I was born in Carlisle (UK) in November 1942. We lived in Hayton, Cumberland (close to Hadrian’s Wall) until I was nine, when we moved south to Sussex. I became a chorister at St Paul’s Cathedral from 1952-1956 – a totally different world from the village in which I had grown up.
Apart from all the singing, life at the choir school also meant normal lessons, sport and extra-curricular activities, among which art. It so happened that the headmaster’s wife, Eileen Jessop Price (SWA) was a well-known painter. From her I received encouragement, tuition and guidance.
In the early fifties the City was still very war-scarred. Around St Paul’s there was a vast expanse of bomb damage and rebuilding had hardly started. In the summer, after evensong, members of the art class would go there under the supervision of Eileen to sketch the strange views of the Cathedral between jagged masonry and the slowly moving cranes on the first building sites.
At Lancing College art was part of my A-level package, and for a while it was suggested that I go on to Brighton Art College. Things turned out differently. I was offered a place at Cambridge to read history and subsequently awarded a choral scholarship, and I stopped painting altogether.
In 1964 I moved to Antwerp, where I became an assistant lecturer at the Higher Institute for Translators and Interpreters, which proved to be the start of an academic career. It was only when I retired from teaching that I turned again to painting, after a gap of fifty years.
My Approach to Painting
As a boy I had used poster-paints and (surprisingly) oils. Watercolour was new to me. My first efforts were landscapes, imitations of the English 19th century watercolourists. But gradually, as I tackled other subjects (townscapes, street scenes , transport and industry,…) I began to find my feet. I hardly ever used the typical ‘wet-on-wet’ approach of landscape and floral watercolourists; soft contours were not suitable for my subjects. Instead I began to experiment with ‘dry brush’ techniques, which enabled me to get to grips with surface textures, light and shadow.
Elly and I divide our time between Antwerp, Shoreham-by-Sea, and Barrea (in Abruzzo, central Italy). My paintings reflect this shifting background. They are figurative, i.e. representations of the world around us (natural and man-made), but in no way a ‘copy’. Given the complexity of subjects like an oil refinery, a cathedral, a busy street scene, there has to be simplification and a degree of abstraction. It is a matter of finding a ‘personal language’ that enables one to create an illusion of the visible world.
A brief word about a group of paintings I have been working on recently: ‘doors and things’. The idea I pinched from Elly, who has assembled a series of photographs of doors and doorways – two hundred of them – stretching from our shed in Shoreham to Naples. Concentrating on the close-ups (already a step away from how we actually perceive things) I set out to render them in a different medium as faithfully as I could in the minimum of time. The result is something closer to an abstract composition with colour and geometrical shape important in their own right. Nothing new in this, but I hope to build on it.
Among contemporary watercolourists, I greatly admire John Yardley, Alvaro Castagnet, and especially Joseph Zbukvic. I have also been struck by Angus McEwan, whose work I saw recently in Antwerp.