s Interlude’. Okafor has been drawing his friend’s daughter Mia every two years since he first met her in 2009 when she was just three-years-old. He recalls feeling a sense of awe the first time he met her: “I just saw a beaming light proliferating from her and I was like, dude, I need to draw her.” Since then, he has captured her at the ages of three, seven, nine and eleven. This retrospective is the first time that all of the portraits will be shown chronologically together.

Kelvin Okafor Mia I, Graphite Pencil on Archival Paper, 29 x 40 cm & Sensitivity, Graphite Pencil on Archival Paper, 42 x 59 cm

Okafor's portrait of the late British Labour Party politician Bernie Grant is a source of great pride for the artist, having been commissioned by Parliament to create it in 2017. This piece was important to Okafor not only because of his admiration for the radical figurehead but also for the sense of validation it provided. “It gave me a recognition that felt very integral as an artist, to be commissioned by Parliament and to be recognised on that kind of scale.”

His depiction of Mother Teresa holds particular resonance for Okafor as it signifies a turning point in his artistic journey. “This drawing, on so many levels, but on a deeper emotional level, is very dear to me,” he explains. It was created in 2011, two years after Okafor graduated from university at a time when he had hit a plateau. “I was at a place where it was just really difficult, financially, emotionally, mentally,” he recalls, “my family and society was just showing me that this thing that I'm doing is not proving to be lucrative.”

Kelvin Okafor Mother Teresa, Graphite Pencil on Archival Paper, 41 x 28 cm

During this period of creative block, Okafor was desperately searching for inspiration to start drawing again. It was during a conversation with a close friend when Mother Teresa was mentioned. Okafor, a deeply spiritual person, recalls this moment as a pivotal one. “Before putting pen to paper, I was in quite a depressed state. When I had the inspiration to draw her it felt like it was bigger than me, this thing that I'm doing, it's not just for me,” Okafor explains. Immortalising Mother Teresa in this way prompted a period of reflection for the artist. “I had to go back into myself and really understand why I'm doing what I'm doing in the first place and what is it I truly want to gain out of it,” he reflects, “Ultimately at that time it was to share work, whether it was bringing in income or not.”

Kelvin Okafor Lucid, Graphite & Charcoal Pencils on Archival Paper, 65 x 52cm

Self-admittedly, Okafor has come a long way since then. "I would never have expected myself to be someone who is doing interviews and seminars," he reflects, "I was extremely introverted. It was hard to begin with because it was so out of my comfort zone." He adds, "I want people to feel encouraged to come out of their comfort zone and to do something that they truly love and embrace it."

“I draw not just to enjoy the aesthetics of it, I want to capture something that's in all of us and connect people together,” he explains. What does he hope visitors will take away from the exhibition? "It hasn't just been a smooth sailing journey since graduating university. There has been a lot of trials where there was a real test of faith to see whether this is truly what I want to do." Okafor concludes, "I would really love for artists and people, in general, to be honest with their expression and to keep going, regardless of the resistances we have and the obstacles we have in life."


Kelvin Okafor: Retrospective is on view at Mall Galleries 11 to 15 September

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David Cobley Reflects on Painting, People and Portraiture

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Ahead of his upcoming retrospective, David Cobley reflects on his thirty-year career and his unlikely path into portraiture.

Many will know David Cobley as a portrait painter. Throughout his thirty-year career, he has painted actors, performers, comedians, lawyers, judges, politicians, professors and princesses. It is unsurprising then, that the focus of Cobley’s upcoming exhibition is people. “I'm absolutely fascinated by people, the human race, what makes people tick," Cobley explains.

While it is portraiture for which the artist is most widely known, his oeuvre spans still lifes, landscapes, some abstract pieces and many surrealist twists – all of which explore humanity in unique ways. The full spectrum of Cobley’s work will be displayed together like never before in All By Himself, a retrospective of over 200 paintings and works on paper, opening at Mall Galleries, 10 to 15 September. The exhibition coincides with the launch of a new book by the same name, written by Cobley’s longtime friend, the artist and art critic, Peter Davies.

