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Bordering on figurative and real

Complex narratives are the peak of excitement for me. Narratives like double portraits provide stimulus and a wealth of ideas to both the painter and the viewer and that is what I live for

I was 17 when I first realised that what I truly wanted to paint was figurative, I wanted to portray the emotional charge in humans. I had gotten into painting and was developing a deep passion for it when I studied Lucian Freud’s works at school. I went to an exhibition in London, saw his works there and was extremely intrigued.

I remember feeling a ting, a thrill at the amount of colour Freud had used in painting faces, the charge that they exhibited got me off working on portraits in the first place. The other artist I really grew to love is David Hockney. Particularly his early portraits and drawings. Hockney’s ideas and his work on double portraits displayed so many complex human emotions and relationships while allowing a blank space to the viewer at the same time so they could conclude their own meanings and give it a new perspective. That very portrayal of complexity is what I started aiming for. I took these two artists as my very first inspirations and now I would describe my work as figurative; a combination of familial portraits and more internal, imagined portraits. The aim of my work was to produce intimate and emotive paintings of my sitters/muses, which included my two older brothers, some close friends and my lovely wife.

I aim for stimulus, for providing a wealth of ideas to my viewers. But I also try and stop short at telling the viewer what to feel or see and like to believe that my works allow for multiple interpretations and feelings on their part. The drawings I project are just like research and often have a lot more information than the final painting, which becomes about taking language away from the obvious features and leaving the talking to the minimal details if the viewer has enough of depth to notice.

Some paintings, such as ‘Hey Mr Pinstripe’, are a result of months of thought and research, while others, like ‘Bar in France’, are products of those rare moments in the studio when I allow improvisation to lead the way. The latter method works very rarely for me, but it is much more rewarding when I do put it to use. I like keeping a balance between the two-intensive thought and absolute impromptus in equal measures in my studio. They seem to feed one another. I remember going into analysis for ‘Hey Mr Pinstripe’ during the banking crash in 2007; bank employees at that time, were told to not to wear suits at work for fear of being targeted. I then had the idea to paint this piece with the aim of dealing with the symbol of clothing, memento mori (the medieval Latin Christian theory and practice of reflection on mortality) and the idea of knowledge. I was thrilled when an earlier version of the painting was bought by the internationally-renown writer Vikram Seth.

Alongside the 20th century artists such as Hockney, Freud and R.B. Kitaj, there are a number of contemporary figurative painters whom I follow and admire. At one point, I shared a studio with Lynette Yiadom-Boakye who creates her figures entirely from imagination and in one sitting. Her works are drenched in muted colours and she has helped immensely in bringing the black figure to works of renaissance, I think it’s incredible.

There is also Michael Armitage and Nick Goss who make wonderful works that border on the figurative and deal with very real subjects. Armitage’s take on East African socio-political narratives while Goss’ paintings display a narrative existing heavily on the fringes of imagination and memory. I am currently about to finish a group of large paintings and some small works for two of my shows in September 2019 – the large pieces will be shown in a Norman Foster building near Bank, while the small and intimate portraits in a Mayfair gallery. The simultaneous shows will split my ways of working, which should be an interesting experience. The large works delve into my idea of dream-like imagery while the small pieces are really intimate portraits of close people from my life - friends and relatives, made mainly on glass.

Over time, navigating through what works and what doesn’t, I have developed a technique of painting that I like to believe is very unique. I paint on the reverse side of glass, which is a delicate and interesting way of working. Herein, I paint the eyelashes and highlights first and work my way backwards from there. My double portrait ‘Tom and Florian in Dalston I’ from 2017 was created with this technique. It was eventually shortlisted for the Lynn Painter-Stainers Prize at the Mall Galleries. In my experience, being shortlisted for a prize like this, and the BP Portrait Award in 2018, gives great exposure to the painters; it helps bring us closer to the other people involved in the scene – collectors, curators, galleries and art lovers. Such awards and gallery exhibitions also help establish an artist, such events gives you the confidence to continue pursuing your innovativeness and keep trying unique methods of working. Turns out, the more you innovate and let yourself have a bit of fun, the more your ability to please the collectors increases. The first move I made in the direction of developing the technique of reverse-glass painting was made when I observed and tried to emulate Hockney’s painting ‘Mr and Mrs Clarke and Percy’. Inspired by his style, I tried capturing my brother and his boyfriend in their stylish Dalston flat. My personal favourite work that I have produced so far is ‘Nature Boy’, which is currently hanging in my living room. It shows a boy and girl travelling on the London tube – recognisable by the seat pattern. The title refers to a song by Aben Abez, where a lonely boy travels around the world seeking fortune, only to realise that love is the only real wealth. The boy has a youthful sadness and sits next to this lady, who may or may not be his companion, whilst the train speeds on to an unknown destination.

Such works, inspired by reality that is largely based on imagination are what I seek. I seek to produce work where I can tell a story without using any words.


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