A Tea Break with Paul Bennett!

Pretty Little Thing by Paul Bennett

Eight large scale commissions for a cruise ship, and work now showing in New York; Paul Bennett is busier than ever, and his work is traveling the globe! We felt privileged to steal a few moments to ask him some questions. With a brand new collection from Paul now showing in Cloud galleries, we were eager to learn a little more about his distinctive style, his influences, and what exciting projects he has in the pipeline! 

Paul, congratulations on now showing in New York, amazing! You’re a prolific artist with work all over the globe, but have you always had a love for art? Does it run in your blood?
When I was young I had an appreciation for album cover art, graffiti, comic books, but that was as far as it went. My background was art-free, and it certainly doesn’t run in the family!

Are there any artists that you feel have inspired your work over the years, or influenced you as an artist?
Lots… Frank Auerbach, Francis Bacon, Turner, Hugh o’Donoghue… to name just a few.

So, with inspiration from some incredible artists, how do you feel your style has evolved over the years?
It’s evolved quite a lot; I’m always looking to discover more. I think I’d stop once I thought my work wasn’t moving forward.

I understand that your seascapes are not of a particular place, but instead inspired by many memories and locations. Do you travel a lot in search of future inspiration? Do you have any favourite places that trigger new work?
I do travel a lot and the West Coast of Scotland is one of the main locations I visit. I also live in the Lake District, so that helps a lot, but as you say, the work is never of a single location.

Do you have a vision of how a painting will end up, or is the process organic and improvised from start to finish? Do you begin with photos or any preliminary studies?
I don’t work from photos and for me it’s all about the process. Every mark I make influences the next. Every painting I finish will give me an idea for the next.

Do you use any unusual utensils or equipment to produce your paintings?
I sometimes use a gloss resin, but this is becoming rarer.

In three words, how would you describe your work?
‘Available to Buy’

Do you have any crucial requirements in your studio before you set-about painting?
I’ve always got to have music, 6 music is my station of choice, or I’ll have my iPhone playing. Tea is also an absolute necessity!

You have two very distinct areas of work, your seascapes and abstracts, and then your portrait work. At first glance it’s hard to believe they’re by the same artist! Do you see a similarity between the two styles? Or do they satisfy two very different artistic urges within you?
I find it healthy to have a couple of different styles. It helps because it gives me two very different challenges and forces me to think in new ways. It’s also good to have a break from one style, so it feels fresh when I return to it. I have plans to start a new series of paintings that are in a new style. I just need the time to make a start!

I understand your portraits are based on glamorous magazine images, can you explain why you de-glamourise the images you base your work on?
I just want the portrait to look painted, unique and removed from their original context. Maybe creating something that has a bit more longevity than the original throw away media.

Your work is so incredibly layered; do you find it difficult to know when a piece is finished?
When I think a painting is finished, I will leave it for a week or so and then take a fresh look at it. Thirty percent of the time I’ll work into it some more.

How do you spend your time when you’re not painting?
I’m not sure that I every fully switch off, but I like to spend time with my family and explore the Lake District. I also enjoy cooking, playing about with music, the odd TV box set and cinema.

You’ve just completed a series of work for a cruise ship, how fantastic! Do you have any interesting commissions in the pipeline?
There might be another two cruise ships that need work, so I am in talks about that.

What do you feel is your greatest artistic achievement to date?
I know that I am lucky to be able to do what I do, so just being able to do it is an achievement!

See work by Paul Bennett in Cloud Gallery Chester, Worthing and Brighton. Alternatively have a look at our website: Cloud Gallery – Paul Bennett

A Real Treat – An Interview with Chris Morgan

High Rollers low res

Usain Bolt, Gordon Ramsay, and a naked old lady… this interview features ‘em all! What a wonderful and insightful chat I had with realism artist Chris Morgan. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to uncover a secret formulae to the jaw-dropping paintings he creates, but read on to learn about his influences, painting process, and who his Nan would love him to paint!

Chris, you have an incredible talent for painting, is this something that runs in your family?

