Returning for round two of the competition, Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year took a modern, industrial twist this week. Challenging the contestants to an earthy, industrial landscape, the painters were set among the hills and countryside a few miles out from the industrial estate in South Gare.
The wind wasn’t the only challenge ahead of the painters, as the array of earthy greens and subtle browns blurred and shifted the perspective of the landscape. But despite the weather, Jonathan Hargreaves was crowned this week’s winner.
Born in Lancashire, Jonathan moved to Cheshire aged eight. It was whilst at school that his teacher Mr Toft encouraged him to draw and paint everyday which sparked his creativity and his professional career in painting. Though considered predominantly self-taught, Jonathan has studied painting at De Montfort University in Leicester and Manchester Metropolitan University.
His practice is constantly evolving, approaching painting through the lens of the landscape, where his work favours local scenes and cityscapes spanning New York, St Petersburg and Northern Spain.
We caught up with Jonathan to find out more about his approach to oil painting and the atmospheric nature of his landscapes…
Hi Jonathan! Congratulations on winning Heat 2 of Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year 2017! How did you find the experience painting at South Gare?
The experience of being on the show was fascinating. It’s such a big event and amazingly busy. The most demanding part was getting into my “flow” with the painting when there was so much filming and interviews going on.
There was a great fusion of industrial within the natural landscape, how did you balance these two themes in one image?
In terms of balancing the natural and man-made elements of the scene I simply looked at translating into colour, shape, proportion, tone and above all composition. The fact that the subject may or may not be man-made isn’t really a technical issue. But it certainly makes for a more interesting painting because of the content.
You paint with very tertiary, earthy tones, showing the real haze of the landscape. How do you think your choice of colour palette influences the viewer’s perception of your work?
The subject of the disused steel mill was superb; just my thing really. But having to paint it from around two miles away in very diffuse light meant I was dealing with a faint set of shapes on the horizon. I hope the haze and greyness of the subject didn’t produce a boring painting. I found it an interesting challenge. Driving past the steel mill showed that there were some really interesting possibilities for more dramatic compositions to be had from a closer viewpoint.
Your submission piece featured an industrial landscape almost through a fish eye lens – do you work from photographs or do you find plein air painting more favourable?
I do work from photos but only loosely and only because of the mass of information they can so quickly summarise. I take photos all the time. I print them out and look at them for weeks until it becomes clear there’s something interesting and enduring about a particular one. There’s a difficult and interesting tension at work between the literal dictation of a photo and the potential lyricism of paint. I never try to make a copy of a photo; that would be pointless in a way. Better to let the paint do its thing and let the photo dictate what you might initially need to know about the bones of composition, proportion and other formal concerns. I find moving away from the rigid tyranny of the photo an essential part of the painting process. The photo is there if I need it. Ideally I’d work from life but some subjects I’m interested in are far too fleeting.
The judges loved your application of paint in these simple, connecting shapes through your brush marks. How have you developed your style of painting?
My painting style isn’t something I’m all that conscious of. It’s like handwriting. Everyone has their own way of making marks, whether they are aware of it or not. Great painters are able to draw upon a wide repertoire of marks as is necessary. They intuitively handle paint in a way that is descriptive of atmosphere, light and depth and form whilst retaining a gestural energy. I like a sort of painterliness where brush marks, scrapes, slabs, drips, impasto, and some delicate marks add up to create a little magic. That’s what I chase, but it is always elusive.
In terms of subject matter or style, I try not to limit myself or fence myself in. I work to commissions and find interest in most things if I look hard enough. I try to play to my strengths technically but that doesn’t stop me from trying new approaches if they’re relevant. I can’t say I have just one subject I paint or one way of painting it. I can fixate on certain subjects for a while until I run out of interest and then move on, possibly returning later. Landscapes are an ongoing interest; I’m very fond of the Light Peak District and cities, especially NY, St Petersburg and those in Northern Spain.
The sky is quite atmospheric in both your submission and final piece from the show, yet there are elements of the ground tones coming through across the sky. Do you always paint in this way/style?
I prime MDF with three or four coats of gesso and paint on that. Each coat is lightly sanded. I will add a little acrylic colour on the last layer so that I’m not painting on stark white, which can be a tad harsh.
Do you have any brands that you prefer for certain styles?
I’m a fusspot about my paints and though I can’t afford it I always buy the best I can get my hands on. I really like Michael Harding and Williamsburg oil paints because of their high pigment content and buttery consistency. I also use a wide range of colours though as the painting progresses certain colour schemes seem to present themselves. Sometimes I use Liquin as it shortens the drying time and allows the paint to flow in interesting ways. It’s also excellent for a sort of glazing.
I like long handled hog hair brushes. Da Vinci makes good ones. I found some with 60cm handles from Cornellissen & Son, which are excellent for long gestural marks. I have hundreds of different brushes, many are quite cheap and past their best. I experiment with tools to make drag marks.
I work closely with an excellent framer who makes gorgeous custom rebated white frames for my paintings. At that point they are ready for sale.
Would you recommend to your fellow painters to enter the competition next year?
I would certainly recommend Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year. It was brilliant to meet the crew and hosts. I’m already thinking of applying for next year.
Follow Jonathan's lead and experiment with oil painting and textured brush strokes with our range of painting materials online and in-store. Stock up on your own supplies and share your landscapes via our social channels. Use the hashtag #LOATY2017 and don't forget to tag @CASSART
Don’t miss Heat 3 of Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year 2017 on Wednesday 1st November at 8pm, on Sky Arts. We’ll be bringing you another heat winner’s interview, live on the blog and across our social media channels from 9pm.
Explore more work by the heat winning artists of Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year, past and present, with our series of exclusive interviews on the Cass Art Blog.
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Inspired by this year's heats? Sky Arts is once again on the hunt for the next Artist of the Year. Whether you're a master of portraiture or a pro at plein air, submit your works for a chance to win a £10,000 commission and £500 worth of art materials from us here at Cass Art. Both competitions are now open for submissions. Find out more by following the links below: