Let’s start at the beginning… did you experience a particularly artistic childhood?
I was always drawing as a kid, from a very early age, though I’m not sure I’d describe it as an artistic childhood. I realised I was good at art when I was 8 years old, and a teacher encouraged my mum at a PTA (parent-teachers association) meeting to enrol me in the local Saturday art club. Giddy with excitement, and out of the teacher’s earshot, I asked my mum, pleadingly, if I really could enrol – “Of course not”, came the reply, “it’ll be full of beatniks!”.
Despite that initial discouragement I stayed on at school to take “A” levels, with art being the major subject, and it was then that I got my first taste of mural painting, being given the task to decorate our 6th form common room. In retrospect I’d agree that it was a little ambitious to choose Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam” as my subject matter but regardless of that, it really ignited in me a passion for making large wall paintings.
Why did you decide to go into mural and tromp l’oeil painting?
After painting my first mural, in the 6th Form common room, I was lucky enough to pick up a few small mural commissions between leaving school and going to art school, and I just fell in love with painting on walls. Working on a large scale holds a lot of fascination for me and I think that comes from the physical engagement with the work when making it. The canvases can be in excess of 10 meters long, and whist working on them they can completely fill one’s cone of vision, and in such circumstances it’s difficult not to feel as though you’re within the painting; it can be quite personal, and I find that very appealing – as often as not it’s a big struggle too…but appealing nonetheless. In fact, the challenge is part of the fun; as is the opportunity for gestural mark making with big brushes on a large surface area.
The trompe l’oeil aspect is a by-product of mural work as there is many an occasion where a mural will call for some trompe l’oeil elements, especially when incorporating architecture to blend in with the surroundings, and that can provide an ideal opportunity to blur the boundaries between what is real and what is painted.
Who has been your greatest artistic influence?
There are too many of them to list all of my great influences but the ones that immediately spring to mind would be Veronese, Tiepolo, Caravaggio and James Rosenquist; though I also look at artists as diverse as Norman Rockwell, and Jean Baptiste Camille Corot too! There are also many contemporary artists working with murals, trompe l’oeil and street art whose work I look at and really like, but my roots and main source of inspiration seems to always go back to the Old and Modern masters.
Where do you go for inspiration? Nature? Books? Music? Travel?
All the above.
In terms of nature, there is nothing like it to provide an insight into the limitless, subtle and sublime, possibilities of expression.
I love to read when I get the opportunity to do so, and getting lost in the creative flow and filmic qualities of a great narrative is always inspiring, as is the condensed language of poetry that is able to express so much with so little. As with artists who inspire though, there are many books/authors to choose from. The classics, including Dickens, Joyce and Melville would be among the obvious choices, and Malcome Lowry would be among the less obvious. I love the poetry of Ted Hughes and Philip Larkin, and, naturally, I read a fair amount art history, biography and criticism too – re-reading Robert Hughes’s back catalogue being my current obsession.
I see a lot of similarities between music and painting and find that really inspiring. I often work with music playing in the background, with my iPod on shuffle as I like the random selection, which can be anything from classical, jazz, gypsy jazz, to rock and indie. I love the music of Django Reinhardt – I find it impossible to play his music and not smile – and I will listen to most things that may range from Jussi Bjorling, to Leonard Cohen to Half-man Half-Biscuit. But there is nothing better than when my neighbouring studios are empty and I can put on some Hendrix, Led Zepplin or AC/DC with the volume turned all the way up to eleven.
Travel is always a great source of inspiration and there is always so much to see and learn. I travel for pleasure but also get to travel quite a lot for work too, having taken on commissions in Europe, the Middle East, India and the United States – though travelling to exotic locations to paint and install murals doesn’t always feel like work that much! If a project requires travelling to carry out research I will, where possible, do that too, as I think there is no substitute for first hand experience when collating good reference material for a project.
You were commissioned to create an English garden scene for the restaurant at the new Annabel’s – what kind of research did you do before taking this on? How long did this mural take to create?
Annabel’s is a case in point where I travelled to acquire good reference material, visiting and studying English country gardens and looking at the topiary and flowerbeds such as those at Levens Hall in Northumbria. Much time and effort goes into my murals and will, on average, including research and design, take about 2 to 3 months to complete. The Annabel’s project was by and large my biggest and most complex commission to date and, from the initial meetings, through preparatory work and presentation drawings to the completion, took over one year. The painting part of the process required 6 months solid painting for a whole team of us.
MBDS also worked with you on the Surf Club project in Miami. How did you work with the designers in deciding what the subject of the murals would be?
The Surf Club in Miami was a great project. Like most mural projects, it evolved from the initial concept, which was based on a reproduction of an original mural at the club, to what was finally produced – this process is common when working out a composition and it helps that each party is bringing something to the table as ideas are explored and developed. The general idea was to create an image that embodied the elegance of the Surf Club, conjuring up the Surfside ambience and incorporating the occasional symbolic nod to the club’s history, in terms of its architecture; its founder, Harvey Firestone; and its long list of illustrious members which includes Winston Churchill, Churchill, Frank Sinatra and Elizabeth to name but a few. Working closely with MBDS we were able to paly around with many variations, fine-tuning it until we got the tone pitch-perfect.
Do you work individually or do you have a studio that supports you?
Whether I work on my own or with assistants is wholly dependent on the size and nature of the project. On the smaller murals I will work individually – with help at the preparatory and installation stages form my long-suffering studio assistant, Amanda. On bigger projects I will bring in other artists as and when they are needed. For example, on the Miami project, for certain parts of the process, I needed the help of a small team of 3 painters, but for the Annabel’s project, being so big and convoluted, I required a team of 8.
What are you working on at the moment?
The last couple of years have been truly fantastic in terms of the projects that I have been involved with, including Annabel’s, Miami Surf Club, Fragrant Nature Hotel in Munnar, Kerala, India, and 3 commissions for Gleneagles up in Scotland. On top of all that, during the last 2 years, I was commissioned to write a book on mural painting by Crowood Press, so I have been putting that together too! I’m pleased to say that my book, Designing and Painting Murals, is now finally finished and comes out on the 27th May 2019.
For the next couple of months I am focusing on my own work in preparation for a couple of exhibitions in May and June, and I will be organising a book launch for the beginning of June. The rest of the year is already starting to fill up with new commissions.