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Confessions of an Egg Tempera Painter
What makes an artist choose, as their major medium of expression, a painting technique that seems to have originated in medieval times or earlier, which has been superseded first by oils and then by acrylic paint?
I didn’t initially turn to egg tempera to make careful, little paintings but to make very large, abstract, gestural ones. I needed a paint that quickly dried that was not a product of the plastics industry. That painting involved walking up a plank while dragging along a large brush - to get the body gesture. In egg tempera it was unusual.
The gesture was inspired from a natural occurrence, a sea wave during a stormy night, crashing on the shore. Now my works are quieter in scale – inviting you to look. I am interested in the intimacy of paintings, today.
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There are many kinds of waves in landscapes; some of them in rock form can take eons to perform. My now more figurative abstracts use gestures to parallel the kinetics seen in nature.
In painting smaller the richness of egg tempera reveals itself. Gesso is the only real substrata for this jewel of a medium, as it acts as a reflective base for the transparency and the brilliance of its colour. When handled correctly, egg tempera paintings have a fresh and spontaneous feel.
One day some animals got into the studio and seemed to have had a fight. The current painting was violently thrown down and irretrievably smashed. Salvaging a piece of it, I stuck it to another prepared gesso on a stretcher, producing a relief, which was very pleasing. This accident was the start of a new direction, which is still developing. I had already started to explore shaped, gesso panels that burst out of the conscripts of the rectangle - laterally. But now want to also push upwards of flat!
We painters have a thing about pristine flatness but I’m breaking the mould and taking on the idea of painting on uneven. What happens when paint travels over relief is fascinating; as it must have been to the cave painters of long ago.
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What of my subject matter, as an artist who lives in London, why landscape?
The countryside was always very important to me, since I grew up in it. When a boy, was never happier swinging around on the top branch of a big ash tree or creeping through the marshes to see a pike lurking at my feet in the reads.
Some of my paintings tell stories, Africa being a good example, I went looking for rainforests and found them but it was the people who were so impressive. Africa is
full of humanity and one cannot help but respond.
‘Harvesters’ tells a French story. A group of small farmers, which have some wheat land of their own, go there to harvest it. A mother changes into her work clothes behind the car. The daughter stacks up the bails on the trailer. An elder man waits in his tractor while the younger operates their old combine harvester to offload the grain. This is I found when going there to look for agri-business.
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The countryside is my first love but it has changed profoundly since I was that boy and some of those haunts have disappeared, like our Chiltern Down where we played amongst the wild rose and where the Common Blue was a common butterfly.
In my present attitude to landscape there is a dichotomy. I try to be a realist when searching for subject matter, so while looking for inspiring examples of rural beauty, have to come to terms with the despoliation of it too.
In a painting based on the theme of forestry, for instance, a large agrarian pine plantation is depicted around the little town. Indigenously this would have been a deciduous forest. For me coniferous forests like these are not things likable but since they are there, feel they cannot be ignored and somehow believe that painting them is relevant.