The Contemporary British Portrait Painters: Interviews Part 2


The Contemporary British Portrait Painters collective is presenting a major new exhibition of work this summer from 11th-18th June at The Department Store in Brixton, London. Founded in 2018, the collective includes some of the most recognisable and cutting-edge names in contemporary portraiture and offers a platform for the mutual support and promotion of artists. The exhibition will showcase works by over 50 artists, with portraits that reflect all aspects of society, expressing diversity, vibrance and community, providing a unique opportunity to see a snapshot of what’s happening in British portraiture today.

We caught up with some of the artists ahead of the show to find out more about their practice. Look out for our series of interviews over the coming weeks, find out more about the exhibition below and take a look around the 3D exhibition scan by The Net Gallery…

PETER DAVIS

Hi Peter! Can you tell us about your creative journey so far?

I guess I started my creative journey when I was 18. I did a foundation course at the Manchester School of Art before going into a career as an advertising art director. The desire to paint, however, never went away and I became a professional artist 7 years ago. I began by entering lots of open art competitions. The more I did, the more I found my artistic voice and style, and was able to build up a body of work. 2018 was a step-change year for me; I was a finalist in the international Aesthetica Art Prize and also had my first solo show in a public gallery. My career highlight to date is being part of the John Moores Painting Prize 2020, the UK’s leading contemporary painting biennial and a show I’ve been visiting ever since I was a teenager.

What draws you to portraiture and can you tell us about your approach to it?

My mum started to take me to art galleries when I was a child and I was immediately fascinated by people in paintings. I remember being drawn to how people were dressed; what they were doing and the stories they told. I think this has influenced the type of people that I like to paint now – strong narratives, characterful expressions and interesting clothing all play an important part in my portraits. Most of my portraits explore humanity and our relationship with technology. I believe personal devices have blurred our physical and digital worlds and are making us fundamentally rethink what it means to be human. I like the dichotomy between my technology-centric images and my traditional painting process. Even in my portraits that don’t feature someone with their tech (such as ‘The Future Is Female And She’s Black’), incorporating a strong narrative that’s centred around the sitter is really important to me.

What are your go-to materials for portrait painting and can you share any tips or techniques with our readers?

I always use Winsor & Newton Professional Acrylic as it’s great quality and incredibly versatile. These days, acrylic is considered a professional medium just as much as oils. Diluted with water or fluid retarder, acrylic can give the feeling of watercolour. Thickened with a texture gel, it can resemble the viscosity of oil paint. You don’t need thinners or chemical solvents either and your brushes just need to be cleaned in water afterwards. One of the things I also particularly love about painting in this medium, is that it dries very quickly, which means I can start working on my next layer (often called glazes) straight away. For me, acrylic is easy going, unpretentious and low-maintenance, which is probably why it’s my kind of paint

Thanks Peter! To see more of Peter’s work, visit peterdavisartist.com or follow him on Instagram @peterdavis_art.

CAROLINE POOL

Hi Caroline! Can you tell us about your creative journey so far?

I grew up in Bangkok, Thailand before moving to England where I studied at Central St Martin’s before gaining my Illustration degree at Brighton University. After graduating and working full time in set design for feature films such as Ridley Scott’s, ‘Robin Hood’ and Alfonso Cuaron’s, ‘Gravity’ I followed my instincts and returned to painting. The last few years with regards to my work have been my most productive. I had one of my paintings accepted into the Royal Society of Portrait Painters annual exhibition, the RA Summer exhibition and more recently, I was asked to appear in BBC One’s ‘Extraordinary Portraits with Tinie’ where each week, Tinie matched an Artist with someone who has had something extraordinary happen to them, or are living an extraordinary life. The programme followed their stories whilst gaining an insight into the painting process. 

What draws you to portraiture and can you tell us about your approach to it?

I’ve always loved painting, but painting faces has always won over anything else like landscapes or still lifes. I think because there’s so much more to them than the flesh. It’s about who the person is from the inside out and I love expressing that through paint. I’m also really drawn to painting older generations because faces really do weather history. I love talking to people and finding out about their lives and experiences. Ultimately, I’m just extremely nosey! For me, it’s about capturing the essence of that person, and people that are close to them that know them will notice that within the painting hopefully. 

Sometimes the painting practice itself can feel like herding cats. The only consistency in my day is that I get up early and paint until quite late. Everything in between can sometimes feel like throwing mud at a wall and sometimes, it just sticks. It’s rarely magic, just hard work. Looking back at old work next to more recent, it’s fascinating for me to see how the way I apply paint has changed but the subject matter remains fairly consistent. I will always love painting faces. If I had to sum up where I am today with my work, I would say predominantly a portrait Artist, I enjoy combining my more analytical approach to the human form with a contemporary illustrative quality to the silhouette and composition.

