Tell me a bit about your background. How did growing up on Lewis affect your work? Was
anyone else in your family artist?
I was born in Stornoway, on the Isle of Lewis in 1976. My father was an
alcoholic and my parents divorced when I was about 7 or 8. My elder brother, sister and I all stayed with my mum who
then had to find work and bring us all up. I was a very hyper-active child and I used to spend most of my summer holidays
at relatives in a small village on the east coast of the island. It was there that I really started to draw. I
remember there being shelves stacked with huge encyclopedias which were full of amazing photographs and illustrations, which
I would copy. I think my family's situation has had a much bigger effect on my work than the Isle of Lewis has but
I guess the work ethic here is the reason I work so hard.
At 16 I left school and joined
the Scottish Infantry. I really felt that I had to leave the island at the time. I remember the frustration
of feeling trapped here and the hunger for adventure called, so off I went. It was an experience that I'll never
forget and when I got into Gray's School of Art in 1995, it's what dictated most of my painting and Degree show.
How did you get on at Grays?
My work in Art School was
very different to now, it was much more abstract and sculptural. I found myself really trying to push the boundaries
between painting and sculpture, I learned so much at Gray's, it was a fantastic place to study art, with great tutors.
Few graduates seem to go on to become artists that can live through selling
their work. How do you feel about this and what made you decide to be one of the few that followed this route?
think that few graduates go on to become artists because it's easier not to I guess. I think it's a very different
scenario to paint when you leave Art School with no-one to answer to but yourself - you need a lot of self-discipline! When
I left Gray's I moved to Glasgow and I took a job as a cleaner in a college as the hours meant I could paint most
of the day. I emptied bins, buffed floors, cleaned toilets . . . you name it. I eventually found a better
job in the evenings selling digital tv in a call-centre, and I painted all day. I did this for a couple of years and
it was during this time that my work dramatically changed, it became much more realistic and I became increasingly more interested
in the contrast between expressive and photorealistic painting. I took a body of work to Scotlandart.com and it's
just grown from there over time. They have given me a lot of opportunities and sold a lot of my work over the years.
Which artists inspire you? Which one work do you wish you'd produced
I would say that it is life that inspires me the most, more than other artists' work does. There are
kind of two very different sides to my work - the photorealistic side and the expressive side. But I do look at artists,
like Gerhard Richter, Francis Bacon, Jasper Johns and Klimt to name a few.
To be honest
I don't wish I had produced any other artist's work. I mean, I try to make my work quite different. "Broken
Heart", which was accepted into the 2009 BP Portrait Awards Exhibition is for me, in my own journey as a painter, ground
breaking and that's the best thing I could ever wish to produce up to this point. I learned so much doing
that painting, pushing my own boundaries/limits and I'll take that to my new paintings and push again. I think it's
important to look at other artists but it's better to look at yourself as an artist and how you can develop.
Where do you live now? Any family?
I've moved back
to the Isle of Lewis with my fiancee and her wee boy. I actually originally met her at Gray's School of Art and
we got back in touch about a year ago. The island here is so beautiful and I just can't help but sometimes paint
landscapes, I'm surrounded!
I work from a studio at home and I really like being
able to work at any hour but it also makes it hard to get away from it sometimes. To others, my studio could
be a mess but for me it's perfect, everything is where it should be. I continually get asked where all the
mugs in the house have gone and they are usually hiding in there! I love the smell in my studio and I've always
used dust sheets on the walls to remove excess paint from my brushes and the paint has built up on them over the years, lovely.
I just love walking into my space in the morning with a coffee, putting on some music and really going for it!
I'm not the kind of artist that only spends Christmas day out of the studio. So much of my work
is about life and you can't experience that in a studio. I'm an observer, I have to see, experience things,
people and take that back into the studio with me.
When I'm painting I become
completely engulfed by it, it becomes everything. It consumes me until I'm happy with it, until I look at it
as a piece of art.
I'm most familiar with your boxed figures.
What are you trying to convey through these?
When I did the 'box paintings', I wanted to test the limits
of the human figure. I was kind of questioning the traditions of the figurative pose. I looked at Contemporary
dance and ballet and wanted to capture that essence of movement, the shapes. I didn't want to just paint dancers,
so the sculptural side of me came up with the box. Every session with the models were like an installation piece
and it kind of became something else. The box was dictating the poses, it was like a living sculpture and the paintings
were a way of documenting it. My girlfriend at that time was the model I mostly used, due to some discomfort
involved in the poses, the whole process had to be very fast, so it was ideal to snap away with the camera and work from photographs
rather than ask for the pose to be held.
I have recently started to paint more men
but to be honest I don't really know why I've mostly used female models. In my experience, women are generally
more enthusiastic about modelling than men and it's probably that simple an answer.
was seeing Francis Bacon's work that really got me into figurative work. For me, Bacon was trying to capture
the soul, trying to paint that spark inside us, that energy, life - albeit in quite a violent way.
What are your favoured materials? Is there anything you couldn't live without?
not really big on materials, a lot of these fancy brushes just fall apart. I use a very dry brush technique with
a lot of layers and a lot of tones. I use a lot of household brushes and just small brushes for details.
I use a very large perspex palette which I couldn't live without and coffee, couldn't live without that, Irn Bru,
drawing pins for stretching canvas, my motorbike and my dogs and my fiancee of course.
What about your colours? Your palette seems quite restrained.
My palette's not
really restrained, it kind of used to be but now you need to look closely at my paintings to realise how they're built
up with a lot of colours and tones.
Sometimes I get an idea and I'll create it,
other times I just start a painting and it kind of evolves. I don't really use sketch books, never have. I
like to try things while I'm painting as it can evolve by itself. I do everything myself from sourcing timber for
my stretchers, preparing the wood, sanding it, building it and stretching the canvas. I think that's important,
it's the whole process for me. I want my paintings to be objects - finger prints on the sides of the canvas,
smudges of paint, the smell of pine, drawing pins. It's all these things that make my painting a painting and not
a photograph. I work from photographs to a point and deliberately move away and let looser things happen and then tighten
up again. I want to create a harmony between the expressive and the real, the mental and the physical, which
at the end of the day is what we are!
I start with thin washes, dribbles of colour
and then I'll contrast that on usually a flat background and then I start the process of building up layers of paint,
leaving areas of the initial washes, sometimes I even leave in pencil lines that work.
think it is important for a painting to grab you from the other side of a room, and when you're half way towards it, it
grabs you again and when you're face to face with it, there is even more.
What are your ambitions as an artist? What do you hope to achieve?
Career wise, my only ambition
as an artist is to know that I have worked as hard as I can and evolved and developed my painting as much as I can. The paintings
come first and anything else that happens on the way is amazing. I got into the BP Portrait Awards this year and
have just started selling work in America and Israel, which is fantastic.