Some of the best discoveries in life are made by asking: “Why this or that? Why not this and that?” Certainly this has often been the case with my art. My high school art teacher wanted me to paint like a Post-Impressionist. I looked at the work of the Post-Impressionists, compared it with the work of older masters like Rembrandt, and asked myself: “Why this or that? Why not this and that?” Later, as a student, I looked at the work of the Abstract Expressionists, compared it with the work of Monet and Turner, and once again asked myself the same question.
On reflection, it seemed to me that by rejecting some of the techniques of the Old Masters along with the sterile academic approach of the art schools, the Modern movement had thrown the baby out with the bathwater. So I set out to rescue the baby.
Now it is one thing to see intuitively that there must be a middle way and quite another to find it in practice. With some things in life, it is only possible to find a middle ground after you have deeply explored two extremes. And so it was that at the age of 19, having seldom failed at anything I set my mind to, I tried to find that middle ground… and failed utterly. It took me a while to recover, but I come from a line of very stubborn people and I wasn’t going to give up that easily. I decided to follow the path taken by Rembrandt and Turner, beginning with exquisitely naturalistic paintings and gradually leaving out everything inessential until my work bordered on the abstract. Well, that was the plan, anyway…
First I set out to really master realism. In the beginning I refused to use photographs, working directly from life wherever possible. Because I knew that in realism drawing is the basis of everything, I learned to draw well in a variety of mediums. Later, feeling a need to go into more detail in my paintings, I began to use photographic reference material combined with sketches or on-the-spot work. Eventually, having become accustomed to photographs, I became a photo-realist. I gradually built a solid career and attracted the support of corporate sponsors as well as major galleries like Everard Read. Finally, in 2002, I achieved one of my important career goals – a one-man show in a recognised European art gallery.
Up until my last one-man show in 2003, I was well known for my highly finished realistic paintings of a variety of subjects : land- and seascapes, harbour scenes, street scenes, social scenes, portraits and so on. Since 2003 my work has changed dramatically. I’ve moved from realism to a form of abstraction. Although for the sake of brevity I refer to my “abstracts”, my current work cannot easily be categorised as either abstraction or surrealism. Like the work of Max Ernst, it has elements of both. My abstract work itself has changed and developed. I’ve gradually progressed from miniatures in acrylic on paper to large, multilayered, heavily textured oils on canvas.
In my realistic work I had begun to engage with light as the revealer of form and creator of mood. The technical approach this gave birth to has carried over into my abstract/fantasy work. I build up my paintings in alternating layers of transparent and opaque paint, leaving space for the unexpected, always looking forward to that magical moment when a painting begins to radiate light, and, as Paul Klee puts it, “to look back at you”. This concern with light is a common theme in all of my work.
I started my earliest experiments with abstract/fantasy painting in 1998. I’d begun by spontaneously playing around with paint and had discovered the unexpected pleasure of keeping the subject matter ambiguous and asking viewers to tell me what they saw. This idea of treating the viewer as a participant in the process of creation fascinated me. My paintings seemed to act as more complex equivalents of the Rorschach inkblot test, encouraging viewers to expose and examine their private obsessions.
I’d also been intrigued for a number of years by the links between painting and other arts such as music, dance, theatre and the martial arts. I’m fascinated by the multitude of ways in which the energy of life finds expression through the medium of human beings. At an early stage I became aware that fantasy painting allows me to use my sense of drama more fully, while gestural abstraction allows me to explore painting as movement.
To begin with I did these paintings purely as a hobby. As time passed and my experiments grew in size, I realised that they would eventually have to become my mainstream work. I consulted my art dealers. They warned me that such a radical change in style would mean virtually starting over, career wise. In spite of this well-meant advice I persisted in my new direction, driven by a deep inner conviction that this was what I had to do. In time I discovered new markets for my work and began to sell again.
In May 2017 I held a successful one-man show at the Cape Gallery. For the first time I showed some of my old realistic paintings alongside my abstract and fantasy work. I also showed a few of my recent experiments with a new form of representational painting which has grown out of my experience with abstraction and fantasy. In my notes to the show I explained that since 2003 I have been on a journey of discovery, experimenting with a variety of new approaches. This exhibition was an invitation to share that journey. The public responded enthusiastically, buying 12 paintings, including the largest and most expensive work on show. What I found particularly encouraging was that the majority of the works sold were in the abstract/fantasy genre.
I have already started working towards my next one-man show, which should take place sometime in 2018.