Hugo is a member of the judging panel for the inaugural Jackson’s Open Art Prize, and his latest exhibition opens next week at Wally Findlay Galleries, Palm Beach.
Hugo Grenville’s career as a painter began in the late 1980’s after time spent as an Officer in the Coldstream Guards as well as in advertising at leading firm J. Walter Thompson. But it was not until he witnessed first hand the work of the Fauvists in a major exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris in 1999 that his work became more colourful than the life he leads! Today he is best known for work that is bathed in colour and light – from pattern filled interiors accented with the purity of a graceful nude, to huge exotic Mediterranean landscapes, to the explosion of colour you see in his many flower paintings.
Lisa: What inspires you to paint?
Hugo: I am inspired to paint what I see all around me: the interior of my home, my garden, the view of the street, the decorative objects in my studio, the vases of flowers sitting on studio tables. What I am really painting is the feelings that I associate with these places, and with these objects, and how the light and colour of their surfaces affects my mood, and sometimes sets off memories. Occasionally I venture to Southern Europe, where I seek the same things, but soaked in greater colour, and illuminated by that sun drenched light.
Lisa: You are having an exhibition at Wally Findlay Galleries in Palm Beach in January 2016. What can we expect to see at the show, and do you have a favourite work?
Hugo: There will be a series of large still lives with flowers, that have been arranged on a table in my studio. There is a large window behind the flowers, through which the viewer will see interpretations of Italian and Turkish landscapes, which have been imagined, or painted from memory. The quality of light, and the selection of colours, changes with each picture, and thus the mood changes too. My favourite painting is the very last one I painted, Still Life with Irises and Yellow Jug , in which you can glimpse a view of the beautiful Val d’Orcia. There will also be some nudes, interiors of my home and garden, and a number of smaller plein air paintings made in both Turkey and Dorset.
Lisa: What do you consider to be the greatest challenge that you face as a painter, and what can you do to overcome it?
Hugo: The greatest challenge for a painter is to remember that one must paint the idea, and not the actual objects that comprise the subject, something I haven’t always found especially easy. The breakthrough for me, which came after a terrible year (I think it was 2002) at the end of which I decided to burn all my work on a grand bonfire, was when I discovered how to paint what I felt, rather than what I saw literally, to paint the idea, not the object, to express emotion in colour, rather than describe a surface.
Lisa: What has been the proudest moment in your career?
Hugo: My proudest moment was the opening night of my first New York show in 2006, when I stood outside the gallery on East 57th St, and saw the words ‘Hugo Grenville New York Premier’ emblazoned across the window. I had always dreamed of showing in New York.
Lisa: Can you describe a typical day in the studio to us?
Hugo: A typical painting day begins with a 30 minute walk with Marvell my dog from my home to the studio, during which time I plan the sequence of events. Ideally any administration is dealt with first thing when I meet my assistant at the studio, leaving the lion’s share of the day for painting. I generally work on 2 or 3 different pictures every day: at least one of them will be a still life which I am painting in front of the motif; the others will be subjects which I am reinventing in the studio, generally related to an actual study that I have made from life, and I will be using drawings, small studies and sometimes photos as visual aide-memoires. I listen to Radio 3 in the morning, but enjoy silence in the afternoon. I never answer or look at my phone whilst I am painting, so the spell is not broken.
Lisa: How do you ensure that you don’t overwork a painting?
Hugo: Not overworking a painting is incredibly hard. Generally I rub back quite a bit of the previous days work, removing anything that seems too overtly stated. I let it dry before continuing, so that I can always return to this point. I tend to seek opinions, sometimes from my partner, sometimes from my children, or from my assistant, or even from the postman or a random delivery driver. If they react in the right way, then I know it’s finished.
Lisa: What is your favourite environment to paint in?
Hugo: I love painting out of doors in southern Europe when the light is fading, and the air has a solemnity to it, and all the history of mankind seems somehow to be held in the bosom of those crumbling houses, those piazzas, those harbours, those hills that are turning deep violet as the sun sinks below the horizon.
Lisa: What are you working on at the moment?
Hugo: Today I have been copying one of my own paintings. 35 of them have gone to America, and I wish I had kept a couple for myself, so I am recreating one or two which I shall hopefully be able to have at home.
Lisa: What do you think makes a good artist?
Hugo: A good artist is someone who listens to their own heart, and paints what they feel with conviction. A good artist is blind to fashion and peer group pressure, who paints with a dash of eternity on their brush.
Lisa: You are one of the judges for the upcoming Jackson’s Open Art Prize. How important do you think it is to recognise new artwork with prizes and competitions?
Hugo: I think prizes and competitions are a brilliant way of galvanising painters and printmakers into action. Art is a solitary, even lonely, business, and art prizes persuade young aspirants, and even old ones, to bring their work into the public domain, to share their experiences, and to reach an audience.
Lisa: What will you be looking for as a judge of the JOAP? What advice would you give to anyone thinking of entering the competition?
Hugo: There is only one vital ingredient in art, and that is integrity. The work you make must be made with your heart and your soul. If you look over your shoulder and follow fashion you are doomed to plagiarism and mediocrity. I shall be looking for work that has absolute conviction.
Lisa: Where online or in the flesh can we see more of your work?