Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year 2016 was back for its second heat as yet another beautiful National Trust site was realised by another round of hopeful painters. Gregor Henderson took his place in the semi-final, impressing the judges with his depiction of Wray Castle.
Gregor graduated from Glasgow School of Art with a degree in Fine Art with Painting and Printmaking, and now lives in Kilsyth, just outside of Glasgow. Working in East Ayrshire for a Charitable Enterprise called Yipworld as a Youth Development Officer; Gregor works with young people to improve their prospects in life, running youth clubs, introducing teaching skills in schools and employability programmes.
We caught up with Gregor to discuss the hands on application in his work and how he combines street art with heritage landscape painting…
Congratulations on winning your heat, Gregor! What was it like painting in front of the cameras?
It was really strange to start with; I often find it quite hard to work if I'm conscious of people standing over or watching me so I was very aware of the camera and crew at first. I did find that as I got into it and started to concentrate on my work I settled a bit - plus all the crew were really easy to work with.
One of the things that I wasn't really prepared for at all was the amount of starting and stopping we had to do in order for them to get the right shots. Obviously they need to capture as much of the process as possible so we were constantly pausing to re-position the cameras or repeat simple little motions. It meant the whole four hour time-frame was a bit disjointed and start-stop and at times it was difficult to get into any sort of rhythm.
Your practice sees you painting quite industrial spaces – can you tell us more about your work?
I love working from derelict urban space so a lot of what I produce is based on old factories or warehouses around Central Scotland and specifically Glasgow. For me there's so much enjoyment in exploring them and the end product is all about trying to capture that and convey some of the unique characteristics of each space. Part of the reason that I work with stencils and spray paint is that I needed a medium that was appropriate to the spaces that I was looking at and classical painting techniques didn't quite fit.
How did this compare to painting Wray Castle?
It was like night and day - Wray Castle was so scenic. I was really worried about painting the castle actually; I wasn't sure how to approach it so the fact that our pods were facing away from it actually simplified things for me.
The main issue for me was that we had to finish within four hours so I think that I was so focussed on getting things done quickly that I made a lot of snap decisions about composition and process and produced my painting mostly on instinct rather than thinking about it too much.
There is a large amount of graffiti within your practice. How has street art influenced your painting style?
I think like most artists I have an appreciation for a whole range of genres of painting and a lot of the art that I enjoy is very technical and much more painterly than the stuff that I often produce.
Street art though, was one of the first genres that I really got into and properly investigated; learning the history and looking into the massive range of work that falls under that title. It was definitely a starting point and the stencilling that I first started with was much more relatable to as street art than what I'm doing just now.
I think that retaining graffiti - which I would differentiate from street art - as part of the subject matter, often adds an extra element to a painting and provides a really nice balance to the way that nature is often creeping back into these spaces.
Your work combines a range of materials. Can you talk us through your process and the products you use to achieve the different textures?
I often work on hardwood - it's cheap and easy and while long term it's not as durable or sustainable as more traditional materials, for me it suits the style that I work in. At Wray Castle I primed the board that I was working on and gave it a fairly flat ground because with the limited time, I felt that was a quick way to add an extra element to the painting. Sometimes I'll use acrylics or household paints to build up a bit of a background before the stencilling goes on and sometimes I'll leave the wood pretty raw.
When it comes to spray paint I tend to use the Montana Black and Gold ranges - they're good quality paints without being extortionate and it's a pretty comprehensive palette.
What are your plans for the future, and what will you be taking away from Sky Arts?
I work full time so I fit my practice around that. I have a few commissions that I'm working my way through just now and after that I'm hoping to get together a decent body of work for an exhibition.
I've enjoyed the challenge of painting in a more scenic location so that may be something that I look into some more and I was also surprised at what I was able to produce within four hours so I'm planning on putting together a small series of quicker paintings.
The whole thing was just great fun for me - I didn't expect to even make it to a heat so everything was a bonus and it was really cool to see how the show is actually put together. It's always great to see the way that other artists work as well and there were some really talented guys on the show that I'll be looking out for.
How did you apply for the show?
I think it was just on one of the artist boards, maybe Creative Scotland and I applied on a bit of a punt thinking it would come to nothing.
I was actually really apprehensive about being able to produce anything decent within four hours and nearly said no when I was invited on to the heats, as my work usually take anywhere between 50-100 hours to complete. I’m glad I accepted, it was an unmissable opportunity.
Missed last week’s episode of Landscape Artist of the Year 2016? Read our interview with Heat One Winner Howard Weaver here.
Catch the third episode of Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year 2016 on Tuesday 25th October on Sky Arts from 8pm.