Updated: Mar 14, 2019
GT: I have seen your beautiful sketchbooks at previous AGASP meetings, in particular of your travels in Morocco. When you set out to make a painting what are the initial thoughts that you have?
AC: I gather my initial information 'en plein air', with either a representational oil study, in which I simply record what I see without 'editing', or I will make notes in a sketchbook in a variety of media. I rarely use photographic reference. When starting my abstractions I do not have a vision of the end product in my head, the work evolves over time in a broadly organic way; it is a dialogue between me and the canvas. Sometimes this dialogue is easy and at other times quite awkward; one of the best work results are because of the latter. I like work that surprises me.
GT: The vibrant colours in your artworks are what stands out to me as your unique stye. Could you tell me a bit about what colour means to you and how you apply to your work?
AC: I have never thought of myself as a colourist. I grew up in Dorset and my work grew out of a welter of greens, so much so that at the Ruskin where I studied I was known by students and tutors alike as the 'green slime'! My colour epiphany came in a similar way to that of Delacroix who discovered the clear skies and bright colours of North Africa; so it was with me. An early trip to Morocco changed my palette from Bloomsberry sludge to bright reds, yellows and oranges that have become part of my "default setting”. Even when visiting the green jungles of Sri Lanka or Cambodia the hues have a brightness and intensity that have their roots from the vibrant clarity of North African and Middle Eastern skies. A fellow artist always laments my lack of neutrals, but he hasn’t been to or seen seen what I have. Colour is a way of encapsulating to a great extent the 'spirit of the place' Alexander Pope writes about. However, I think shape and texture is of equal importance in my work.
GT: I very much enjoyed my visit to your studio a few weeks ago during the AGASP meeting. The one that really occurred to me was how your materials really play a large part in your process, in particular sketchbooks, cardboard sheets and your paint box. Could you elaborate a bit on what they mean to you?
AC: Sketchbook and 'en plein air' studies are the key, the well-spring of my art. They are a record of my visual experiences and without the gathering of that information no honest art can be made. I personally, distrust the easy information that can be gathered by the camera, although I do not denigrate it as a medium for other artists. For me, looking requires time and a distillation of visual experience, not the click, click, click of the digital world. Too often artists who profess to be “abstract’ are in fact doing decorative design; the manipulation of formal elements- colour, shape,texture etc. True Abstraction is the transformation of a visual experience into another form. The word itself is derived from the latin; Ab Straho; to pull or drag out. That is what I try to do. No looking, no recording, no distilling; no art - only design.
GT: As an art teacher of many years experience, what advice would you give for those considering a career as an artist?
AC: This is a tricky question. Is being an artist a career or a vocation? As a student I was lucky enough to meet the late, great, Henry Moore at his Suffolk Studio, and he was firmly of the opinion that it was the latter, (although making money is not to be denigrated). On the other side of the coin, there are artists who produce work that they do not show and offer for sale, and this strikes me as being the territory of the dilettante.
Producing art is inherently a good thing, it is life affirming and comforting, but that is not seen cannot communicate which is the what professional artist should seek to be doing.
Since the WBA’s in the 80’s, art schools have largely abandoned craft in favour of the conceptual aspects of art production, where the artist thinks great thoughts and leaves the making of these ideas to professional artisans. The art world has fissured into what David Lee the editor of the Jackdaw, calls 'State Art', where knowing how to get grants and funding from organisations is crucial to their production and financial well-being. Meanwhile the more traditional gallery system established in the latter half of nineteenth century continues. So it is important to decide what kind of artist you wish to be. a) You may not be able to financially support yourself by your Art; this does not make you any less of an artist. Find a regular income stream, it doesn’t have to be teaching, and this can liberate you from the tyranny of the gallery system.
b) Compartmentalise your life; Galleries can get a “sniffy" if they see you as a part-timer despite the fact that even the most successful artist holds regular teaching jobs in school and colleges.
c) Galleries like to associate you with a recognisable product. I found to my cost that eclecticism can come at a cost when building a profile.
d) Produce honestly if you can; making saleable 'product' can rot the soul.
To find out more about Andrew Curtis visit his website: https://www.andrewcurtis.com