David Cobley Portrait of and Artist (Pool with Three Figures), Oil on linen, 122 x 172.5 cm – to be sold at auction

The works in the show date as far back as 1971. The earliest work is a self-portrait painted when the artist was just 17. More recent works include ‘Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Three Figures)’, a large painting that many will recognise as being based on David Hockney’s record-breaking ‘Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)’ which uses the motif of a swimming pool to explore the complexity of human relationships. The original was created by a heartbroken Hockney in the 1970s. The man in the pink jacket, Peter Schlesinger – the apparent love of Hockney’s life – looks on at someone in the pool (who isn’t Hockney). 

David Cobley Summer ’71, Oil on Board, 91.5 x 61 cm – NFS

Cobley’s painting was also inspired by the breakdown of a relationship, though in his version, it is he who stands on the edge of the pool observing the figure of his ex-wife submerged below. “In this painting, I am looking on in bewilderment at her new-found faith. Perhaps also with some nostalgia on the time spent bringing up our daughters before the chasm that opened up between us.” The swimming pool, as in Hockney’s original, creates a sense of concurrent closeness and distance, like observing someone from afar, or through a window, unbeknownst to them.

Since becoming a member of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters in 1997, Cobley has worked extensively on portrait commissions, painting everyone from Princess Anne to the actor Steven Berkoff and most famously, the comedian Ken Dodd – “I remember really being bowled over by him as a boy,” Cobley recalls, “His hair and his teeth. Cracking these jokes one after the other. He was an extraordinary person. Whether you liked him or not you had to admit he was extraordinary.”

David Cobley Sir Ken Dodd OBE, Oil on Linen, 76 x 91.5 cm – NFS (courtesy National Portrait Gallery)

His favourite commission to date is of a man he met at a party, a friend of his brother named Trevor. “I casually told him how much a commission would cost and he said he wanted me to paint him,” Cobley recalls. The result was ‘Blues, Beer and Rock 'n' Roll’ in which the sitter is captured from above, surrounded by his beloved record collection, a beer in hand. The piece is characteristic of the “composite” nature of Cobley’s work, as Peter Davies notes in All By Himself, “the iconographic combination of interior, unposed portrait and still life in one compellingly candid composition.”

Cobley admits that commissioned work comes with its own set of challenges. In some cases you may not click with, or particularly like, the person you’ve been asked to paint, admits Cobley. “But you have to find a way if you're being professional about it. Sometimes you might find you learn a lot by painting somebody that you don't initially warm to." Besides from the relational aspect, portraiture is technical and exacting. "Painting the human face is difficult,” Cobley explains, “only a slight variation and it doesn't look like them." Cobley himself is too humble to admit it, but one only has to look at his vast repertoire to see that capturing a person’s essence is a skill he has mastered.

David Cobley Blues, Beer and Rock 'n’ Roll, Oil on Linen, 122 x 122 cm - NFS

It might seem as though Cobley was born with a paintbrush in hand, but his route into art was a strange and meandering one. Shortly after moving to Liverpool to attend art school as a young man, Cobley was approached on the street by a stranger. The artist remembers this as a period of uncertainty in his life. "I was vulnerable because I was in a big city. I was only 19. I had no friends and I was open to new ideas. I had all kinds of questions about the meaning of life.” The man was a member of a religious sect known as the Moonies. "Cutting a long story short, they got me," Cobley reflects. 

After three years as a full-time member, he was sent to Japan with a group of a thousand others from all over Europe, where he was paired up with a Japanese work partner. “That was an amazing experience and I got to see a completely different culture,” the artist says, and ultimately an eye-opening one. He left the Moonies and studied at Sophia University in Tokyo, which he funded by teaching English. “I was learning all kinds of things, which had known before I met the Moonies, I wouldn't have joined them in the first place." After nearly ten years abroad, he moved home with his young family, working as an illustrator for some time before becoming a full-time painter. Cobley, now agnostic, sounds somewhat regretful when talking about his time with the Moonies, but ultimately accepting of it. "With hindsight, everything looks different. But you can't live your life backward, as my brother has pointed out."

