We’ve interviewed Warwickshire based contemporary painter, Andy Sargent to find out a little bit more about his creative practice, ahead of his forthcoming solo show (opening 22nd December 2018 and Nuneaton Gallery and Museum).
Tell us a little about your history as an artist Andy. When did you first get into painting?
I was drawing and being creative before I could read or write! I was surrounded by art as a kid, my grandfather was a talented amateur artist as well as his brother in Llandudno. I remember reading all his big reference books on art, so I got to be aware of the likes of Monet, Van Gogh, Sickert and Singer-Sargent at an early age. My grandfather was also a guide for many years at Coventry Cathedral, and I often got to draw all the amazing artefacts when I was young in the Cathedral’s under croft, and I remember staring for hours at the famous works of art in there, by Sutherland, Piper, Epstein and so on. I was starting to dabble in painting whilst at school (I won an award in the Coventry Building Society’s young artist competition that they used to run each year, I think it would have been around 1980) and then really got into it at College, studying for a BTEC Diploma in General Art & Design, then for a degree in Fine Art at Birmingham Polytechnic.
How has your style changed and evolved over the years?
As I had grown up, reading and being influenced by 19thC French painting and so on, my work changed vastly, especially after I came under the tutelage of Dave Berry-Hart and Geoff Yeomans at “Tech” in Nuneaton. Dave was a fabulous sculptor, but he opened my eyes up to Dada, surrealism, abstract expressionism etc. Geoff was an amazing painter and was a stickler for the traditional craft of painting. This had a profound influence on my painting at the time. I had a terrible time on my degree course, and after gaining my degree I destroyed all my work, vowing never to paint again! In the mid 90’s I started getting commissions for portraits and animal studies, then I started painting for myself again. Since then, my work has often gone from expressive realism into abstraction and back again. I have always been particularly fond of Fauvism, and its experiments with colour, and this is often an influence on my work. I’m always experimenting, and trying new ideas. Since my spinal injury in 2010, my work is often painted in discomfort and pain, hence the reason that some of my works look like they’ve been attacked with a brush, and extreme tonal arrangements have been used, plus vibrancy of colour.
What themes do you explore in your paintings?
I have for many years dealt with the landscape. Not just in the traditional representation of it, but in different ways it plays on emotions, memories of being in it, things that happen in it and so on. Sometimes the subject is the starting point, but the work itself takes on its own “persona” so to speak, and becomes more about its own composition, technique and materials. Being a disabled artist, I have to paint what is around me, hence landscape is an important subject. I am also developing a body of work, which is a biographical series called “Hidden monster”, and deals with the issues of being a permanently disabled creative in today’s society. It deals with pain, depression, isolation, people’s reaction to you, and being a sort of “phantom” in your own life, not being able to do the things you once did.
What process do you go through when creating a new painting?
I’m very much a spontaneous painter. I don’t hang around. Having said that, some works do take a lot of thought, and juggling with before jumping in with the paint. Due to my physical issues, I can’t spend hours of time on a work, and things like keeping it “fresh”, and not overworking things are important. Some of my work is done in stages, some taking months or years to paint, but that’s only because I’m not happy with something, so I put it away to leave it till the mind clears! I don’t have a proper studio, I paint where I can. That could be out the boot of my car, in the kitchen or in my father’s badly lit and drafty garage! I dream of having a purpose built studio one day!
What other artist’s work do you like and why?
I could write you an essay! However to keep it simple, here’s a few to start with! Gustav Caillebotte – simply because the atmosphere he created in his paintings is mystifying! Maurice de Vlaminck – My grandfather met him, so I grew up hearing a lot about him, and his Fauvist works were incredible, as an exercise any painter should try to just have a go at replicating one of his works, it’s not easy, forget traditional colour theory! Frank Auerbach – I have always been interested in his work, his paint application (like the paintings of his friend Leon Kossoff) is almost sculptural, and his story is well worth reading about. Sir Howard Hodgkin – Hodgkin was a painter’s painter (If you know what I mean). He used paint in a different visual language, to the layman Hodgkin’s work seems abstract on first inspection, but to him they were descriptive of a memory, event, or other subject. I had been using the frame around works as an integral part of them way back at college, never having really looked at Hodgkin’s work properly. So to see him doing this in his creations attracted me to his work on purely technical grounds.
What can people expect to see in your forthcoming exhibition at Nuneaton Museum and Gallery?
This exhibition is the culmination of two year’s work (since I became ill health retired from the Civil Service, and I could concentrate on my art without distraction). In those two years, I have explored different ways to interpret the landscape. So visitors will see both traditional and more contemporary/alternative descriptions of it. Not only the landscape itself, but memories of events in it, seasonal references, all sorts of things. Two of the paintings have been seen on television and one of the works was selected for the Midlands Open Exhibition in 2017 at Leamington Museum and Art Gallery. There are over forty works in the show, using a variety of materials and methods, and as with all the work I create, each tells a physical struggle in the making of them if the viewer looks at the mark making contained within the work itself.
Andy’s solo show “From the Land – Differently” will run at Nuneaton Museum and Gallery from 22nd Dec – January 27th.
Find out more here.