What makes a work of art? Artists reveal their inspiration and process

It takes months, sometimes years, to perfect a work of art. How do artists take an initial idea and bring it to life?

We get the lowdown from exhibitors in our current Prize Exhibition…

Mark Sheeky

The Ever-Loving Fragments That Forever Remain

My painting is about memory and grief; the way that fragments of a lost person remain within us, that any unhappy parts are forgotten leaving a gentle and pleasant warmness. In a way, the ghost of the person looks back at us with a sort of nostalgia. I thought that the look of one of those very detailed old Flemish paintings would be perfect for this, and then a double meaning touched me, that in these times of fast digital work, the slow process of painting like this is also now something of the past; in a way, the painting itself is the ghost, a relic from a few centuries ago, reaching across the centuries to the 21st.

Of course, there are other mysteries in the painting for the viewer to work out. For me, a painting should shine a clear meaning, idea and feeling, but one that is best felt by the viewer; art as a medium works best when it glows with something that only the painting can convey. All images are unique in this way. The best art glows most powerfully and I think an enigmatic component is an important part of the dialogue that is an artwork.

Clair Lycett

Tidy Your Room, pen on paper

This drawing is inspired by my children’s collections of plastic figures and animals, cutlery, playing cards, jewellery, pens and pencils.

I’m interested in how they select specific toys from this chaos and use their imagination to create stories through play. It’s great to watch people look at the drawing and talk about certain toys they recognise, much like my children when they are playing.

The drawing took several months to complete as I needed to take many breaks due to the overwhelming quantity of visual information offered from this still life.

Pete Underhill

Tom, Dick and Harry – A Portrait of Mick Shuttlewood – 690mm x 950mm Oils on MDF

My son was performing in a band at a local open air event and, like any supportive parent, I took the opportunity of taking my camera along to see if there were any interesting people to capture.

An opportunity presented itself when I spotted these three characters sharing a park bench. I took a series of photographs, capturing before, during and after the raising and lowering of ‘Dick’s’ drinks can.

For the painting, I took each figure from a different image and modified the environment to provide horizontal lines to formalise the composition. I gave this painting the working title of ‘Tom, Dick and Harry’ because that’s what they were. Because most of my career was spent in graphic design and illustration, I’m conditioned to log the hours spent on any project. Only counting actual painting time, not including palette preparation and cleaning brushes etc., there are 144 hours in Tom, Dick and Harry.

Again, once the painting was complete, I thought it worthy of submitting to the BP Portrait Award. Tracking down my subject this time was much simpler. I asked the local newspaper to run an article asking “Does anyone know who this is?”. Within hours of publication, I found that ‘Harry’ was in fact, the great uncle of the bassist in the band – which closed the loop nicely. With the names of the younger men, things became very complicated, hence me settling for using just the one name in the subtitle.

I took great pleasure in painting ‘Harry’s’ shoes. When I took the painting to Mr Shuttlewood’s home for him to view it, I mentioned my enjoyment of his shoes and he said he’d only thrown them away the previous week. He did let me hold his badge-adorned walking stick though.

Eric Gaskell

Spanish Hillside

The linocut in the show is based on an Indian ink drawing I made in Spain,

I thought, “I wonder if I can create a linocut that fools the viewer into thinking it is actually an ink and watercolour drawing”. I was interested in trying to replicate the subtlety of watercolour using only the rather, sharp-edged marks of lino. I suppose given that many people didn’t see it as a linocut it was successful, but this also caused confusion exactly because of that success.

The job was split into two, the sinuous, black ink line work and the colour. The colour was created on two blocks, each one being reduced and printed a number of times.

I try hard to pick my most interesting work that also has the best chance to be shown, because I believe the Prize Show is a good window onto what is happening in the world of regional and national art. It is good to be a part of it. Having said that over the years it has become more competitive and more difficult to get work accepted but that has brought in work from a broader range of people and styles.

You can see a short video of this linocut online at: https://youtu.be/vlNOkdt-2tQ

Framed art isn’t for everyone, so we have a wide range of unframed prints available to view in browsers at the Gallery, on the ground floor. The Prize Exhibition is on until 22 June.

The RBSA would like to thank the following donors for their generous support of the Prize Exhibition:

GMC Trust First Prize – £1,000 cash

Alec Morison Trust Second Prize – £500 cash

Harris Moore Third Prize – £200 bespoke canvas/framing

The Artist Magazine Prize – 2 years free subscription

Jackson Art Supplies Prize for Young Artist – £125 Voucher for an exhibitor aged 35 or under

Tim Dabson Consulting Prize for 3D work- £100 cash

Banner image: Eric Gaskell, Spanish Hillside (work-in-progress)

#artexhibitioninBirmingham #artgalleryinBirmingham #privateview #prizeexhibition

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