David Cobley What Are You Doing Here?, Oil on Linen, 61 x 61 cm – £2,350

If anything, this colourful life has informed the dynamic way in which Cobley paints the world – with his eyes wide open. In the Foreword of the book, Pete Brown, President of the New English Art Club recalls sharing a studio with Cobley: “Being so adept meant that he was always looking for new angles.” An instinct that perhaps comes from a life lived, at various points, through a multitude of perspectives. If one looks closely, this familiarity with the road less travelled is evident in the layered nature of Cobley’s work which often appears to hint towards some deeper resonance beneath the surface meaning. “Rather than dazzle, he prefers his work to pose questions,” Pete Brown writes. “A true observer in a self-obsessed world dominated by people who shout the loudest.”

David Cobley All By Himself is on view at Mall Galleries from 10 to 15 September.

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Sarah Jane Moon: The Artist Changing the Face of Portraiture

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We visited Sarah Jane Moon at her studio in Brixton to discuss her roundabout route into portraiture, what compels her to keep painting people and the evolution of her practice.

Anyone who frequents the Royal Society of Portrait Painters Annual Exhibition will recognise the work of Sarah Jane Moon. Since she began showing in 2011, the artist has earned a name for herself as someone who is challenging the traditional conventions of portraiture. Her boisterous and brave works are instantly distinguishable on the walls of Mall Galleries – Bold colours, sartorial aplomb, immediacy, strength of character, queerness: these are the elements of a quintessential Sarah Jane Moon portrait. Though her artistic vision feels clear cut, Moon's path into portraiture was not so straightforward.

Sarah Jane Moon, Derek, Mark & Baby (2017) Oil, 150 x 110 cm - NFS

Moon was interested in painting from an early age but was encouraged to pursue a more pragmatic career rather than study Fine Art. She studied English Literature and Japanese, picking up Art History. “I think that I was trying to get back into the art world somehow,” she recalls with hindsight.

After a stint teaching English in Japan, she moved to Perth, Australia, where, alongside post-graduate studies in curatorial practice, she tried her hand at various arts-based roles. This included organising the visual arts component of the Artrage festival and programming artist-run gallery spaces. “I wanted to be around art,” she explains, still not realising "that this was all probably an attempt to get back to painting.”

Sarah Jane Moon in her studio in Brixton (2019)

In 2007, she moved to London with her then-boyfriend and worked at the Royal Drawing School for a time in an arts admin role, before leaving to pursue a more hands-on path. It was during this crossroads that Moon signed up to life drawing classes at Central Saint Martins. “I was really not very good, making entry-level life drawings without much nuance, but despite feeling very nervous about it all, I loved it.” The artist remembers a pivotal moment in the class which changed the course of her life. “At the end, the tutor walked around the room trying to say something nice about everyone's work. She looked at mine and said, ‘It looks like your mark making suggests you might be good at portraiture.’ And I thought, ‘Oh...portraiture?’”

Sarah Jane Moon, Krishna Istha (2018) Oil, 122 x 97cm 

Shortly after, she applied to Heatherley's – where Moon now teaches herself. She got in, though only by the skin of her teeth. The tutors told her she didn’t have quite enough experience, and warned, “You're going to be at the bottom of the heap. But as long as you know that..." A self-defined contrarian, this only served to motivate Moon to prove herself. “I think I've always had a healthy sense of confidence,” the artist explains,  “I've always thought that with hard work most things are possible. That might be to do with being a New Zealander and our entrepreneurial spirit. You just think of course you can do it – or at least give it a go.”

But what is it about portraiture that has truly captivated Moon after all this time, other than the challenge it presented? “The engagement with my subjects.” She points to a painting in progress in her studio and explains, “Juno for example, is someone who I don't see very often as we live in different countries. But I'm very much thinking about her and what her life means, her work and everything else the painting suggests.”

