Putting You in the Picture:
"The Art of Captured Moments"
Having devoted much time to Marine-scapes with views of fishing boats in port particularly around the Kent coast, as well as landscapes, I was asked to design the 2010 Cathedral Calendar with twelve separate images of Canterbury Cathedral depicting the months of the year. I had avoided painting the Cathedral for many years because it had been painted so many times before and by some of the world’s greatest artists. I felt I had nothing new to say and feared I would end up painting visual clichés. However after the calendar was so well received I started painting townscapes in Canterbury and by chance developed my fascination for “figurative realism”.
The spur was populating the scenes with real people. The aspect of this artistic development that I am particularly interested in is the way people express themselves through their body language. Desmond Morris described it as “Man Watching”. It was one of my particular interests within the doctor/patient consultation. I am interested by the way people stand about chatting or simply taking in the scene, or the way they stroll casually about or stride out with purpose. The easy way that children bound about or the difficulty experienced by the elderly with stiff and arthritic joints can all be glimpsed in an instant. The closeness or distance that people stand from one another says so much about their relationship and how they are feeling towards each other. The way they carry their shoulders, heads, arms or backs or the way they walk in cold weather contrasting with how they do so in the sunshine all add dimensions of interest, which hold the attention of the observer. Capturing these moments in a painting is my fascination and I call this development of the Art of Figurative Realism the “Painting of Captured Moments”. It is effectively an artistic extension of my life as a family doctor, as a trained observer of people. A still image can reveal so much about a person provided it is caught at the right moment. Cartier-Bresson described this in photography as ”Les Images à la Sauvette” which was translated as the “Decisive moment” but which means literally “Hurried Images”. Whereas a photograph is a frozen record of one fleeting instant, a painting is more of a compendium of temporary images occurring on different occasions but when applied to the paper or canvas provide a series of interrelated cameos. The painting brings the characters together telling their own brief stories rather like the scene in a play bringing all the different individuals together to tell their tale of the place, the occasion and the day. Whilst most of the characters are real some are imaginary. Examples of this are the “girl in red”, or the girl facing with the white hand bag in the “ice-cream cart”, or the woman in the red coat in the centre foreground of “Canterbury Buttermarket: Snow clearing from the east”.
In some respects the Art of Captured Moments draws similarities with Narrative Painting, popular in the Victorian era, but whereas this was defined by the title of the work, I consider "Captured Moments" to be more open to interpretation and deliberately more ambiguous. I hope my characters allow for you, the viewer to use your own imagination in interpreting the scene. For example, in Gallery 4 the picture of the young boy peering into the water near the weir at the Miller's Arms observed by a man provokes a number of questions. Who are they? Are they related? Is the boy in danger? What danger is he in? Why does the man just sit there? What is he thinking about? Where is the boy's mother? Does he have one? These and many more raise tensions which are never resolved. There is no definitive story, only many possibilities. The title "at a loose end" gives nothing away. The fact that the surrounding scene seems tranquil adds to the tension. Although it is tranquil it is also deliberately overdetailed to cause distraction to the eye. One doesn't quite know whether to be distracted by the background or focussed on the man and the boy.
I usually restrict my palette to just four colours – Raw Sienna, Burnt Sienna, French ultramarine, and Cadmium Red. With these four I feel more in control and the more variety I can get with them. I don’t need to worry about loss of harmony as they all marry well with each other. I also feel more confident as I get to know their potential. They can provide great exuberance and vitality and yet also quiet calm and serenity. Overall I like to produce a happy, optimistic image but beneath this immediate impact there are other resonances, sometimes amusing or with a sense of fun, sometimes joyous and sometimes challenging or even threatening.
My main resources are standing, watching, mentally recording and taking photographs. For one scene I may take as many as 150 photographs in the same light in the same weather but not necessarily on the same day. I can achieve the right image of a person by taking the shot at precisely the decisive moment but sometimes it occurs quite by chance. The photographic quality is unimportant for me as I require them just as an aide memoire from which to paint the figures. Transferring the characters to the paper to create the painting I want is the challenge, the fun and the fascination.