Back in October, Vincent Brown came runner up in our October Oils competition with his work ‘Head of a Man’, a quiet yet highly accomplished portrait masterfully executed in oils. Brown is a regular exhibitor of his paintings and has featured in shows at the Mall Galleries and the BP Portrait Award on numerous occasions. I was curious to ask him about his work, what he hopes he can achieve with his painting and learn more about why he approaches his work in the way that he does.
Lisa: You painted ‘Head of a Man’ on a copper substrate; what is it like to paint on copper and how does it compare with canvas?
Vincent: My grandfather had a very small oil on copper painting of a church interior hanging on the dining room wall and as a child I was so fascinated by the painting for its luminosity. In later years I began to develop a love for the work of Lucian Freud, and with it, a personal obsession with his stolen portrait – a little less than 18 x 13 cm beautiful and sensitive oil on copper portrait of his close friend, the great artist ‘Francis Bacon’. When I was asked to produce a painting for the National Portrait Gallery to include in their charity Mystery Portrait sale, the small dimensions stipulated reminded me of the Lucian Freud painting and so I produced this work for them as an oil on copper. They sold the work for two hundred pounds towards their education fund, although I now wish I had kept the painting and given them the money instead. I am unsure who now owns the original but I am hoping to borrow it back for a solo exhibition at the BRLSI at the end of 2017.
Of course the first obvious disadvantage in using copper as a support is its weight. Copper weighs a kilogramme for each 112 cubic centimeters, meaning a sheet only 20x20cm and 1.2mm thick would weigh 429.6 grams. Copper can also react and change colour when in contact with different chemicals and so it is recommended to apply and even base coat of usually a lead based white and allow to dry so that any changes to the ground will remain even throughout the work. For this particular painting I wanted to leave some areas of the pure copper to shine through the paint, and so instead of an oil ground I used Roberson (clear) Glaze Medium as a ground, leaving it for several weeks to dry before beginning the work. The painting itself was executed with Old Holland Oils.
Copper is always expensive when compared to other supports and the price can change very dramatically and quickly, but it is also extremely durable and should add longevity to the work. An advantage for me is that I occasionally produce drypoint etchings on copper and so once the prints have been made I am left with the unused side of the copper with which to produce a painting at no extra cost. Also, I have always found any heavy texture in a support to be a distraction and prefer to choose where to create texture within a work, therefore a copper or aluminium substrate is appealing. Copper also appears to add a greater luminosity to an oil painting that I have not seen with anything else.
Lisa: Do you tend to work to commission or choose your subjects? Does the picture making process differ depending on the initial reasons for making the work?
Vincent: My subject is virtually always people and I often exhibit portraits in shows such as The Royal Society of Portrait Painters and on occasions The BP Portrait Award and so as a result I gladly receive portrait commissions. As a professional artist supporting a family it is imperative to receive these commissions and attract patrons to my work, however, I have never really considered myself to be a ‘portrait artist’ in the traditional sense, but instead a fine artist using people as my subject, one difference being that I have consciously avoided continually producing the exact same work or even working in the same way or style. When I accept a commission it is with the intention of creating a new and original piece where every aspect of the composition and medium is chosen in relation to the subject and intended concept. For example, when producing a portrait of Aardman Animations Directors I chose to create it using coloured clay (Plasticine) as they were known for animating with it.
Lisa: How do you start the idea development for a painting?
Vincent: My approach for commissioned portraits differs greatly from most of my personal work. Usually one of the main objectives in a portrait commission is to achieve a recognisable likeness and to please the sitter, although I have on several occasions been asked to produce portraits in my more experimental manner. I don’t really have a standard approach to working but instead let the subject inspire every aspect of the work, even down to the medium I use.
Lisa: What are your favourite paints to work with (brand) and do you ever use any special mediums?
Vincent: I do use Old Holland oil paints but I have found their acrylics to be completely dreadful yet I have found Winsor and Newton to be consistently reliable in quality for Acrylics, Watercolour and Oil paint, although I tend to avoid their student ranges unless it is for my children to use on homework projects. For acrylics I also like Golden and Cryla and use many of the Golden mediums. I searched for many years to find an acrylic glaze medium that could perform in a similar way to the oil painting Roberson Glaze mediums (used as a clear base for oil on copper painting). There are some Golden glaze mediums but I found them all to have a slight blue-white tinge to them and they didn’t have the consistency that I was searching for and so I now make my own medium using Tar Gel, with less than one third water to thin it, then I add less than ten percent Retarder, to slow the drying time. I find this medium allows me to create oil like glazes with a reasonable work-time. I use Sterling Pro-Arte synthetic brushes for both oils and acrylics and I often use the Sta-Wet palette for acrylic painting.
