Continuing our series of interviews with the Artists who were due to be exhibiting at the Affordable Art Fair in Hampstead in May 2020 - gallery director Gina Cross asks contemporary painter Michael Burles a few questions about his work.
Gina Cross: Hi Michael, thanks for taking some time out to answer a few questions about your work and practice. For those who may not know your work well yet - please can you tell us a bit about you as an artist and where do you work from currently ?
Michael Burles: I had a very inspiring and influential teacher at school who made me very passionate about painting from the age of fourteen onwards. After studying for an Art history degree at Manchester University in the early 1980’s I then returned to painting and took short course classes at John Cass school of art, St Martins and the Slade before getting my first studio in Loughborough Junction. Over the last thirty years I have been working out of studios in Brixton, Camberwell, Loughborough Junction and Tulse Hill. My current studio is in and old victorian mews building which has lovely light and space and has a good outdoor area in which I can also work if I choose to. I teach three days a week and work from my studio for the rest of the week and during holidays and weekends.
GC: What are you early art influences/movements and do you have any contemporary artists that you admire/follow ?
MB: I have always loved the landscape sketches of Constable, Corot and early Mondrian as they seem to capture the world in a beautifully restrained yet spontaneous and natural way and their eye for composition is just great. Above all they explore the atmosphere of a place which to me is an important part of landscape painting. Early British influences have been the work of Sickert, Whistler, Bomberg, William Nicholson, and a relative unknown London painter called Paul Maitland, who was born disabled and struggled with his equipment in Victorian times to various London parks or to the Thames river bank where he produced small exquisite masterpieces. Outside of Britain favourites are early Matisse, Giacometti's painting, Sydney Nolan’s visions of the Australian outback and Morandi’s Italian landscapes. My hero and heroine of the post war period are the Californian Richard Diebenkorn and the Scottish painter Joan Eardley who created beautiful paintings from her house on a cliff on the harsh east coast south of Aberdeen.
Living artists I admire are an Icelandic artist called Ornalf Opdahl and Hurvin Anderson who was short listed for the Turner prize two years ago and is a really exciting painter. Deborah Tarr ,Yael Scalia,and Ffiona Lewis are three female artists whose work I would love to have on my walls one day.
GC: Your work is focused on landscapes - what is the connection to you and these places .
MB: Although I have explored the human figure and still life previously in my work, my focus over the last ten years has been mainly on landscape. I have been influenced by the landscape of Africa as I grew up there as a child and travelled there in the 1990’s, but also by the hills and coastline of Wales as I have visited the country many times during my life. Visits and time spent in Sussex, Suffolk and of course London have also provided great landscapes or cityscapes to work from, and although my main focus in my work is on building atmosphere and a sense of the character of a place , topography does play a part in the way that it evolves as well.
GC: How do the paintings manifest ? There is a lot of texture and layers in your work - is this done at once or do you work on several at a time
MB: My work is essentially a fusion of observational drawing and painting, memory and imagination. I often start by making small drawings or paintings in situ which I then work from in my studio… they then take on a life of their own as my imagination brings in new colour and texture. I usually build up layers on the surface of the canvas or board, which I then work back into, wiping, scraping and sanding the paint away before adding more on…this can take weeks to complete ,or it can go on for years …I usually have several paintings on the go in my studio at any one time for precisely this reason.. the image constantly evolves until I feel the balance is there. I love the way that the accidental can work alongside the intentional in art, and I will often lay an underpainting on a surface with the intention of covering it with another layer later on, and with the hope that part of it will come through in the final image, to add mystery and character to the final work.
GC: How has the lockdown been for you - has it changed anything of how you work
For the first part of the lockdown I actually had the virus so I had no energy to get any work done for several weeks… For me the fever was short lived and not too bad, and I only spent three days in bed, so I was lucky. I then lost my taste and smell and appetite, but once that returned I felt much more motivated to get back to work, and recently I have managed to get back into my studio by cycling there and keeping isolated in my space. It is lovely to be working again.
I have also just taken on a studio space next to my house in Crystal Palace in which I hope to offer drawing, painting and printmaking sessions, both tutored and untutored in the future. All the time that I have had in lockdown has enabled me to get on with a few practical improvements needed in there, which has been an added bonus.