Your family's travels to such a wide array of locations must have been an exciting way to spend your formative years. Can you tell me the influence this has had on you personally and how it translates to your work?
I had by, all accounts an interesting childhood. It was shaped by my Father’s work as a chaplain in the British Army that entailed a lot of travel to the far flung corners of the then rapidly diminishing British Empire. We often lived on the edge of political conflicts, but I spent my time, for the most part exploring and wondering at the world around me. In Northern Ireland, we could hear the bombs going off, but I was more occupied as a ten year old, trying to find four leaf clovers on our lawn overlooking the Belfast Loch and daydreaming about the boats sailing by.
In Guyana, or British Guyana as it was then known in 1966, our parents sheltered my siblings and I from the troubles of the populace. Blissfully unaware of anything that was going on politically, we immersed ourselves in the joys of the tropical world that surrounded us. Amassing a large and colorful collection of bugs, we raised baby parrots, and played with our dogs. When we travelled deep into the interior one summer to explore the Kaieteur Falls, we thought the army truck full of soldiers who accompanied us were coming along for a fun vacation, never realizing they were there for our protection.
When we moved to Hong Kong in the early seventies we lived out in the New Territories surrounded by mountain peaks that resembled the landscapes on Chinese scrolls. I was a little older by the time we moved to the Far East and was beginning, not just to observe the world around me, but to describe it. After watching a calligraphy demonstration at a local temple one day I was moved to start experimenting on my own. That was over forty years ago and I am still learning today.
With a notable education seeking your BA from Leeds Polytechnic in Fine Art, can you tell me some of your biggest learning experiences during your undergraduate degree?
Leeds in the late seventies was one of the top schools for art in the UK with a reputation for avant grade teaching methods and politically engaged staff. The academic theory of the day was to give students a working space and free art materials, then basically leave them to it for three years. It didn’t work for everyone of course but I was in my element there. Although the school was known for performance art and conceptual work, I used my time to study the masters and actually learn how to paint like them. I would take my easel down to Leeds City Art Gallery and spend my days making detailed copies of the collection, especially the works of Henri Fantin-Latour, a French floral artist who was a contemporary of the impressionists, though not one of their school. I have been painting cut flowers in vases inspired by those early days, throughout my career.
Since your education lies in Fine Art, can I assume art has always been your pursuit? Or have there been other interests along the way?
Yes, art has always been my pursuit, in that I started selling my paintings in High School and have continued to support myself and my family with the proceeds ever since. However, art is ultimately about connecting us to the deeper realities of life. Every artist, whether they know it or not is in some way a preacher. We show people doors to other worlds and invite them to step through.
Of course, I am interested in all sorts of other things. I love to hike, ride my bike and take photos of wildlife, I also like to hang out with loved ones and serial binge Netflix. I love to go to church and worship God, I like to pray and wonder at the world. I also love business and have enjoyed building international publishing, software and distribution entities to promote my work worldwide as well as Meuse Gallery.
I see you've been interested in the work of other exceptional artists, not least of whom is Rembrandt. Do you think the work of these artists still influences your work today?
Of course, how could it not? Art history is surely the tree of which I am just a little twig on the periphery. I fell in love with Rembrandt because of his etchings. Thanks to etching I was able to transform my early art studio into a business selling prints to galleries all over the Uk and then here in the US. Although my etching style ended up being somewhat revolutionary and full of color, nevertheless I modelled my early efforts on the tight black and white line work of the Dutch Master, Who’s chiaroscuro still shows up in my black background works today.
Georgia O’Keefe was an artist who had a powerful impact on me twenty years or so ago and inspired many of my large florals from that era. There have been so many, most of whom few people have ever heard of, but I love them all and am grateful for their genius.
Are there any other artists who have more recently influenced your style?
When you are younger you are influenced by trying to emulate the style of another because you have not yet found your own style, but as you grow and your own style or styles emerge, your interest in other artist’s changes. More recently I have been influenced again by Asian art and as you can see, my recent works have a strong Asian influence.
What kind of personal influences have manifested in your work?
I was at the Minneapolis Museum of Art a few years ago and found myself drawn into a Chinese scroll painting by Xie Daoling created in 1612. It was called Gathering Herbs and showed a scholar and his assistant crossing a bridge at the beginning of a journey that was to take them on a long winding path through the mountains to the temple. From there, the eye was drawn to a range of higher mountains above the clouds, coming to rest finally on a short poem that gave voice to the artist’s theme and drew the eye of the beholder down to the bottom of the scroll to start the journey all over again.
