Robert Perry RBSA is one of the region’s most collectible landscape artists, producing huge works from his adapted Renault van.
He has a new solo show Full Circle coming up at the RBSA in September, where he has been exhibiting for the past 20 years! ALFIE HANCOX interviewed Rob about his work for ART BLOG…
Were you always interested in Impressionism, or did this method develop spontaneously out of your direct approach and unorthodox mobile van-studio setup?
Well I’ve always used a direct approach. I remember I did my first drawing when I was nine years old and used to travel around the countryside on a bicycle. I captured the landscape with the chimneys and things like that. It felt like I’d acquired a new pair of eyes!
And since my mid-20s I’ve always painted on site. When I was busy looking after my children as well as working a full-time job, I began painting on site in dim light, using a paraffin pressure lamp. I am inspired by the Impressionists and the Barbizon painters, but also by English landscape painters like Constable and Turner.
While it might not be obvious from my paintings, I’m particularly inspired by Rembrandt and his spirituality. Just as Rembrandt attempted to capture the “spirit” of his portrait sitters, I try to capture the spirit of the landscapes I paint.
One of the most fascinating elements of your approach for me as a history student is your attempt to illuminate “echoes through time” as you put it, seen in your choice to paint at important historical sites like the Somme and Auschwitz. But I was wondering how does this historical perspective come into play when painting the English countryside landscape?
When it comes to English landscapes I’m more interested in capturing the colour and the light. I have painted at some historical sites in Britain like Culloden battlefield, although there are less such sites here than in France. But the mystery of time and space is always on my mind.
Notice how in the title of my paintings the time and date always come first; the place is just the subtitle. I see my paintings above all as a record of the landscape over several hours. In this way I work almost like a long exposure camera.
You’ve painted in all kinds of climates and terrains. What qualities does a view need to make for an interesting painting?
I’m not so much interested in the beautiful, only in the interesting. I look for texture, for instance in foliage, in rocky landscapes or even just the plant textures found in open groundcover. I’ve also painted urban scenes of housing remains and rubble.
I was amused to read on your online blog ‘Retrospective’ stories about you startling local residents during your period of working through the night in the 1980s (even earning yourself the moniker “the night painter”!) Do you have any more recent “interesting” experiences while painting on location to recount?
Well how much time do you have? One recent experience was for my panoramic painting of Birmingham at night, showcased at the RBSA. To achieve this I needed to get very high, so I planned to hire a helicopter to take photos at nightfall. It had to be a four-seater so my camera wouldn’t obscure the pilot, which meant they had to take off one of the backdoors for me to hang out of! I borrowed a harness from a BT telegraph pole worker. We tried this setup about five times on the ground but unfortunately weather conditions and then mechanical problems got in the way, and in the end I used police surveillance camera footage.
You’ve mentioned previously your humanist political principles which are at odds with the present capitalist system we live under. For you then, is painting consciously a way of escaping the alienation of modern consumerist society by reconnecting with nature and the landscape?
Yes, that is part of it, reconnecting with nature through the experience of being solitary and just observing. It’s like a fisherman sitting on the canal for hours – some might think “that’s so boring” but he might spot a kingfisher, a moorhen. It’s about contemplating nature; my approach is contemplative.
By Alfie Hancox
RBSA Blog Volunteer
Robert Perry’s solo show Full Circle runs from 2 – 21 September.
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Banner image: Rob Perry, Sun Breaking Through Silhouetted Trees, Wyre Forest