Cass Art have always loved the work of the young and dynamic artist Tim Benson, who is currently pushing the boundaries in portraiture through the surfaces he paints on and drawing inspiration from unusual muses. We caught up with him at the charming gallery Highgate Contemporary Art that prides itself on unique oil exhibitions.
Lead us around your show and tell us about your approach.
I use the same approach for all my paintings – whether it’s portraiture or still life. My work is centred on very loose mark making, almost pseudo-impressionist, with one or two marks resolving a large area. I also work with a simplicity – each painting uses a single brush. So for a 24 inch box canvas I’ll probably use a 1.5 inch brush. The brush size scales up with a canvas, so the marks and impression remain the same. I really don’t want to detail things – smaller brush strokes muddy my work. I like to test just how out of control you can be without losing control. And to see how abstract I can be without disappearing into abstraction!
‘Portrait of a Man’ is my biggest painting from life to date, but my language has to remain consistent. The mark making remains the same, but there is almost a sculptural quality to the paint given the thickness of the marks.
This painting was done from life. In my role as Vice President of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters, I work with their Friends programme on workshops. This man was one of the friends and I just thought he had one of the most interesting faces. We got chatting and he agreed to come to my studio.
Tell us about your muses and what you like to paint.
I’m enjoying painting carcasses at the moment – painters have historically done it, think Rembrandt or Soutine. It might be hard for audiences to reconcile meat as something visceral and beautiful, but I don’t like to compromise for a market I’m exhibiting to.
Most of my work is done in situ, and in the studio. I use the Chocolate Factory studios and have done for many years. They are 2 person studios, but I have so far been working in solitude.
On my way into the studio one day, I came across this Dead Rat in the street. I thought it was really interesting, so I set up in the road and painted it in 45 minutes. I want to divide opinion in my work, and find beauty in the inherently unbeautiful.
For my scenes I mainly paint local scenes, such as Hampstead Heath. These paintings have been very well received by the local Highgate community. I also paint from my travels too, such as my work from Morocco. My parents have a flat there and I paint both people and scenes. It’s great to see people buying portraits of people they don’t know, for me it shows that the audience feel it is a valid piece of art on its own.
Which colours are in your palette?
All my paintings have the same language, with a limited number of colours on my palette. I only use Winsor & Newton Winton Oil colour, from Cass Art! I’ve used it since the beginning of my career – when I won a competition and could place an order for £600 of paint. The core colours are always the same six - Raw Umber, Lemon Yellow, Cadmium Red, Titanium White, Ultramarine Blue and Alizarin Crimson. I get through a lot of paint!
What other art materials do you work with?
I’m really enjoying working on aluminium and copper at the moment, I don’t want to be static in my practices. Painting on aluminium really exposes your technique – there is nowhere to hide. But I find that painting is how you react to accidents. Being in control can make work too contrived.
With my most recent self-portrait I’ve also worked on board washed with a bright colour. I like to set myself a challenge – working on a bright colour forces me to use brighter colour so it pumps up my chromatic range. I’m also not interested in my face, so I try self-portraits in different angles to motivate me. I sometimes start to see too much pattern in my work, and some things become too muted.
I find that teaching helps you to articulate your approach too. I teach at various art schools and paint many demos in front of the students. Sometimes those studies form part of exhibitions…
What are you working towards next?
How I confirm an exhibition really varies. I was discovered by Highgate Contemporary Art through the framers next door. They saw my work coming in and out and asked if I would like to exhibit. I like to have my work framed in modern and unobtrusive ways, to make the painting feel more like an object than 2D – gold gilt frames seem a bit old hat to me.
I’ll be mainly working on meat and my figurative work. I would obviously love to just do portraiture but naturally I cut my teeth with landscapes. It so great to see the increasing popularity of portraiture - all artists can learn a lot about looking from painting faces. We make assumptions about faces and are innately wired to see whether a face is convincing. I love it as a test of seeing.
I’ll also be working more on metal, so if Cass Art could have some copper and aluminium available soon, that would be great! I’m also looking to work with some different oil paints, perhaps some Michael Harding…
I’ve just finished an amazing project with Miracles charity – where 50 portrait artists paint children from Tower Hamlets for an exhibition in London next year where the portraits will be sold. It was great fun, I invited him to my studio and we both really liked the end result!
Cass Art thanks Tim Benson and Laurie from Highgate Contemporary Art. Tim Benson’s exhibition shows until Saturday 30th November.