Yes, my Dad was always pretty good at drawing and my uncle was good with oil paints and created a few paintings when he was younger. My favourite piece of his was a leopard that still hangs in my uncle’s house today. Also when my Mum was researching our family history she found that my Great Granddad’s occupation was a scenic and pastel artist, so I think it must run in the family.

Did you study art at college, or do you consider yourself a self-taught artist?

I’m totally self-taught, I have always had the ability to draw and as a child would constantly be drawing on any bit of scrap paper I could find, then In my early teens I continued to draw for fun but it was when I was 21 that I started to sit down and develop my skills, firstly  drawing lots of sketches that had taken me 4 hours or so to finish,   but then I decided to sit down and create what I considered a “Proper” drawing this took me more like 60 hours to complete and was much larger than anything else I had created, I was so pleased with it I decided to get it professionally framed, the reaction to my piece from the gallery owner was so wonderful that It got me thinking maybe there could be a way of selling my work and showing in galleries. 3 days later that drawing sold and I was hooked. I then continued to draw entered and won some local competitions and sold for a few years until 2011 when I picked up a paint brush for the first time. I was so surprised with the initial results I just continued to paint and haven’t looked back since.

Which artists do you feel most influenced or inspired by?

There are a few artist that I’m inspired by, but I find myself looking mainly at figurative and portrait artist’s this influences me both in my figurative and still life work, my favourite artists at the moment are, Mitch Griffiths, David Eichenberg , David Kassan, David Jamieson, and Tim Okumura; all figurative artists but all different in their own way.

What do you look for when selecting objects to paint?

I love reflective items and anything that can create deep contrasts, but you would be surprised just how beautiful an item can look under the right lighting conditions and with this in mind, I don’t rule anything out.

Do you have a favourite composition you’ve painted?

That’s a tough question, I think that the most popular paintings I’ve created are “Rock and Roll Cola” the crayon piece titled “Incognito” and the Jars that sat in the window, but I think my recent paintings from 2013 have shown a growth in painting ability, my pieces are far more tighter than they were in 2012 and with this being my 3rd full year at painting I’m excited to see how I develop over the next few years.

What’s the most bizarre commission you’ve been asked to paint?

This is easy, I was once asked to paint an elderly lady naked, I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to deal with the situation but accepted the commission. When they realised at the time I had over a 6 month waiting list for commissions, they pulled out (which secretly I was happy about).

What is the process behind each painting? Do you work from photographs, preliminary studies and sketches? 

I will do thumbnail sketches for composition ideas, once happy with them I then have a photo session where I take a number of photographs under different lighting conditions, using those sketches as a guide.  Once I’m happy I’ll select from the photos I have taken and begin to draw them sometimes as a sketch first, but other times I’ll sketch straight onto the panel with pencil. Just recently I have started to sketch with my brushes and a thin wash of Burnt Umber paint, I find it easier to control, and if I make a mistake its easier than rubbing out with an eraser that sometimes leaves grubby marks, instead I just use a cloth soaked in white spirits and wipe away the paint as though it was never there.

Once I’m happy with my main drawing I start painting.  I mix my colours as accurate as I can by constantly checking with my palette knife against my photo to get the exact colour match. I then start to apply the paint, usually I will section off an area to do an under painting and then add layers upon layers until I capture the subtle changes and values that are needed to create the type of realism I’m aiming to achieve in each painting.

Do you work on several pieces at once, or focus all your attention on one painting?

This has changed in the last two years, when I first started I worked on one painting at a time until completion, but as the demand has grown I had to adapt and now work on up to 3-4 paintings at a time. so whilst one is drying I’ll be painting another, or I’ll split my painting time so in the morning I’ll work on one, and in the afternoon I’ll work on another.

You used to work predominately in pencil, is this still a media you revisit?

I draw all the time but it’s always just a structure for a painting. But I would love to do a realistic drawing again just to keep in with the techniques as they are so different to painting.

How has your style evolved over the years?

A lot, I firstly started drawing local landscapes and animals but moved to portrait work, but once I turned to painting I wanted to paint anything with some colour so I turned to still life.  I love painting still life now and will continue to do so for many years, but my main love and passion has always been portrait and figurative works, and I have recently started a new body of work based on sports. The first few have been based on my favourite sport of Boxing, but I will move into other sports in the future. So far these pieces have been very well received, and I hope to do a few every year alongside my still life pieces.

