Glenn Ibbitson works from his studio in Wales, having enjoyed a long career as a scenic artist for television, film and theatre. His primary focus is the human figure and his art explores contradictions, using visual trickery to create works of great impact.
ART BLOG caught up with Glenn following the recent Friends Exhibition and Portrait Prize…
Can you tell us first about your career in television and how it informs your art?
My scenic art training was the postgraduate course I never took. It influenced my art in two specific ways.
First, it made me work to deadlines: I no longer had the time to agonise over the exact placement of every brushstroke when confronted by a 5x8metre canvas which had to be completed in three days. Experiencing the real world of labour was pivotal for my development.
Second, and more significantly, it gave me access to a rich vein of source material. There was a constant juxtaposing of unconnected elements in the television studio and film set.
An actress in Elizabethan costume might share a coffee break with an extra from a science fiction production on a chat-show set. These glimpses of surrealism thoroughly captivated me and have informed my art since.
You made a move to Wales. Does a change of scene stimulate the artistic process?
Wales has proved to be a perfect production environment for me. The distractions are fewer, the light clearer and the birdsong more varied.
I brought my subject matter with me; I didn’t need inspiration from the landscape, impressive though that is. I could afford larger studio space and set up a screen-printing bed. That has propelled my practice here as much as anything else.
You’ve shared the story behind your Portrait Prize entry – how can artists inspire each other?
I have found that most artists with any degree of self-confidence are very generous with their time and constructive with their criticism.
I first discovered this as a student when I sent a list of unsolicited questions to Peter Blake via his gallery, and within a week had a handwritten reply which remains one of my most treasured possessions.
There is an extensive community of creatives in West Wales who act as a mutual support system. Rozanne Hawksley is one of these.
I have formed an exhibiting group with four other makers under the name, ‘Square Pegs’. We exhibit twice yearly with a different selection of invited artists each time.
What would you like to see happen for the arts?
I would like to see more artists respond to our shared social environment and its issues, but not in a didactic way, as nothing dates more quickly than overtly political art. I try to keep any message I may wish to communicate as subtext.
Democracy owes a duty to its artists, through funding.
However, rather than direct individual funding, I would rather see public money used to maintain our galleries, art centres and libraries as these are the cradles for our future creatives.
Increased respect for art departments within our school structures might give future generations the confidence to judge art without waiting for validation from critics who only travel beyond the M25 to attend the Venice Biennale…
The human figure inspires much of your work – why?
Drawing people was what took me to art college in the first place. Once there, working from the life model was the part of my art education to which I responded most positively.
I think it is only natural that one human would wish to communicate to another through depiction of their shared form. Landscape for me is enjoyable practice, but only that; akin to playing scales. The language of abstraction lacks, for me, the necessary element of illusion and deception… so painting the human figure sits at the apex of my personal visual hierarchy.
Glenn Ibbitson’s work is represented in private collections across the world.
The central focus of Glenn’s art is the human figure, painted in a representational idiom and based on careful direct observation. This observational discipline is grafted to a strong sense of narrative and concept; drawing upon a visual repertory developed during a career as a scenic artist – Glenn trained at the BBC – for television, film and theatre, where visual trickery was employed on an industrial scale. These various techniques of [mis]representation, produce a visual discord; a deliberate blurring of the line between the genuine and the fraudulent, reality and illusion.