John Shakespeare has been busy preparing for our new exhibition, which shines a spotlight on a historic district of Birmingham.
Around the Jewellery Quarter sees John join forces with two fellow RBSA members Wayne Attwood and Ed Isaacs, to focus on the people and places that make the area unique.
Katharine Wade caught up with John for ART BLOG, to find out where he has been finding his inspiration…
Can you tell me a little about your process? Does it involve preparatory sketches and research?
My process varies according to what I am doing.
Nearly every day I draw in a sketchbook, on location. Very rarely do the sketchbook drawings translate into anything further.
They are observational exercises, intended to maintain observational and picture-making skills. They are mostly the products of people-watching.
I call this ‘guerrilla portraiture’.
When preparing for studio paintings or drawings, I tend to take a lot of photographs, which provide me with a lot more quick information than I could obtain from location drawings.
I then combine material from the photographs to make finished paintings. Research is therefore conducted through my camera.
You haven’t always primarily been a painter, can I ask why you are drawn to painting more than other media?
I went to art college because I was good at drawing and painting.
These skills were almost completely absent from any teaching I received at college. In my first two years at college I learned a lot about printmaking, and came to enjoy it very much, especially etching.
However, I subsequently had very little access to printmaking facilities. Eventually I trained as a graphic designer, which applied visual skills to problem solving. Thereafter I was involved in art education in various ways – teaching, advising and examining.
I had little time for my own visual work, though I never stopped drawing. I carried out the occasional painting commission, and did a little design work, and some illustration.
Just over a decade ago a close friend urged me to take up painting more seriously, which I did.
I now see myself primarily as a painter, but technically, though I have two degrees in art and design, as a painter I am self-taught. I enjoy the outcomes (though not necessarily the process) of painting, and have achieved some success. I have always leaned towards portraiture.
Birmingham has changed a great deal over the past few decades, where can you see it going next?
As far as the city’s architecture is concerned, I think it has been subjected to ghastly and tasteless modernisation since the 1960s.
Many wonderful and impressive buildings have been needlessly demolished and replaced with third-rate modernist trash. As an example, the unnecessary destruction of the beautiful city library to make way for a nasty brutalist concrete monstrosity was an act of wanton vandalism.
Sadly, the worthlessness of that hideous ziggurat has been recognized, but its replacement is almost as bad. This shows that the city is incapable of realising what it has lost.
Our only hope is for the preservation and restoration of the remaining Edwardian and Victorian glories, which can be seen in many places in the Jewellery Quarter.
Obviously the purposes of many of the old buildings have changed, and the car has a significant effect on the look of the city. But I can only hope that we can arrest the seemingly inexorable degeneration of buildings and areas.
My main interest for the purposes of this exhibition is in the people and social life of the Jewellery Quarter, with my work tending towards narrative themes.
What tends to draw you in as an artist?
Obviously some buildings and places interest me, and I have always done some architectural drawing, so I look for places in which history is preserved, and which I hope will interest potential viewers of my work.
Could you tell me a little about your involvement with the RBSA?
I was urged by a friend to get involved with the RBSA, and when I took up painting seriously about ten years ago I entered some work for open exhibitions, and was successful.
I was encouraged by positive comments from Rob Perry – a longstanding member who represents, in my opinion, all that is good about the Society.
Subsequently I became a Friend, and was later proposed and elected as an Associate Member.
A year later I was elected to full membership. Since then, I have nearly always submitted work for RBSA-curated exhibitions, and have held several one-man exhibitions on the ground floor.
Around the Jewellery Quarter will be my third group show. I sat as a Council member for three years, and have always tried to take an active part in ongoing debates and projects.
I love the Society and owe it a considerable debt for its part in my artistic development. Interaction with members and others has played a vital role in my enjoyment of my work.
Make sure you visit Around the Jewellery Quarter which features work by John Shakespeare, Ed Isaacs, and Wayne Attwood from October 2 – 14.
The RBSA Gallery is the perfect platform for artists at all stages of their career, and many Friends progress to become Associates and Members, as well as Council Members with a say in the Society’s future.
Check out our forthcoming Friends events to see how you could benefit. There’s a host of talks and tours through the year.