Sarah Jane Moon with her portraits of artists Roxana Halls (2018) and Sadie Lee (2018)

Moon is fascinated by the way humans piece together their identities: how we choose to present ourselves in the world, from our body language and facial expressions to the clothes we wear and the objects we surround ourselves with. She attributes this to her experience as a queer woman painting queer subjects. “Because I paint a lot of LGBTQI people, issues around presentation are heightened because of the identity politics. How people feel within themselves, how they present, how they perform their identities and what I project onto them or want to portray is endlessly fascinating.”

Sarah Jane Moon, Dr Ronx (2019) Oil, 130 x 100cm

The artist notes a “distinct shift” from her earlier work, which was flatter and "less impastoed", often including lots of objects and details. The change came about in the summer of 2016 when Moon was working intensely on eight double portraits, without much time for her own work. “Everything was becoming too literal, in terms of the way I was putting the paint on the surface. I wanted the paintings to have a little more freedom and character and to be more painterly. I had always found this gestural approach came more readily in my landscape paintings and it took deliberate effort to bring it into the portraiture. There's much less detail in my portraiture these days; they are becoming more about the expressive potential of oil  – like the portrait of Dr. Ronx.”

Even if you don’t know Sarah Jane Moon’s work, it’s likely you’ll have seen her portrait of Dr. Ronx dotted around London in recent months. The striking painting has been used widely, unsurprisingly, for the promotion of this year’s BP Portrait Award. This work, alongside two pieces exhibited by Moon in this year's Royal Society of Portrait Painters (RP) Annual Exhibition, feel as though they mark a transition into a new phase for the artist, both stylistically and conceptually.

From to Left: Sarah Jane Moon, Untitled (Portrait of My Girlfriend): Oil, 154 x 114cm - £5,600 and Bird La Bird: Oil, 154 x 124cm - £7,400

‘Untitled (Portrait of My Girlfriend)' and 'Bird La Bird' tell a story with a political undercurrent. The former, which depicts her partner half-dressed, is part of an ongoing investigation to paint the female nude through a queer lens, questioning and subverting the genre's patriarchial history along the way. The latter shows Bird La Bird in academic drag in front of foundational floor plans from Millbank Prison (current site of the Tate Britain) and St Martin’s Workhouse (that stood on the site of the National Portrait Gallery). Bird is a queer femme performance artist who works to uncover the inequalities that lurk beneath the histories of beloved UK art institutions.

Apart from becoming “looser and more expressive,” as with 'Dr Ronx', the artists sees herself "shifting towards working on a bigger scale.” She gestures to a stack of paintings in her studio, “like these things behind you that are seven feet across.” As with her works from the RP exhibition, Moon says, “I’d like to move into a narrative space, making paintings that are concept driven while remaining figurative.”

Sarah Jane Moon, Harriet & Anoushka Oil, 140 x 120cm - NFS

It feels timely, at this junction point, that the artist is holding a retrospective exhibition of sorts. Queer Portraits (2 to 14 November at The Department Store, Brixton) will exhibit 16 portraits created over the course of the last ten years, including friends, writers, artists, academics and commissioned work.

Moon debated using “queer” in the title to avoid being exclusionary. She is adamant that she wants everyone to feel welcome at the exhibition. “I didn't want to just call it Portraits because the queer aspect is a unifying factor and something I feel very celebratory about. It’s increasingly important that we celebrate diversity of all kinds.” 

The fact is that queerness is a key tenet of the artist’s work and the thing that makes her portraits sing is the vitality and joie de vivre of the queer character she captures. In doing so, she is creating greater visibility of queer people, presenting them in spaces where they have not always been welcome. “[Historically], portraiture is about the establishment and maintaining a nuclear family structure as well as class privilege and I'm subtly trying to expand and subvert that.”


Buy Art | Buy Now: Sarah Jane Moon

We have a new selection of paintings by Sarah Jane Moon available to purchase on Buy Art | Buy Now, including one of her signature portraits, as well as still lifes and landscapes.

 

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Derek, Mark & Baby by Sarah Jane Moon