New Blood Art

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29th Jan 2013

Window into the world of Stephen Todd

1) How and when do you start your day?

Early. But on a studio day I often hover around starting work. There is always some tidying up and sorting out to put off getting the paintbrush wet. I don’t find it easy starting. It is always a struggle with myself especially if I am at the beginning of something – a new set of paintings or ideas.

2) Tell us about your studio or working space.

I work from two studios. One is at home, in the attic where there is good skylight. I tend to do water based painting here. The other studio is in Bloc Space, an artist run complex of studio spaces in the centre of Sheffield, in an old tuning fork factory. I use this for my oil painting and larger work.

3) Where do you find your inspiration?

Places are important of course, English seas and landscapes, particularly where the impact of human industry and activity is evident, both contemporary and historical. The coast and seas with piers, ships and boats for industrial endeavour and association with memories of days at the seaside; to the Standing Stones, British forts or Roman remains of a more distant past in the landscape.

Looking, thinking and reading about the past are vital, from historical events, written texts, to personal history. This includes classical references – the myths and histories in the Iliad or Aeneid – to the seafaring history of my own family, and much in between. How evidence is presented and its influence on what we define as facts is a rich vein of exploration for me – the balance in a painting between description and presenting other ways of looking at something.

Lastly, art history is important. What is painted and how it is painted, from Twombly to Auerbach to Keifer. Turner of course is hugely inspirational as are the English Painters in the first half of the 20th century – Eric Ravillious, Paul Nash etc.. But I look for inspiration across the whole of art history. A current project is around the more academic work of Turner and drawings of Piranesi – the representation of ruins and mythical events.

Most of all, though, I think I find greatest inspiration in interrelating these sources. Even in less complex looking paintings I find I insert text or other images that relate to something else, from a passing thought to an unexpected association. When I paint the Humber I might be thinking about bombers gathering overhead from the Lincolnshire and Yorkshire airfields en route to Dresden or how Grimsby looks like it might be Carthage burning!

4) Where do you go to re-charge when you’re feeling uninspired?

Reading and thinking and walking around basically.

Spurn Head on the Humber Estuary is hugely inspirational with its mix of open space, changing sea, historical legacy and industrial activity – piers, ships constantly passing by, remnants of first and second world war, coastal erosion and rich wildlife. There is plenty of space here to think and sketch and record.

Looking at other artists’ work, of course.

And, just drawing. The simplicity of making lines whether it is life drawing or cityscape, helps me move on.

 

5) What can’t you get through the day without?

It is quite lonely and isolating really, often facing a sense of inability and frustration with the work that you need to get over. I need something that grounds me back into reality:

Contact with other people.

Listening to music and the spoken word. I think I have listened to the play “Copenhagen” 2 or 3 times in the last month!

6) How do you know when an artwork is finished?

An excellent question.

I usually just get to a point when I know I should stop. Something has happened in the picture as a whole that has the integrity I am seeking and it often comes very suddenly.

There is a danger of both over and under working a piece. Stopping too soon can mean you are not taking enough risks – just because you are pleased with some bits, doesn’t mean you are pleased with it all. But with water-based work in particular it is difficult to pull a picture back if you have taken something too far. Actually, knowing when something is finished is one of those moments of realisation that is more instinctive than intellectual.

7) Do you feel an emotional attachment to your work? How do you feel about selling a piece and letting it go?

May be once, but not now. I am always looking ahead. It is about the next piece of work, the next set of ideas. I do look back at some work and wonder how I achieved it(!) but that is largely because I have already moved on.

8.  Can you remember when you realised you were an artist? Describe the moment if possible?

I have painted and looked at paintings for as long as I can remember. I went on a cycling trip round the Netherlands when I was about 18 to look at the galleries there, particularly those with Van Gogh, Rembrandt and Vermeer paintings. There then followed a number of years when I went round European galleries, seeking out German Expressionist paintings. However, the most formative experience was a life drawing class with John Epstein at Morley College in Lambeth. I went to the class thinking I wanted to learn about perspective and technique, but came away realising that was all secondary, at best, to the actual physical experience of making lines and marks. Painting and drawing is fundamentally about instinctive responses. I have never looked back from that moment of revelation and have a lot to thank John Epstein for.

9) When are you happiest?

Once I am confident a painting is coming together. This is usually not long before I stop work on it. Up to that point it is about keeping myself going, a combination of self-discipline and determination not to give in to self-doubt. I don’t usually find painting easy and so it is that moment when I demonstrate to myself that I can produce something with integrity that a get a sense of satisfaction and relief.

Drawing has more immediate returns, probably because it is less complicated with fewer choices.

10) How and when do you end the day?

Usually when I start cooking tea for when Alison gets home from work. Sometimes I creep back to the studio, but usually the painting day is done.

One Response

STodd

04th Feb 2013

How did today go?
A walk through the local park and woods, past the dams and ponds along the Porter Brook valley. Wild wind – a time to think. Back at the studio I have completed this years postcards for the Royal College of Art ‘Secrets’ show. Work on some new small paintings. Watch Richard II (Hollow Crown). Cook a fish pie. A productive day.

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