The top 10 questions every artist is asked…

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There are 10 questions that every artist is asked at some point in their career. Here are my answers…

Q1. How long does it take you to do the average painting?

I usually give my Dad’s classic answer to this question. As an artist himself, he was continually asked how long it took him to engrave a monogram on the head of a signet ring? He specialised in designing and engraving family seals and I used to watch him for hours. His answer to this question was always the same…

“It has taken me my whole life.”

His reasoning was that it had taken 30 or 40 odd years to build up and hone his skill to be able to produce that particular piece of work, at that level, at that time. A painting can take a matter of hours or months in actual labour.

Some paintings are of course, easier to paint than others. As with any other discipline or talent, some things happen spontaneously, quickly and can be very powerful, while others require hard labour to get the desired result. In essence, you never really know how long the creative process is going to take.

My father (Arthur Gray) was a Master copper plate engraver.

Here is a rare pic of my Dad posing in the garden. He also had a passion for wildlife.

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Q2. What do you like painting the most?

I don’t have a favourite subject. I enjoy whatever inspires me at the time.

Q3. Do you have to be in the mood?

Mood helps, but it’s a job basically. I don’t only go into my studio when I feel like painting. It’s pretty much a discipline and I love it, so I’m in there as much as I can, every day.

Q4. Where do you get your inspiration?

My inspiration stems from all sorts of situations – I find myself constantly looking for it in everything – the way someone is sitting, the way a tree has grown and is bent over from the wind, a person’s face, the power in the forearms or hind quarters of an animal in motion. It is whatever impacts on me at the time – its volume and weight, the way the light strikes the subject or a bizarre situation. All of a sudden, I am drawn into this thing because of the energy that it is projecting at the time. It’s that energy that inspires and motivates me in my attempt to capture it on canvas or through a sculpture.

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Q5. Influences.

Over the years, there have been a range of artistic, personal and conservation influences that have greatly inspired me.

From an artistic perspective, I can level it down to three key artists, Francisco Goya, Frances Bacon and Ray Harris Ching. Goya was essentially a visual journalist, chronicling and commenting on his era, but instead of using a camera, he was drawing and painting. His unique expression, use of colour and the power of his images struck me immediately. Frances Bacon and his work also had a great impact on me. The fact that I was able to meet him in my early twenties and go to his studio in London a couple of times to watch him paint was a huge influence. Although it was a relatively brief period, I definitely fed off the ways he would tackle a painting and some of the imagery or brush strokes he would use. Ray Harris Ching is another brilliant artist whose work has also greatly inspired me. You may not be able to put Goya, Bacon and Ching together in the same category, but the energy and power that emanates from each of their work is the same. It is this energy and power that I strive to embody in my own work.

From a personal perspective, you can look back on your life and if you’re really fortunate, you can identify two or three people who’ve had a great influence on you. Although my Dad and I often did not see eye to eye, he had a significant positive impact on me. He was also an artist, a brilliant  copper plate engraver who taught me his skills. I hated doing it at the time, giving up my holidays to work with him, but the fine work that is achieved with engraving is phenomenal and taught me a discipline that is an essential element as an artist. Even now, when I doodle I find myself preoccupied with drawing elaborate copper plate designs – flowing forms and entwined characters. This characteristic can be seen in some of the brush strokes I employ in my paintings. I still have my Dad’s engraving plates and tools in my own studio and I continue to use them. I have a strong connection with them and they have definitely influenced where I am today. My mother was also artistic and loved drawing as a child. Her enthusiasm and commendation was always well received and encouraging for me.

As a young artist, I worked for Lawrence Graff in his first jewellery salon in Knightsbridge, London where we were surrounded by the most magnificent pieces of jewellery. We were not only exposed to the finest and exotic gemstones – diamonds, emeralds, rubies and sapphires, but also to the ways in which the artisans put the jewellery together. They were artisans of a very high calibre. Graff himself, is a collector of art and had exquisite examples of jade sculpture and objet d’arts displayed in cabinets that surrounded us everyday. Although it was a short experience, this time was memorable and influential.

From a wildlife and conservation perspective, there have been a number of influences starting from when I was much younger. I have strong recollections of growing up in a rambling, old, colonial farm house set in the middle of the bush. Animals would regularly come into our garden to eat our vegetables and occasionally my Dad would go out to protect the family from some dangerous creature, armed with just a dustbin lid as a shield and broomsticks. Forget about a National Park ranger, he’d go and do it himself. Of course we would always have a menagerie of wild and domestic animals to look after as well. We lived a short distance from the great Matobo and Hwange National Parks and these too became a play ground for me and my brother. Later on in my life, my family and I were very involved in Chipangali, a wildlife orphanage situated just outside Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Animals that were rehabilitated there were not confined to small cages, but were given space and individual attention. I would go there regularly to study or photograph and gain specific information on the anatomy and characteristics of various animals. It was a beautiful source of inspiration, information and education for me, right on my doorstep.

My parents, my wife Ann and my three sons have always given me the freedom and support to pursue my art career. All these influences together – artistic, personal and conservation, have worked together to create the artist that I am today.

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Q6. What do you use in terms of tools?

For me, it has always been important to use good quality materials, particularly when it comes to paint and canvas . Even when I had just started painting, I insisted on good quality paints. My reasoning is that not even the best carpenter will be able to produce a masterful result from lousy wood. So I always try to get the very best quality paints, linen and canvas primers possible.

I don’t feel it’s as important to get the best brushes, however, as there are so many different types of application tools and it depends largely on the result that you are wanting to achieve. I’ve used all sorts of tools over the years to produce a painting, but it’s always been with good quality paint and on good surfaces.

Paint by numbers.

Don’t leave home without them.

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Q7. Is anybody else in your family artistic?

Yes, all of them.

Q8. Who taught you to paint?

This is actually a good question because I don’t think anybody actually teaches you how to paint. At the end of the day most artisans or skilled individuals will eventually teach themselves. You do need a starting point when somebody introduces you to a brush, paint and a surface.  But even at art school, there is an opportunity not so much to learn how to do anything or everything, but, for me particularly, it was a few years to find out who I was, in order to pursue where I wanted to be.

Q9. Do you do commissions and portraits?

Yes I do. Although I do tend to not take on a commission unless I’m particularly interested in the subject or I’ve got quite a lot of freedom to be able to express the request the way I would like to.

An early masterpiece.