Simon Hennessey’s acrylic paintings play games with our perceptions. By combining abstracted gestural marks with hyperreal depictions of human features, he embraces the extremes of what a painting can be. He recently came first in the acrylic painting category of the Jackson’s Painting prize 2017 (awarded by painter Scott Naismith). We wanted to find out more about Hennessey’s awe-inspiring works.
Lisa: What is your painting ‘A Meticulous Disorder’ about?
Simon: That particular artwork was the second of a new series of paintings which evolved from a desire to move away from straight forward photorealistic paintings that I’m probably best known for creating. Instead I wanted to produce work of a more semi abstracted reality which initially referenced back to my past life experiences.
Life is never straight forward, disruptions happen and the decisions and the paths which we choose all have consequences. I’m showing this through my mark making process, the brush strokes become metaphors for our actions and the paths we take.
Each individual brush stroke I decided to include has an implication on the composition of the painting. It changes the paintings course and direction, what was initially the clarity of realism becomes a disrupted abstraction of reality. Through juxtaposing the conflicting genres of Realism and Abstraction I’m attempting to the find a harmonious balance to produce something that’s both visual and aesthetic and questions the boundaries of where the genres converge.
Lisa: Do you always strive for narrative in your work or do you see your compositions as being primarily an exercise in playing with representational and abstract painting?
Simon: All artwork has a narrative to some extent, some artworks are blatantly more obvious than others, whilst some may need the viewer to work harder to realise that narrative. My paintings for the past few years have been mostly figurative based and had both consciously and subconsciously a theme of duality that has ran concurrently throughout them. Although each of my series of works have had slightly differing concepts I feel that the core to all my artworks is that I’m questioning our human conditioning and how nothing is as straight forward as what it initially appears on the surface.
Lisa: Do you have a favourite brand of paints/surface that you like working with?
Simon: For the tight realist parts of my paintings I primarily use fluid acrylic paints and inks, my two preferred brands are Liquitex inks and AV airbrush paints. The manner in which I work is to build up very fine layers of translucent colour so I find that the AV paints are very good for doing the job of laying down those first colours. Although they are fluid paints their viscosity is towards the thicker end of fluidity so the coverage is good and even. The Liquitex inks in comparison are very fluid and high in pigmentation so there is a very good saturation of colour which makes them great for translucent glazes and detailed refinements. The textured abstractions that some of my paintings have included are created with Liquitex heavy body and AV studio paint that are combined with Liquitex gloss gel medium, this medium gives the paint a buttery texture and properties similar to oil paints but without the drying times of oils.
Due to the meticulous nature of my paintings I require a very smooth surface to work upon as this assists with the tiny details of the realism. The elimination of surface texture prevents any of the brush strokes getting caught in any indentations of a heavy weave canvas or the texture of a heavily applied primed surface. Therefore I use either a wooden ply artist’s board sanded very smooth or a bespoke made canvas with an extra fine grade weave. My preference is Belle arte universal primed extra fine canvas available through Jackson’s art supplies.
Lisa: How do you go about developing your compositions?
Simon: Each painting is an evolvement on from the previous, so the concepts tend to flow naturally. All of my artworks begin with an idea which I then carefully establish the best plan of action to convey that idea and to get me to my end result. The process usually begins with sketches, small maquettes and multiple source photographs which I manipulate and edit with the help of computer software. I’m usually never happy with my first few concepts so the process is repeated over and over until I have multiple compositions that I feel may have the potential to work as an enlarged painting. At this stage I beam all these possible image configurations up onto a white wall with a digital projector so I can visually see how they may appear on completion and what sizes may work best. I find that a lot of my ideas that I thought would work well actually get discarded at this stage through a whittling down/process of elimination. There is usually another stage of slight adjustments to any ideas before settling on a chosen composition which is then used as the foundations for a painting. I also find that enlarging and projecting images also gives me a very accurate measurement for the size of the final chosen painting so I can then have my canvas bespoke made to measure.
Lisa: On your website there is an image of you using an airbrush. Do you often use airbrush in your work and what do you like most about the process?
Simon: I work with an airbrush daily, both freehand and with hand cut plastic stencils that I cut myself with a heat cutting tool. The airbrush really is a great instrument for laying down quick blocks of colour, acrylics are notorious for being hard to blend seamlessly with a paint brush so utilizing an airbrush makes blending the acrylics much easier. I don’t rely solely on the airbrush though and I also combine using it with traditional paint brushes to give the surface a diversity of mark making and creativity, this method also aids me with the illusion of depth within my skin textures. The airbrush has its good and bad points and it can be very frustrating to use at times, especially if it gets a blockage and you have to spend time cleaning it.
Lisa: Who or what are you biggest influences?
Simon: My biggest influence in art is Chuck Close. I admire how he strives to keep on researching and pushing boundaries with his creative process. No other artist can map out a face like Chuck does. He’s one of the most influential artists of our generation. I’ve been very fortunate to have had one of my paintings hanging on display next to Chuck Closes artworks, which was a personal highlight.
Lisa: How often do you paint?
Simon: I paint 5-6 days of the week but I always take Sunday’s off as a way of breaking away and freeing myself from the solitary confinement of my home studio. I have a structured daily routine where I do at least eight hours a day, however I find that I prefer to leave the end of the day’s work at a painted stage where I can easily pick it up the next day and follow on without getting lost within the surface details, so for that reason I usually work more than eight hours.
Lisa: Do you ever find yourself stuck for ideas, and if so, how do you get unstuck?
Simon: I’m not really ever stuck for ideas, it’s probably the opposite for me and I have too many ideas and concepts that I want to pursue, this results in me over thinking art which then becomes stressful as I begin to question everything that I do and why. I do get to a point though where a series has grown and then the ideas within that series such as compositional structures can hit a brick wall. I find the best way for me to get beyond this is to just stick at it and keep on producing, sketching or writing down ideas until something eventually emerges and becomes workable.
Lisa: Which painting are you most proud of and why?
Simon: I’m proud of them all for a variety of reasons, each one is individual and they all take a lot of time and effort to produce. I feel some are probably more successful as a painting and work better in terms of context and compositional arrangements. I tend to find that the last completed painting becomes my short term favourite, at least for the period of time until the next painting is completed.
Lisa: Where online or in the flesh can we view more of your work?
Simon: My work can be seen on my web site www.simonhennessey.com
My paintings can also be viewed in the flesh at my gallery representative Plus One Gallery in London, UK. They specialize in realism, photorealism and hyperrealist art. Their web site is www.plusonegallery.com
I am also active on social media.
Header Image: ‘Underground Distortion lines’ by Simon Hennessey, Acrylic on Canvas, 107cmx 107cm, 2015