This month our Artist Focus interviewee comes all the way from Australia. Acrylic painter Alastair Taylor focuses every scene he paints on the light within it, and his portfolio varies as much in subject matter as it does in style.
Urban scenes packed with people meet rural scenes of farm animals, and some of his landscapes border more on abstract than representational. By trade, Taylor is an illustrator and you can often find humor within his works as well.
When did your love of painting begin? What's one of the first images you can remember painting?
As a child I remember watching Rolf Harris paint huge landscapes with a housepainter's brush (on black-and-white tv!) and thinking it would be bloody marvelous to be able to do that. The desire to be Rolf has diminished a good deal recently, mind you.
Latterly, though, after 15 years or so of working as an illustrator (always my proper job) and never really wanting to paint, I found myself seduced by a Morris dancer. Hm, better clarify that. My home in England was at the centre of the Morris dancing movement, and I was watching the dancers standing around in their bizarre costumes, some in the bright sunlight and some in the shade, and realised I had found what I wanted to paint. It wasn't really the dancers - it was the light.
How does the idea for a new painting begin? What lights the spark?
It's rarely an idea - always an image, something I see which jumps up and down and says "I'm a painting!" I always have a camera or a phone - who doesn't? - so I have an ever-expanding archive of potential paintings waiting for my attention.
What sort of moods do you work to convey in your acrylic works?
A calmness and stillness - a contemplative quality, though paradoxically people often comment on a sense of movement in the way they are painted.
Do you have any specific routines or habits necessary in the creation of your work?
Not really. I paint at night with lots of lights - partly because that's when I have time, partly for the peace and quiet and partly because I am so in control of the light.
What different styles do you like to play with in your paintings? What purpose do you feel each serves individually?
I fight a constant battle between looseness and precision. I would like to depict light and shade and volume in the smallest possible number of simple, gestural strokes, but the more this doesn't quite work, the more I have to work into the painting to improve those strokes, the tighter and more detailed it tends to become. The art is balancing these two forces.
How does your home in Australia affect the style or subjects of your work?
Very much - what Australia lacks in Morris dancers it makes up for in blokes with strange beards, trees with white trunks, dogs in the back of utes (pickup trucks - I think!) and many other odd and wonderful things. But above all is the light - especially in the west, where I live. It has a crispness and a clarity about it that is always a delight to return to after traveling.
What is it about a scene or landscape that particularly inspires you to paint them?
Sorry to keep banging on about light but you guessed it - light and shadow. And simplicity, particularly simplicity of colour.
What do you like about the inclusion of figures in your work?
I paint other things too, but I love to paint the human figure - so utterly familiar yet so infinitely variable. I think because our eyes are tuned in to figures it allows me to concentrate on their nuances and subtleties, not having to explain what they are and how they are put together.
Who are a few of your art idols and would you say they play a role in the formation of your own work?
Velasquez, Rembrandt (in his quieter moments), Vermeer, Edward Hopper, Lucien Freud, an Australian portrait painter called Hugh Ramsay who died young in 1906 due to too much hanging around in unsanitary Parisian garrets, but still achieved more than I ever will. I am not really sure how much this admiration translates into influence. However much I may try to paint one of theirs, I inevitably end up painting one of mine. I have lately started to have a go at portraits - hence all the portraitists in that list.
If you had to give one piece of advice to students just graduating art school, what would it be?