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Interview: Artist David Caldwell

in Interviews by Cass Art
Interview: Artist David Caldwell

Artist David Caldwell's 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 David Caldwell will be joining us at the Islington store 66-67 Colebrooke Row N1 to talk about his art, painting processes, portraits and answer your questions on Sunday 25 August from 11.30am-12.30pm. Be sure to drop by for a chat. You can find the full details and schedule for the Meet the Artists programme here.

We caught up with David Caldwell 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?

As a child I was always drawing. If it was raining outside I would be content knowing that I could while away the hours lost in drawing. Through observing other people's reactions to my work I realised that I clearly had a talent. Henceforth I always felt that it was my duty to nurture and share this talent. I have always been grateful that I have this clear direction in my life; that I enjoy what I do and that I feel like I am doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing.

Who or what has influenced your work most?

My High school teacher has been a constant source of support and encouragement throughout my career. There are perhaps three or four other people who believe in my talent and in the value of art. It is good to know that they are out there. Also, artist guardians such as Cezanne, Van Gogh, Morandi, Bonnard, Matisse and others give me strength when it gets lonely.

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

I have become more in tune with the materials I use. I am also more trusting of my instincts. I have less pre-conceptions about results and rather have faith in the continuous process - that genuine enquiry and concentration will lead me to something. I am currently working on some larger portraits in the studio, some still-lifes and I hope to do more 'plein air' landscape painting in the summer.

Where do you look for inspiration?

I don't really look for inspiration. But you do need to have your eyes open in order to see it when it comes. A visit to The British Museum or National Gallery can of course be inspiring.

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

I grew up in a small town on the West Coast of Scotland. I studied at the Glasgow School of Art (1994-98), and the Prince's Drawing School (2003-05). Of course these places are all in the work somewhere. I found the Prince's Drawing School very useful in that it added rigorous drawing to my natural tendency towards paint and colour.

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

I have always done portraits. It was there at the start for me. It is such a rich subject. People are amazing in their diversity. I could never tire of painting people really. I paint landscapes and still-lifes as much as portraits. All three genres have a different pace and feel, but are essentially related and indeed inform one another.

How would you describe your work?

From life, Sensitive, Harmonious, Thoughtful, Slow burning, I don't know. Really I hope that it works on different levels - that people can find something in it for themselves.

Artist David Caldwell's 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 David Caldwell will be joining us at the Islington store 66-67 Colebrooke RowN1 to talk about his art, painting processes, portraits and answer your questions on Sunday 25 August from 11.30am-12.30pm. Be sure to drop by for a chat. You can find the full details and schedule for the Meet the Artists programme here.

We caught up with David Caldwell 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?

As a child I was always drawing. If it was raining outside I would be content knowing that I could while away the hours lost in drawing. Through observing other people's reactions to my work I realised that I clearly had a talent. Henceforth I always felt that it was my duty to nurture and share this talent. I have always been grateful that I have this clear direction in my life; that I enjoy what I do and that I feel like I am doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing.

Who or what has influenced your work most?

My High school teacher has been a constant source of support and encouragement throughout my career. There are perhaps three or four other people who believe in my talent and in the value of art. It is good to know that they are out there. Also, artist guardians such as Cezanne, Van Gogh, Morandi, Bonnard, Matisse and others give me strength when it gets lonely.

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

I have become more in tune with the materials I use. I am also more trusting of my instincts. I have less pre-conceptions about results and rather have faith in the continuous process - that genuine enquiry and concentration will lead me to something. I am currently working on some larger portraits in the studio, some still-lifes and I hope to do more 'plein air' landscape painting in the summer.

Where do you look for inspiration?

I don't really look for inspiration. But you do need to have your eyes open in order to see it when it comes. A visit to The British Museum or National Gallery can of course be inspiring.

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

I grew up in a small town on the West Coast of Scotland. I studied at the Glasgow School of Art (1994-98), and the Prince's Drawing School (2003-05). Of course these places are all in the work somewhere. I found the Prince's Drawing School very useful in that it added rigorous drawing to my natural tendency towards paint and colour.

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

I have always done portraits. It was there at the start for me. It is such a rich subject. People are amazing in their diversity. I could never tire of painting people really. I paint landscapes and still-lifes as much as portraits. All three genres have a different pace and feel, but are essentially related and indeed inform one another.

How would you describe your work?

From life, Sensitive, Harmonious, Thoughtful, Slow burning, I don't know. Really I hope that it works on different levels - that people can find something in it for themselves.

Could you tell us about your working method and process?

I work from life in oils, on board if small or on canvas if any larger than about 40x30cm. The surface is usually gessoed (three coats), or sometimes Lead White Primer on Linen. I usually sketch with a thin wash of paint first. I then tend to paint quite thinly, eeking out the subject whilst utilising the ground colour. I don't have a standard ground colour, but I usually cover the white ground before I start. Continuity is important. The drawing practice must be there in order to paint deftly.

What materials do you use? 

I use artists quality oils. I thin it with turpentine, and add stand oil to subsequent layers. I use a mixture of brands - Windsor & Newton, Michael Harding, Old Holland, Schminke. I paint with Hog hair brushes - Long Flat or Filbert.

Do the materials you use inform the work or vice versa?

Both. The materials are the work, so it is important to understand them and work 'with' them.

What are the vitals tools in your studio?

Daylight, white spirits (for cleaning up), rags, palette, easel, a mirror for looking at work in progress, something to paint, quiet or sometimes music.

Which colours are essential in your palette and why?

French Utramarine, Prussian Blue, Lemon Yellow, Indian Yellow, Alizarin Crimson, Indian Red, Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber, sometimes Veridian, sometimes Ivory Black. I like to have a warm and cool version of each of the primary colours. I like a mixture of transparent/opaque pigments so that I can work in washes or more densely.

Find more of David Caldwell's work at www.davidjcaldwell.co.uk

Top Image: Conversations by David Caldwell, 2013 © David Caldwell

Bottom Image: Conversations (detail) by David Caldwell, 2013 © David Caldwell