Monday, 18 March 2013

Studio Visit: Andrew Tift

Andrew Tift, 'Self Portrait', charcoal on paper
Andrew Tift, BP Portrait Prize winning artist, visited the studio yesterday to critique my recent work. I originally approached Andrew to support my grant application to Arts Council, asking whether he would act as a ‘mentor’ and offer more critical support, anticipating that I would be trying to develop some new portraits during my two years. This hasn’t yet materialized, but I do have a few ideas floating around. I’m just waiting for the right opportunity to present itself.
 'Tony Benn', acrylic on canvas, 160 x 168cms,1998
'Harry Coleman (You Know Not The Day Nor The Hour',  160 x 168cms, acrylic on canvas,

Andrew is a very perceptive and committed artist. He is easy to talk to and was also very direct and honest in his responses to my motorway paintings and Scandinavian studies. I sensed that he initially found it difficult to ‘key in’ to looking at my landscapes, as he is just so devoted and singularly committed to portraiture, which we discussed in some detail, but it wasn’t long before we taking the paintings apart, and talking at length about lots of related topics and shared enthusiasms, which included Chuck Close at the Hayward Gallery in 1999 (an exhibition that changed my life! I’m currently reading Close’s ‘The Portraits Speak: Chuck Close in conservation with 27 of his subjects’- an amazing read if, like me, you are interested in the New York Art scene from the 1950-1980’s and all the great ideas about painting during this period); Alfred Munnings; the use of photography as a tool; Bill Brandt; and Pierro Della Francesca’s ‘Baptism of Christ’, which was coincidentally one of our mutual favourite paintings. For many years I’ve held this as my own ‘desert island painting’, and often run up the stairs at the National Gallery when In London to spend some time with just this one work in that room on the first floor. Andrew’s deep passion and enduring conviction in portrait painting was very inspiring when we got onto the subject, and I really enjoyed the couple of hours we spent.
Chuck Close, 'Self Portrait', 180 x 150cms, oil on canvas, 2004
Piero Della Francesca, 'The Baptism of Christ', egg on poplar, 1450s
One of the lingering thoughts I was left with was when we talked about Scandinavia, and how the trip was connected to a desire I had to try working abroad. Andrew wanted to know straight away how I had found this, as he himself has made numerous trips overseas to make work, from New Mexico to Japan, but never found it that satisfying an experience. He explained how he always felt like an outsider and that despite his best efforts always felt that the work he made had a ‘tourist’ quality to it. He said that for him the most satisfying work he has made was when he was able to spend long periods of times with the sitter, but also when he looked closer to home for inspiration, particularly his native Black Country. This view confirmed some of my own feelings about the Scandinavian work compared to the motorways made from places ‘in my own backyard’, so to speak. That’s not to say the contrasts aren’t interesting, but by the evening I found myself excitedly working on some new drawings based on my recent photographs taken underneath the M5 again.

But for me this is a strange and new position, as for the last ten years I have striven to maintain a ‘distance’ from my subject, and keen not to ascribe one as being more important than another. I’m trying to develop new work though, and it is important to maintain an openness to where the work may take you to try and find an honest place with it.
 Andrew Tift, 'Tsukijo Fish Market,' acrylic on canvas,122 x 46cms
Andrew Tift, 'Bandana', charcoal on paper
Andrew Tift, 'Steel Workers', acrylic on canvas
Andrew Tift, 'Absorb', charcoal on paper
Andrew Tift, 'Peace, Love, Hope and Faith (Ken), charcoal on paper
I share Andrew’s views about his own work, and do really enjoy his powerful portraits of Black Country steel workers, and local bikers etc. Our techniques are a million miles apart, but we share many of the same passions in our subject matter (it has been said that his paintings owe as much to the art of Super Realists as to the films of Ken Loach). The imaginative intensity he brings to his portraits (as seen in this portrait of ‘Ken’ which I’ve posted before) is something I really feel I could learn a lot from if I am to develop any new portrait work in the future….It was a great privilege to have Andrew visit the studio.

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