I began to notice similar themes in many other paintings after this and especially how the winding path was a powerful motive in art, literature and music. Neolithic artisans decorated their ceramic bowls with wavy lines, contemporary artists use gestural brush strokes to create movement or emotion, but they all point towards and describe, in some way the path of life.
Life does not travel in straight lines. The interruptions and switchbacks actually make the journey more beautiful and surprising, despite the fact that we often try to avoid them. Painting gives me the opportunity to take my viewers on a journey, through the branches of a tree maybe, or, into and beyond the mythic plane of a painting, to their own personal Narnia where struggles can be considered in the imagination first before perhaps finding resolution in the here and now.
My paintings are just wardrobes that stand provocatively against a wall.
How do you feel your work has evolved throughout your career? Have you always been drawn to such a striking palette?
For the first fifteen years of my career, I was concerned with learning my craft and painting good, well-executed pieces that looked like something. I always used themes as a way of organizing my thoughts. For example, I would do a series of doorways in the Mediterranean, or windows of London, then sheep perhaps in watercolor, then as etchings. However, in the early nineties, I felt the need for more color and energy in my work and I dramatically changed the way I worked. I had primarily worked from life, plain air painting had been a big mainstay for me, but in 1995 I started working almost exclusively from imagination.
I still work in themes, and of course reference real objects, but my paintings now are more fictional than real. I illustrated a lot of encyclopedias when I was younger and there was always an element of the literal in my work; it was more a form of visual journalism. Now however I make things up, I’m not trying to impress anyone with how skilled a draughtsman I am, I am just dancing around in the garden stringing cherry blossoms together and it’s a lot of fun.
Can you tell me about some of your collections? What inspired Blossoms? What about Heart and Bird?
There was a parking lot near my house in England where I lived after graduating from college. In the center of it was a large cherry tree. I made a pencil sketch of that tree that I used as the basis for an etching. I traced every tiny branch back to its connection with the trunk and despite the infinite complexity of the scene, when I was finished it was a cohesive unity. This was not the first tree that I had studied, but it was the first I had analyzed and reconstructed so thoroughly.
That one tree lives somewhere deep inside my subconscious and now when I step into my studio over here in Monterey and lift up my hand to paint, that tree, which may have been cut down long ago, somehow asserts itself and reforms on the canvas before me. Every branch connecting to the trunk, always with perfect symmetry. Sometimes it becomes an aspen, then an oak or another cherry draped with pink, but always growing from the same root.
Heart? Where would we be without love? I always sign my paintings with a heart as it represents for me the passing along of the sacred gift of God’s love between people.
Bird? Outside my home here in Carmel there stands an alder tree in whose branches a whole family of mourning doves come to rest, sometimes, just two, then at other times as many as fifteen. They rest in the tree and again that reminds me of the love of God that provides us with a place of shelter and restoration. We may find freedom in the air, but always have to come back to the tree eventually.
A couple of pieces feature our local landmark, Big Sur. What inspired these and do you see yourself creating more homages to your current home here among the natural beauty of the central coast?
Have you ever looked down on Highway One from the hillsides above it or even driven along it? It’s a long and winding road. Need I say more? My works are fictional now but always based on real-life characters, often local trees or the scenic coast. The waves and rhythms are a constant source of inspiration and renewal for me personally and creatively.
You seem to primarily work in acrylic on canvas. Why this medium?
On a basic level, it is because it dries quickly, enabling me to be more productive, but on another level, I have come to love the fact that it is water based. I realized some time ago that all these years, I have been moving colored liquid around. I thought once that I was in control of every mark, but now I tend to let the liquid flow according to the laws of gravity, surface tension and evaporation.
Are there any pieces that are particularly personal to you?
Yes. All of them. They are all part of the same huge canvas that I have been working on for sixty years, it is just that most of them have been broken off into small pieces and distributed around the globe.
What are your biggest motivations when you approach a blank canvas?
Degas used to talk about taking a line for a walk. I know now what he meant because when you start a work, you are only taking the first step along a road that often chooses its own way. The scholar in Xie Daoling’s scroll could not tell how the journey would be, but his eye was looking ahead to something beyond the horizon. From where he stood, he could not see the temple, but he knew it was there, somewhere. When I start a painting I just start walking, but I always look for the temple, because if I can just get there, all will be well.
What directions do you see your work moving toward in the future?
Every journey involves the leaving behind of something that was once sweet and special in its own way. I have had to leave behind my watercolors, my etchings. The detailed work of my youth and the vibrant florals that brought me so much acclaim. I am higher now than I was once. The air is clearer here. I do not know what twists or turns lie ahead, but I know, that beyond the temple even, lie the high mountains shrouded in eternal mists. That’s where I’m headed now. Want to come along for the adventure?