As the final closes in, the pressure was on for the artists in the final heat of Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year 2016. Returning to Stowe for another gripping episode this week, Richard Allen impressed the judges and took his place in the Semi Final.
Richard studied fine art as an undergraduate at Central Saint Martins college in London, specialising in painting. He has worked with great success as a professional illustrator appearing in many publications, including The New Yorker, Esquire, the Telegraph, the Guardian and the Wall Street Journal as well as several books, such as the Foilo Society editions and the Harper Collins children’s picture book, Apes-a-Go-Go!
Over the last four years Richard has returned to his first love of oil painting. Primarily, he explores portraiture and still life, which are intensely observed and expressively rendered. Since taking part in Landscape Artist of the Year, Richard has embraced landscape painting with what he describes as 'a genuine fervour'.
We caught up with Richard to find out more about his approach to painting and how he depicts his highly observed, interior scenes…
Hi Richard! Congratulations on being crowned the final heat winner! How did it feel painting on site for the competition?
Thank you! The day at Stowe was a fascinating experience; exhilarating and completely absorbing! Initially, I had some reservations about the rather unpromising view from my pod but, in the event, the lack of choice was a positive factor as it focussed my attention away from agonising about the perfect composition.
Your practice has such vivid brush marks, can you tell me more about your approach to painting?
As far as my brush marks go, I’ve always enjoyed the dynamic, almost sculptural application of paint with the fluid, sensual properties of the medium taking centre stage. Sometimes this impasto mark making helps to describe space and form and sometimes it provide a counterpoint to illusionistic depth. For me, the physical act of painting, the marks, both faltering and fluent, should be evident in the finished work. The artists, whose work has had the greatest influence on me, have all explored the tension between figuration and the physical potential of paint.
Your work explores naturally domestic settings, such as the view from your window. Can you tell me a little more about how you choose the locations for your landscapes?
I'm drawn towards intensely-observed interior scenes, principally portraiture and still life. Miniature words, if you like. The subjects I have chosen have had great personal resonance to me; they are things that I find beautiful and engaging or they become so under scrutiny. I have occasionally employed more conceptual means - painting pictures within pictures - to dissect my relationship with the subject and the process of observing and recording.
What materials do you use to achieve your work?
I use several different brands of artists’ quality oil paints: Winsor and Newton, Michael Harding
, Daler Rowney, and Schmincke Mussini. I may add turpentine, linseed and safflower oil and occasionally I’ll use a medium such as Michael Harding’s resin oil wax medium
, I paint on oil-primed linen where possible using willow charcoal for preparing the composition.
In the heat at Stowe I used a Winsor & Newton
ready-prepared cotton canvas. I have a hefty collection of Winsor and Newton and Da Vinci
hog hair and black sable brushes. Without sounding too sycophantic, the range of materials provided on the day by Cass Art was top notch!
You paint both the figure and landscapes. Do you approach these differently?
Landscapes and still life paintings can certainly be more forgiving than portraiture: there is, of course, less pressure to achieve likeness and there’s not so much of a worry that the subject will get bored or develop DVT through holding a pose. That can bring either a greater freedom or, conversely, a lack of a vital jeopardy.
Having said all that, I’ve learnt that shifting light and changing weather can make landscape painting far more fraught an experience than tackling more contained, static subjects meaning that decisiveness and speed are essential.
Does your style lend itself to landscapes or portraits more naturally?
I’m not sure! Technically, I don’t really recognise too much of a distinction between portraiture and landscape. With the exception of a few paintings (my submission piece and the view from my old studio window) my experience of landscape painting has been limited. In preparing for the heat at Stowe I did a number of oil sketches. Since the heat I’ve become consumed by landscape painting!
Did you enjoy painting en plein air at Stowe?
Very much so. The whole day was enthralling and exhausting! Working to such a tight timescale meant that there was no opportunity to dither (let alone eat or drink); being filmed throughout and the technical aspects of making a television programme brooked no introspection. It’s curious to think of painting as performance but I suppose that there was an element of that in the experience too.
Were you pleased with your final piece? What was your favourite part of the experience?
Given the constraints of the competition, I’m very pleased with what I achieved. Having my work recognised by the judges was enormously gratifying. Painting has been a solitary activity for me and being able to articulate my process and talk about art in general with the judges - all of whom are insightful and generous-spirited - was lovely. Frank, Joan and the production crew were all wonderful. The thrill of winning - drawn out over several draining hours - was, naturally, the best bit of the day.
Read our exclusive interviews with Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year 2016 heat winners every week on the Cass Art Blog
Explore mixed media painting and the layering of oil bars like Richard’s work with our selection of materials on the Cass Art website.
Catch the next episode of Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year 2016 on Tuesday 22nd November on Sky Arts from 8pm.