Many people mistake your work for a photograph. Do you consider this a compliment or something you like to avoid?

I always tell people that up close my paintings don’t look like photographs, when someone is viewing my work on a computer screen the image is condensed so much that it does look like a photograph, but up close you can see the brush work that has gone into the painting, this for me is so important.  I know some hyper realism artists use labouring techniques that make the end result so realistic that during close up inspection it still looks like a photograph, but in my opinion I think, what is the point.

I remember when I was younger going into an art gallery and seeing a large original painting,  I couldn’t help but see that artists journey through the paint strokes and the craftsmanship I could see in the work, I hope that I have the same effect on the viewers that see my work.

You’ve auctioned a lot of your work for charity. Are there certain charities that are close to your heart?

Yes I believe In giving back a little, any charity to do with cancer or cancer research are close to my heart as I have lost a few close family members to this horrible disease. I felt very blessed when I was asked by Eastenders actor Adam Woodyatt to donate a painting for auction to help  a little boy called Bailey who had been battling with cancer since he was just 4 years old. He is without doubt one of the bravest courageous young boys I have ever had the pleasure to meet in my life. Thankfully he has survived and is now trying to live a happy normal life, I still think about him and his family a lot and still wear his wrist band that says “I will know NO fear”

Congratulations on your commission for Liverpool FC. I understand you’ve already painted their crest which was auctioned for charity, how did this exciting connection come about?

I was approached by a guy called Chris Morgan, believe it or not, who works for Liverpool FC and helps raise money for the Christies cancer hospital.

This hospital treated my Aunty Jayne before she lost her battle with cancer in November 2012 so I wanted to help. They commissioned me to paint the clubs iconic Liver bird, this was signed by all the players and was auctioned and sold for £6,000

They were so pleased that they have now commissioned me to paint the Liverpool FC captain, Steven Gerrard to celebrate his 100 caps with England and 600 appearances with LFC. This will be signed by Steven Gerrard himself, and auctioned again for the Christies Cancer hospital.

You’re portrait of Steven Gerrard looks incredible; you really can turn your hand to any subject matter. Who’s at the top of your ‘I’d love to paint’ list?!

Thank you. I was under a lot of pressure with that piece. I mean, it’s the England captain he’s known around the world but I’m happy with how it turned out.

I guess I should say the queen, I know my Nan would be extra proud of me if I ever got the opportunity to paint her. I would love to paint someone like Gordon Ramsay, I think I’d find his face interesting to paint! But with my new body of figurative works being based on sports, I’d like to paint someone like Usain Bolt or David Haye.

Do you have any projects in the pipeline that you can let us in on?!

I always have something in the pipeline but it’s honestly like spinning plates. I can’t tell you the amount of opportunities that have nearly happened but have ended up not for one reason or another, but then you may get 5 things that all get confirmed at once.

Thank you to Chris Morgan for sparing the time to answer my questions. Remarkable work by this talented artist can be seen at Cloud Gallery Brighton, Worthing or Chester, or alternatively see his available work at Cloud Website-Chris Morgan

Getting to Know Harriet Whyatt

Harriet Whyatt

What an absolute joy it was to chat to Wiltshire based artist Harriet Whyatt, on a rainy early summer’s afternoon, she kindly made the time to answer my questions. Totally absorbed, intrigued and captivated by her work that surrounded me in the gallery; I was overflowing with questions!

For those of you who are familiar with her work, it may come as little surprise to learn that Harriet is just as warm, engaging, and emotionally honest as the paintings she creates. We discussed everything from childhood to current projects, family life to financial pressures, love found and love lost, artistic influences and the irrepressible toils of being a die-hard romantic!

If you want to learn more about Harriet Whyatt, in truth, it’s all there in her work. Harriet doesn’t use the paintbrush to shelter herself; instead she uses it as a method of processing everything she experiences. In her own words, her work is her medium for “self-indulgence”, using it to express life, or more often her fantastical view of how life should be – quite simply it’s her therapy.

