Why I Create the Art I Do.
It's fair to say that given the subject matter of my paintings, I'm never going to be a millionaire.
So why don't I paint something else? Something more mainstream? Something more decorative?
Fair enough for artists out there to do just that. Thomas Kinkade has done pretty well for himself.
And people in general like Caroline Shotton's work.
But if I had to paint the same thing - be it quaint cottages or cows - over and over again, it would drive me insane. It would be like working on an art production line. There's no doubt that this would pay the rent, and a fair bit more besides. It certainly works for the previously named artists and I don't want to denigrate them in any way. Their work obviously makes a huge number of people happy.
Of course this finding-something-that-works-and-sticking-with-it strategy is found elsewhere. Take the books of Bentley Little: The Resort, The House, The Store, The University etc, you get the idea. They're all pretty much the same idea. But that doesn't stop me from liking them. The familiarity is quite comforting. Although it's another matter if I had to write them. Sticking rigidly to a formula and producing very similar work is not for me.
I've always been a bit different from the norm.
Here's an example: my brother was listening to the radio and heard a track by Richard Dawson. After the track had finished, the DJ explained that many listeners had written in to complain about said track. In fact, they described it as 'unlistenable'. So what did I get for Christmas? Yep, the Richard Dawson album. And funnily enough I like it. Granted it took me a fair few listens but I was able to get into it, and much to my wife's horror, sing along with it.
I tend to love music that I don't like straight away. It took me ages to enjoy Catch For Us The Foxes by mewithoutYou but now they're one of my favourite bands. I can't stand catchy music, the Holy Grail for many musicians, because I like it for a while and then I go off it, and finally I hate it. Give me something I have to work at, to appreciate its many pleasures, and I'm a happy man.
It's the same with films. When I first saw Quatermass and the Pit, I thought it was average. But since then I've watched it about six times and now I love it. The rest of my favourite films hardly fit into the mainstream either: The Wicker Man, The Beyond, Castle of Cagliostro, North by Northwest, Diary of an Unknown Woman, the list goes on and on.
With jobs I've never really gone down the accepted route either. The common wisdom is for teachers to become Deputy Heads, then Headteachers and after that maybe work as advisers. Move up the ladder. Get more money. Buy more stuff. Raise my status. Well, I never wanted to even be a Deputy because they were out of the classroom too much, the part that of the job I loved. The money and status weren't important, I just wanted to do what gave me job satisfaction.
I never went for the easy schools either. I applied for posts in difficult areas because those schools struggled to recruit excellent teachers. A fair few of those want to work in nice, pleasant little schools with bright children. But I've always supported the less privileged - I've got a Doncaster Rovers season ticket after all - so I wanted to give my expertise to children who I could make a huge difference to.
It's maybe no surprise then that I paint pictures about something not particularly mainstream and mental health based. There is a lot of stigma attached to depression and sufferers can be seen by some people (who have obviously never had it) as attention seekers and they just need to cheer up, plus if they want to see real problems they should move to Syria.
It is these not so helpful views that have led me to create the art that I do. My aim is to paint images that will be starting points for discussion about depression, to bring it out into the open and lessen the stigma surrounding the subject. When people tell me that they've experienced similar feelings to the ones I've expressed in my paintings, I'm really pleased. Not that they've had those negative feelings obviously, but the fact that a discussion about mental health has taken place and common ground has been found. We are not alone in our suffering.
It is through these discussions, or by reading about people's experiences of depression, that some people may realise that they have this mental illness too. I've mentioned this before, but for many years I just thought my feelings were all part of normal life. I never imagined I had an illness. I thought it was all a part of my personality. I have Stephen Fry to thank for sharing his experiences or I might still have mistakenly believed that. The more we talk about depression, the less power it has.
Something that helps my mental health is that every painting is very different. The idea behind each painting is a different aspect of how I've experienced depression, so I let that lead the way. This makes every project interesting to me. I never quite know how a painting will look, especially after I've gone through the free association phase in the planning stages. The piece I am currently working on has gone through a radical change in the painting stage, but you'll hear more about that when I've finished it. I'm definitely don't feel like I'm on an art production line.
I also like to challenge myself in every piece. I want to do something that scares me, artistically speaking, whether that is showing great depth in a foggy painting or adding fine details to areas that are predominantly black. By challenging myself, and sometimes failing, I will grow as an artist.
So that's a brief look at why I paint what I do, rather than cows or cottages. I work hard at my paintings, but they are not work. It is a pleasure. I don't expect to become famous (in fact I'd hate it) or make a lot of money. At the moment I enjoy every day, and that's a big step up for me.