Interview: Artist Geert Schless

by Cass Art

Artist Geert Schless’ work is currently on display in the BP Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery until 15 September 2013.

As part of our Meet the Artists programme Geert Schless joined us at the Soho store, 24 Berwick Street W1F, to talk about his art, painting processes, portraits and answer your questions on Saturday 3 August from 10.30am-11.30am. You can find the full details and schedule for the Meet the Artists programme here.

We caught up with Geert Schless to talk inspiration, portraiture and essential materials for an exclusive Cass Art interview.

Was there a defining moment when you decided you wanted to be an artist?

I don’t think there was a moment. All my life I have been drawing, later I started doing graffiti and only at college I got into painting. I guess the crucial point was when my mum decided it’d be good for me try out art college.

Who or what has influenced your work most?

At an early stage definitely comics, mainly by Franco-Belgian artists such as Franquin, Herge or Moebius. They were the only ones available at my local library and stayed with me all my life. The art college I went to is in the North of the Netherlands, and many of the lecturers there were associated with the Northern Dutch Fine Painters, a sort of movement of contemporary realism. I learnt most of what I know about painting from them.

How has your practice evolved since then and what are you working on at the moment?

I have moved away from portraiture as my main subject and am working on more still life based works now, excluding humans almost entirely from my paintings. My palette has also become much more monochrome, largely based on the colour grey and its many variations.

Where do you look for inspiration?

Mostly in and around where I live, in Peckham, South East London, and surrounding areas. There are plenty of forgotten backstreets and beautifully un-gentrified parts to draw inspiration from. But that’s just because I’ve got a connection to that place and I can explore it on my bike. Generally any urban areas are interesting to me.

Where did you grow up and where did you study? Did these places have an influence on your work?

I grew up in a town in the very North-Western corner of Germany, called Ostfriesland (East-Frisia), a very flat, mostly rural and empty part of the country. The people there have quite a frank approach to life, very sober (in the metaphorical sense only) and somewhat withdrawn. Although I wouldn’t necessarily describe them as unhappy, there is a certain seriousness about them. I’m not East-Frisian, not even German (my parents are Dutch), but I think these qualities can be found back in my work.

What draws you to portraiture and do you make any other work?

As mentioned earlier, I moved away from classic portraiture in the last year or so. I now make portraits of objects. Nevertheless, I continue to have a fascination with the human face and body and its diversity. Drawing features of the face or body parts will never bore me, I think it might be the most aesthetic creation on this planet.

How would you describe your work?

Urban still life.

Could you tell us about your working method and process?

I usually start with an image or composition in my mind, then seek objects to suit this image. I spent a fair amount of time cycling around parts of London taking photos. Sometimes I find ideas on the way, sometimes I find what I was looking for, sometimes I find nothing. If I am successful, I get the image printed and prepare the wood (I paint on MDF). I’ve developed a certain procedure for this, involving several layers of Gesso, sanding them down in between and polishing it to create a smooth, almost plastic like surface. I then erase the white by applying a layer of usually burnt ochre acrylic paint before starting a simple line drawing using pencil or white chalk. After that it’s all quite classic, working fat over lean in many layers, finishing with even more layers of glazes. I then let it all dry for less time than I should (I always get impatient after some weeks) and apply several thin layers of varnish to bring it all together.

What materials do you use?

I use oil paints, palette knives and synthetic brushes, both round and flat and mostly small sizes (0-8). Other materials that are important to me are thinning glazing mediums, retouching varnish and of course a final varnish, usually gloss.

What are the vitals tools in your studio?

Good, small brushes and glazing medium.

Which colours are essential in your palette and why?

I have overcome an unhealthy addiction to Van Dyke Brown, which creates a beautifully natural dirtiness when mixed with other colours. I also like to have a range of blues on my palette, with ultramarine and indigo being the most important. I love Naples Yellow, but don’t actually use it very often.

Find more of Geert Schless' work at

Image: Kristy by Geert Schless, 2013 © Geert Schless

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