So Harriet, you have a very distinctive style, but how did it all start? Has painting always been a part of your life?

My mum and sisters went to art school, so I was always surrounded by visual things. It certainly had its influence as I decided to study film, with a passion for documentary filming in particular. I loved it but it was a difficult route that I chose, it was financially demanding, and with very little financial reward, particularly while trying to bring up my daughter by myself. And to be honest, it just wasn’t satisfying me, not just financially, but also artistically. I soon found myself taking pieces of wood from skips; and using my daughter’s poster paints I’d paint on them with my fingers. It may sound basic, but I got great compliments, and I guess it all went from there really.

So you’re a self-taught artist?

Yeah I’d definitely say that. I think my work is very raw and spontaneous. I think it works because I’m not restricted by training, I have no idea what I want to create or what I should create, it just happens. It’s crucial though that what I paint has to move me; it has to have feeling and a soul, so I could never paint still-lifes.

What are your main artistic influences?

I used to live in the middle of nowhere, and very close to Romany gypsies. I used to be fascinated by them, everything about their day-to-day lives, and most importantly their relationships. There was trust and vulnerability, and in truth I romanticised it all to the extreme, as of course I was only an onlooker but what I did see really did have a lasting effect. I’m still very interested in film and books also. In both of these, there has to be a lot of attention to emotion, and there is a lot of power in portraying it well.

Are there any films or books in particular?

So many, but ones that instantly stand out are ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ and the ‘Godfather’. I also love Westerns and D. H. Lawrence novels.

Are the characters in your paintings real characters you’ve met in life?

Not really, my work is a romanticised vision, so I take influences, but I never set out for them to be ‘of’ anyone. My mum and sisters sometimes think they can see themselves and me in my work, I think it’s because we all have quite big eyes! At the moment I am working on a collection of paintings that are all inspired by one man though, and the lyrics of his songs, and that’s Waylon Jennings. I was just so struck when I heard his music; I had to paint him and his songs, he really deserves a collection painted for him. It’s bizarre because he also looks like a man I envisaged, so I had to follow up on it.

How would you describe the work?

If I had to sum it up, I guess I’d say it’s very American looking; it has a twist which definitely says ‘Country music’.

Where do you start when you’re in your studio?

I never know what I’m going to paint, I have no plan, I just see what happens. I always start with a charcoal drawing first.

Why charcoal?

Charcoal can give me the best understanding of what the finished piece would look like. It allows me to quickly create the very heavy black outline that I use in my work. It’s also blendable, which I find really helpful in seeing if a piece is going to work. Then painting in acrylics offers me the speed and spontaneity that I’m looking for.

Is there a religious element to your work?

Definitely, but I wouldn’t say it’s intentional, as I’m not religious at all. I did go to a convent school from the ages of 4-10 though; I was fascinated by icons, particularly the Virgin Mary. I also went to Florence as a kid, I don’t remember it at all, but it seems to have influenced me. The eyes are very important in my work, they are so powerful and they often show sadness that I see in Mary. The soul is in the eyes. I also see my work a bit like film-stills, and there’s a similarity to the portraits I remember seeing on Italian plates, they were often a bit spooky the way they would intrude on something quite private.

Would you say there’s something quite sexual about your work?

Yeah, there’s some of that too! I’m a diehard romantic, and with so many disastrous relationships in my personal life, I use my work as a way of creating my own colourful life. Sounds a bit sad!

That’s not sad at all!

My work’s expressive, and it allows me to make up fantasy people, and fantasy situations. The world is lacking emotional intensity, we’re just not emotional enough, and so my work is completely self-indulgent in this way.

So what do you like to do when you put down your paint brush?

I don’t! I paint seven days a week, it’s absolutely my therapy and I don’t like to take a break. I probably should slow down a bit, but I love it. I guess if I’m not painting I’m doing something outside as I love nature.

A huge thank you to Harriet for agreeing to this interview. You can see Harriet’s available work in Cloud Gallery Chester, Worthing and Brighton, or on our website:

Cloud Gallery Website: Harriet Whyatt