Where do you call home? I have recently moved to a small town in Kent, before that I lived for 8 years in South London, where I still work. I’m originally from Northern Ireland although my Dad was in the army so we moved all over the world; Cyprus, Australia, Oman, USA, Germany, Lithuania, England, Ireland. I spent a couple of years in China after finishing my BA.
Did you have any training or is it inherent? I have a BA in Fine Art from Staffordshire University and a Masters from Wimbledon College of Art. I also have a number of qualifications related specifically to teaching. I work full time in a school for children with diverse learning needs where I am the Art coordinator and year 11 teacher.
Do you remember the first piece of art that captured your imagination? There isn’t a single piece of work that comes to mind but I remember in school being obsessed with the expressive figure painters of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Modigliani, Soutine, Schiele, Gauguin, Munch.
What made you decide to become a professional artist? Thinking about making work occupies my thoughts daily and there is nothing I would prefer to do.
How would you classify your art? When people ask what I do I generally say its contemporary painting that focuses on the essential. I don’t really find the term ‘abstract’ helpful and I’m not particularly interested in abstraction as an idea. I want to make work that is concerned with the fundamental strengths of painting and is visually compelling. When you concentrate on materials and process subject matter becomes secondary by default.
What’s the best advice you’ve gotten about your art or being an artist? Don’t sit around waiting for inspiration, get on with it. I’ve received advice in that vein a number of times; it always strikes me as sound. I like to think that I’m a pragmatist.
Do you have a routine you follow while working on a piece? I work on lots of things at the same time. I make little sketches of structures and images that I feel would make a compelling painting. I have a collection of configurations/motifs I use as starting points, foundations to build images around. I revisit the ones I feel work most effectively.
How has your style changed over the years? I have always been interested in the fundamental qualities of painting; colour, form, texture, contrast, opacity/translucency, scale, vibrancy, balance/imbalance and the physicality of the materials. Over time I have become more concerned with what a painting ‘is’ rather than what its ‘about’. I guess this has affected my style, I don’t generally paint ‘things’ anymore, I make objects and assemble images.
What advice would you give putative collectors? Buy what you like, not what is fashionable. Trust your own taste.
Who is your favorite artist and why? There are so many artists whose work I enjoy it would be impossible to pick one. Giotto, Munch, Gauguin, Cezanne, Matisse, Soutine, Guston, Auerbach, Baselitz, Schönebeck, Gerstl, Guston. I find painters who rigorously engage with the discipline of painting fascinating. There are also plenty of contemporary artists whose work I come back to time and again, Tomma Abts, Robert Holyhead, Patricia Treib, Clem Crosby, Terry Greene, David Webb, Andrew Graves, Phillip Allen, Simon Callery, Alice Browne, Dominic Beattie, Tal R, Vincent Hawkins.
Do you have a place/person/thing that you visit for inspiration? Not one thing in particular. I am inspired by the work of others. I think it is impossible to overstate the importance of spending time looking at quality art. This is how you learn and it is an unending education.
Name three things you can’t live without in your studio? A radio, kettle and a pair of good scissors.
If you could have dinner with 3 artists living/dead who would be at your table? I’d like to meet Frank Auerbach, he seems like an interesting guy. Chaim Soutine and Philip Guston too. That would probably make quite a downbeat gathering. People who work doggedly over long periods of time have an appeal.
Are you active on social media and if so where can one find you? I’m pretty active, I share my own work regularly (www.neillclements.com IG @neill_clements).