What are your go-to materials for portrait painting and can you share any tips or techniques with our readers?

For me, I always start the painting with the eyes and then everything sort of bleeds out fully rendered from that point. Once I know I’ve captured their spirit within the eyes, it brings focus to me and everything from that point onwards has to work alongside those details. I think having more than one painting on the go at any given time is also an important part of my practice. Similar to using a mirror to flip the image, hopping back and forth between paintings helps keep it fresh in my head. Letting something go cold for a bit is always beneficial to avoid overworking it and enables the perspective to notice things that aren’t quite working yet. I’ve always used a combination of Vasari, Rembrandt and Winsor & Newton oil paints. I used to get terrible headaches from products like Liquin and other mediums but I now swear by M.Graham & Co’s Walnut alkyd medium. 

Thanks Caroline! To see more of Caroline’s work, visit carolinepool.com or follow her on Instagram @carolinepoolart.

MICHAEL JAMES MONAGHAN

Hi Michael! Can you tell us about your creative journey so far?

I studied at West Lothian College when I left high school with the intention of going to art school but I changed my mind and ultimately ended up going to university a few years later and getting a degree in English Literature. I started off self-publishing comics and that lead to illustration opportunities which in turn led to experimenting with different styles and exploring realism. My sister is a painter and watching her work got me curious about oils and I’ve never looked back! 

What draws you to portraiture and can you tell us about your approach to it?

I think I’ve always been drawn to portraiture because it’s such a difficult thing to do; it’s very high risk and reward. Many portraits fail because of small drawing errors or ill-conceived compositional decisions but there’s an ineffable quality in portraiture where a painting just hits. For me, that’s what painting is. It’s that ability to communicate something beyond language and you can absolutely do that with a still life or a landscape, but there’s nothing quite like a portrait. I don’t really have a consistent theme in my own painting but the thing that I’m always striving to capture is the sense of time and space between me and the sitter. 

What are your go-to materials for portrait painting and can you share any tips or techniques with our readers?

I’m an oil painter, I do preparatory sketches in charcoal or graphite, I sketch with watercolour or oil pastels and I recently started sculpting. I paint using a fairly limited palette of mostly Winsor & Newton Artists’ Oil and Michael Harding paints (Ivory Black, Cadmium Red, Yellow Ochre, Titanium White, Ultramarine and Cadmium Yellow.) I paint on gesso-primed canvases that I stretch myself. I use synthetic hog hair brushes and mostly stick to filberts of differing sizes. My only real tip for oil painting would be that nine times out of ten you should be using a bigger brush and standing further back from the painting!

Thanks Michael! To see more of Michael’s work, visit michaeljamesmonaghan.com or follow him on Instagram @michaeljamesmonaghan.


TAKE A LOOK AROUND…

The Net Gallery specialises in creating immersive virtual tours for the art world and has worked with the CBPP across a number of different projects, capturing both group exhibitions and the studios of individual members. Take a virtual look around the show below. 

The Contemporary British Portrait Painters 2022 Exhibition is on display Downstairs at The Department Store, 248 Ferndale Road, Brixton, London, SW9 8FR, from 11th-18th June. Admission is free and there’s no booking required.

Exhibiting Artists include: Samira Addo, Mary Jane Ansell, Simon Bartram, Ange Bell, Paul Benney, Tim Benson, James Bland, Ilsa Brittain, Martyn Burdon, Darren Butcher, Clive Bryant, Jonathan Chan, Tom Croft, James E Crowther, Belinda Crozier, Sam Dalby, Peter Davis, Simon Davis, Mark Draisey, Belinda Eaton, Miriam Escofet, Samantha Fellows, Peter James Field, Jane French, Ian Goldsmith, James Hague, Philip Harris, Geoffrey Harrison, Curtis Holder, Danny Howes, Owain hunt, Hero Johnson, Preslav Kostov, Jemisha Maadhavji, Catherine MacDiarmid, Michael James Monaghan, Peter Monkman, Sarah Jane Moon, Charles Moxon, Ruth Murray, Lucy Pass, Anastasia Pollard, Caroline pool, Laura quinn Harris, Carl Randall, Joseph Andrew Ryan, Duncan Shoosmith, Lucy Stopford, Liesel Thomas, Andrew Tift, Oliver Winconek and Antony Williams.

Read our interview with artists Lucy Pass, Martyn Burdon and Peter James Field.

Find out more at: thecbpp.org or follow the CBPP on Instagram @thecbpp

The exhibition is supported by: The Sinclair Gallery, The Net Gallery & Cass Art 





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