Lisa: What painting are you most proud of painting and why?
Vincent: A few years ago I may have said “Artists’ parents (after Dix)” as it had won me my biggest award, but the older and hopefully wiser I become, the more I realise that awards have very little true merit and are too often determined by so many factors other than the achievements of the work being judged. At this very moment in time I feel my greatest work is my most recent as it is, as it should be, the culmination of all I have learned. It is probably the same with many other artists in that I very often deviate into pure experimentation in the hope of discovering something new, something I want but fail to achieve as I am never satisfied with anything I have created and this dissatisfaction may always be the driving force behind the next work, constantly seeking to achieve the unachievable. Lucian Freud once claimed he wished his portraits to be ‘of the people, not like them. Not having a look of the sitter, but being them.’ This is obviously completely impossible, yet that unachievable goal forever and always beyond even his reach, was probably the intention in his mind every time he needed to reach for the brush. My intention in painting is far more to relate my personal experience of the sitter rather than to portray their photographic likeness. As time passes I find it ever more unnatural to attempt a static, singular viewpoint of a subject, as in reality neither myself or the sitter will ever really be static as we are living creatures, constantly in motion and so surely any painting produced over a passage of time should convey something of this ‘life’.
Lisa: Is there a particular kind of person that is most inspiring to paint?
Vincent: Without a doubt I am often attracted to a person’s character and find some people’s features more interesting than others but not usually as a result of the individual possessing a classically beautiful face or in fact any particular appearance. It’s often because they have a ‘look’ that will fit with an idea or concept I have been thinking on. I have on several occasions stopped a stranger in the street and asked them if they would pose for me. Surprisingly I am yet to be refused, although some take longer to recover from the initial shock than others.
Lisa: How important to your painting practice is being recognised through awards and prizes?
Vincent: Free entry art competitions are fantastic, as they truly can claim to be helping promote the artists, but I think it is unfortunate that entry fee charging open submission competitions currently appear to be the main or only route for fine-artists to gain recognition and success in recent years. Somewhere, a million miles from the Banksy ruled Urban art scene or the Hirst and Emin empire of Con-Art, wander us Stuckist, nostalgic-traditional-fine-
Lisa: What are you working on at the moment?
Vincent: I am currently working on some more portrait/ figure paintings and drawings based upon my own ideas of ‘Analytical Naturalism’. For more than a decade I have been developing this approach as a way of portraying form without being restrained by a single viewpoint or pose such as a photographic portrait. I was inspired partially by the ‘Cubism’ technique of painting more than one view of an object within one painting, yet instead of simplifying the object I try to render it with a highly detailed realism or naturalism in a more easily recognisable form.
Lisa: What artistic endeavours do you hope 2017 will bring?
Vincent: I hope that in 2017 I manage to produce my best work to date. As an artist I have been searching for my own true style and direction for a very long time yet I feel I am only just beginning to be myself. It’s the easiest thing to imitate other artists but to be individual and ‘plough your own furrow’ is the real challenge. I would also hope that the more unique and identifiable my work becomes, the more success I will find as an artist and with it some financial improvement would be greatly welcomed also.
Lisa: Where can we see more of your work (online or in the flesh)?
Vincent: At the end of 2017, I will be having my first solo exhibition for more than eight years at the ‘Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institute’ (BRLSI), Bath. This is planned to include a body of new work as well as a mini-retrospective, and will coincide with the publication of a multi-media book with a DVD of my art, poetry and music. My work will also be included in many group shows throughout the year and although these are all open submission exhibitions where nothing is guaranteed, my work is regularly shown in many of the Mall Galleries exhibitions, especially the Royal Society of Portrait Painters where last year I was honoured to be an ‘Invited Artist’. Being the end of the year and a very quiet time for shows, the only current exhibition to include my work is the ‘Sunday Times Watercolour Exhibition’ on the last part of it’s U.K. tour at the ‘Guildford House Gallery’, until the 28th of January 2017. I also have a website www.vincentbrown.co.uk.
Header Image: ‘Supper at Aardman’, Vincent Brown, Acrylic on Poplar, 80x 100cm