He’s an award-winning fine artist and Member of the RBSA… and you can catch his solo show Wonders of the Ordinary until 3 November.
As someone who dabbles in still life painting the level of realism that you achieve is nigh incomprehensible to me! But I was wondering what you find to be the most challenging element of painting directly from life?
Thank you for your interesting questions Alfie. By far the most challenging element for me is working with fluctuating natural light, but this is what makes me leap out of bed in the morning!
Accommodating the ever-changing hues and intensities of north light keeps me on my toes in the studio. It may seem counter-intuitive to work in this way, but I am fascinated with integrating multiple layers of perception, to fashion an unlikely construct of reality.
To paint in this way means I have to be fairly organised, painting in the daylight hours and fulfilling other necessary tasks such as admin, prep and framing in artificial lighting.
You have said that your interest in still life relates to revealing the “extraordinary in the ordinary” and familiar. How does this attitude shape the way you view the world around you on a daily basis?
I think it is about slowing down, and just noticing things for what they are. Context is everything and everything is in the context of an inconceivably vast and complex universe, as well as in the humble details of our day-to-day experiences.
Through still life we can contemplate the essence of things, which in turn influences our awareness of the world around us. In Auguries of Innocence, William Blake famously wrote:
To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour…
Beyond the distractions of pain and injustice, it is in this context that we can find ourselves, if only we can allow ourselves to become aware of it.
Repetition is a trait among artists that has always fascinated me. What do you hope to discover or demonstrate by painting a similar subject multiple times, for instance your ‘Apple on a Brick’ series?
Portrait painters do this with faces, musicians with songs and chefs with signature dishes! I think there is something to be said for a painter revisiting the same subject, in the very least it can provide a feedback loop to learn from and so improve the painting process.
Repeating an idea can potentially provide the opportunity for reflection, hopefully leading to greater insight and depth. I think for me ‘Apple on a Brick’ is a fascinating subject due to the ambiguous symbolism and meaning, the contrast of textures and its simple natural beauty.
Earlier in your career you produced pop-surrealist art – does this still in any way influence the themes you choose for your still life studies?
To some degree I think this is inevitable. Years ago I could become overwhelmed with all the unrefined possibilities of a concept, but now I can effortlessly explore subconscious material through the vehicle of still life.
I still like to play with an ambiguity of meaning, where a painting can be interpreted in multiple ways, however as Giorgio Morandi said, “…there is nothing more surreal and nothing more abstract than reality.”
I was intrigued to discover that you often paint on aluminium. What have you found are the benefits of this compared with the more common painting surfaces of canvas or linen?
James Turrell proposes that the eyes can ‘feel’. My reasons for painting on aluminium are mostly concerned with the surface itself and how this influences our perception. With metal or wood you can produce a variety of textures through experimenting with the application of primers.
A perfectly flat surface is of particular interest when oil painting because it is possible to create incredibly subtle textures or even no discernible texture at all, and visually this can be quite striking when uninterrupted by any textural weave of canvas. It provides an interesting contrast to painting on linen.
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Visit Wonders of the Ordinary soon – you can find Alex’s solo show in our ground floor Craft Gallery space.
Alex Callaway is an award-winning fine artist based near Worcester, England. He originally worked as an illustrator and produced pop-surrealist art for the international poster market.
Through refining the process of painting from life in natural light, Alex aims to distil both observations and visceral sensations in his work, seeking the extraordinary in the ordinary. His paintings examine the character and physical presence of commonplace phenomena and celebrate the wonder found in the transitory nature of life.
Featured image: Equilibrium