STUDIO VISIT: ARTISTS ROWENA COMRIE & ROBERT MCADAM AT WASPS STUDIOS, GLASGOW
WASPS Studios is one of the UK's largest non-profit studio providers, accommodating around 800 visual artists, craft makers, creative industries and cultural organisations in affordable work spaces all across Scotland. We visited four of the studios to interview some of the artists currently making work in their spaces.
Tell us about your time at WASPS and how it’s helped your practice.
I’ve been in the WASPS studio here at The Briggait
for seven years and I was in one in Aberdeen for 20 years before that, then I moved to Glasgow. I’m from Essex originally and went to university in Reading. Having a WASPS studio has been incredible, it’s essential, I couldn’t do without it. Because it’s a charity and not for profit it’s more affordable than renting a space on the commercial market. There are events and openings at other buildings and we have annual open studio events so we get to interact with other artists.
Tell us about your painting style.
I can oscillate between big gestural expressionist abstract works, and then I like to do something small, fiddley and detailed, it's the opposite sides of a coin and keeps the abstract work fresh. Sometimes I like to work in very different styles so the work doesn't lose its excitement.
What have you been working on lately?
I’ve been going in a geometric direction lately, the shapes are more controlled. But this piece is actually about Van Gogh. I did 4 or 5 paintings about him. He’s one of those artists you learn about at school and you don’t really look at him again but I picked up a book in a charity shop, and I was reading his letters to his brother Theo. In one of them he writes a list of the colours he was going to use for his now famous painting of the chair in the bedroom, so I just took these colours and made an abstract. It was quite a productive piece of inspiration. He had quite a tragic life and it made me think about whether creativity springs from pain and if happiness is the enemy of great art? These were the kinds of questions that were coming into my mind when I was making these works.
Your works are incredibly vibrant, what sort of response do you anticipate from the viewer?
I’m trying to recreate a feeling or a sensation of emotion in these works. Obviously it would be completely different for each viewer but if they can take something away from it emotionally that would be fantastic. I think everyone has an individual response to certain colour combinations.
You seem to work in layers and they are built up, so the white of the canvas shines through and remains in some places. The works are very bold and confident in their execution.
Yes I like to keep a bit of that, it creates a space for you to see through, if you cover up all of the white it’s like a barrier and you can’t get into the painting. You do have to get it right first time though, there’s not much room for mistakes. But that’s the beauty of it, the freshness of mark making. If I do make mistakes I tend to cut up the painting and frame those to keep the sections that worked.
How do you decide when a painting is finished?
When nothing about it annoys me anymore! But sometimes I’ll put a piece aside when I’m not sure what to do next and look at it afresh another time.
Tell us about your favourite materials.
I only use oil paint for the abstract work, I don’t like acrylics and the way they dry. My favourite brand is Old Holland
but otherwise Winsor & Newton
is good too. I try to use the best quality I can afford. Old Holland has such a huge colour range, there are some beautiful colours, Ruby Red Lake is a specific red I’ve never been able to recreate by mixing other colours. I love the lake colours because they are transparent already, Old Holland has quite a big selection of lake colours, and Geranium Lake is great too. The technique I use means the paints need to be just the right consistency. I also use some iridescent colours.
What do you use to thin your paint down to the perfect consistency?
Michael Harding oil paint medium PM1
which means it’s just right, not too oily so it wrinkles up or too thin so it separates. But I’m halfway there with the lake colours because they are transparent already. I have to get it right first time, so I waste a lot, that’s the beauty of it, keeping the marks fresh.
Which artists have inspired you?
When I was a student it was Rothko and Hoffman, Howard Hodgkin, John Hoyland, Sandra Blow, Helen Frankenthaler, lots of Abstract Expressionists. More recently people like Sean Scully, Bernard Frieze and still Howard Hodgkin I still enjoy looking at his work.
Image credits: All images © Rowena Comrie
Where did you study and how long have you been at WASPS?
I’m from Glasgow originally, I did a Foundation course at Carlisle and I studied at Newcastle and graduated in 1996. I’ve been a tenant here at WASPS South Block
studios since 2012 until the present. Before that I was at WASPS King Street briefly & then at WASPS Hanson Street
Tell us about the works in your studio.
This piece is from early 2009, it started from a drawing is which is unusual for me. It was from a sketch I did whilst on holiday in Sri Lanka. It’s a swimming pool beside the hotel with an army outlook post in the distance. I just happened to be there during the war and they were driving all the Tamils up to the North. So the vibrant colours and playful use of paint work in contrast to the sombre subject.
I sometimes paint from memory but I do paint from life as well, usually smaller studies, architectural things, the undersides of bridges, dilapidated abattoirs, that sort of thing. I’m drawn to forlorn abandoned buildings which I sometimes stumble upon whilst backpacking. If I see a window which is broken or which I can open, I can't help but climb in & have a look around. Which is kind of apt, as I view painting as entering a portal...you're entering 'the zone''.
I’m still working through this abstract piece. I work on the paintings in different orientations, so it has no real ‘right way up’. I like to vary the texture of the paints, using both thin and textured areas. This is one of those paintings I don’t feel is quite resolved so I will work back into it.
You often leave areas of the linen unpainted, what do you enjoy about this?
I quite like the colour of the linen as a base, some people under-paint their canvases with brown anyway but this colour works perfectly and unites the painting. I also enjoy the way the drips and drizzles make their own path across the linen.
How has your painting developed more recently?
With these new pieces I’m slowly building up patterns with brush marks. I’m trying to tease something out of that. I begin by making a few marks, and each mark informs the next, I’m always trying to think about the space around the marks, then there are fewer and fewer options remaining. However they are never quite finished, I could continue to work on them almost indefinitely.
How do you choose your colour palette and what are your favourite materials to use?
It’s intuitive but I’m currently drawn to Mars violet and purples. I use a range of brands of oils, the oil paints made by the Sax family in Switzerland are my favourite, but I like Old Holland, Blockx and Michael Harding paints are good too. I like to use filbert brushes because of the range of marks you can achieve from the one brush.
Which artists have influenced your work?
Soutine, Manet, Guston, Vuillard, Prunella Clough, people who hover between abstraction and figuration are interesting to me as well as more abstract painters. I admire a lot of minimalist painters like Agnes Martin, and there’s a guy called Merlin James who curates a lot of interesting shows up here. It’s interesting to me that artists are working with so many different media these days that it’s almost radical to be a painter now.
Look out for Robert's two man show with artist Giovanni Giacoia at The Art Space, Cass Art Glasgow
in summer 2017.
Image credits: All images © Robert McAdam
Shop for oil paints
canvases online. You can also find a great rage studio easels to kit out your studio here