Interview with Stuart Amos
Originally born in England, I have lived in Melbourne, Australia for most of my life. I have been an artist since early childhood but have never formally studied art. My arts process has been formed by many years of observation and practice. I first began exhibiting in 2012 and have since had three solo shows and participated in several joint and group exhibitions.
I believe that art is subjective as individuals bring different views and interpretations to the artwork that will determine their experience and emotions towards the work. What my paintings mean to me may differ from the interpretation of others allowing for added layers of meaning on an individual basis. I consider my paintings a still shot within a larger story, enticing the viewer to contemplate the narrative of the piece. In this way the viewer is drawn into the painting creating a more intimate experience. I am primarily a figurative artist as I find the human form to be magnificent. Skin tones and textures are both dynamic and challenging to faithfully reproduce. I prefer to paint in a realistic style with an underlying sense of the surreal; juxtaposing human life with the natural world in an effort to express human relationships with the environment. I chose oil paint as my medium of choice as I am drawn to this traditional method for its bold qualities and richness of colour. In the past I have experimented with multiple canvasses joined in various configurations, in order to diversify the composition and to challenge the viewer in the way the artwork is presented. I don’t paint using any particular method but rather an intuitive process of ‘seeing’ the artwork on the blank canvas. Beginning with broad strokes to build shape and form, I move on to a meticulous process of picking out detail. I tend to remove visible brush strokes, enabling the image to speak for it’s self.
My influences are inspired by the growth and destruction of the natural world along with the position where humanity resides within our environment. I am fascinated by urban decay and process by which a previously functioning city, or building, falls into disrepair as entropy takes over, mirroring the cycle of life and death.
My current work continues to explore the relationship between humanity and both the natural and manufactured worlds through a melding of the ‘subject with environment’. Each painting juxtaposes the impact of humanity on nature and vice versa through an ongoing union. Urban decay features prominently throughout my work while also depicting a lone figure, illustrative of a remnant of a once thriving environment. The addition of graffiti enhances the theme of depopulation or deurbanization.
1. Mr Amos, what moves you about the way that colours interact on a painting?
Colour is often one of the most exciting components of a painting as it expresses emotion. Observed in isolation from the main subject material, the overall colour scheme provides an initial jumping point for the observer by setting the mood. It can create harmony or discord. Sometimes I will use colour not simply to generate emotion but to create harmony, such as the use of earth tones in a background that harmonise with skin tones in the foreground figure. In past works I have used muted colours to create a sombre feel, where as my later works have a great deal more vibrancy through the use of graffiti. Initially intended to illustrate the urban nature of the subject matter, the use of vibrant colour in graffiti enables me to express feelings about the subject rather than simply depicting it in a naturalistic fashion.
2. Stuart, what makes you choose a personality for your work: Admiration or fascination? What captivates your interest?
For something to captivate my interest when planning a painting it has to be something that I can happily immerse myself in while working on the piece. My own sustained interest will give the finished work it’s quality. The idea should also have scope for investigation and discovery from the viewer. Sometimes I am aiming to convey the mood of a particular place as with my series of Melbourne streetscapes. Other times in might be a narrative that I want to explore. My initial inspiration can be as simple as a fleeting image in my mind as I am falling asleep or a crack in the pavement or an abandoned building. Whatever it is, I attempt to tell a story that reflects the subject material.
3. Tell us about your journey as an artist, how did it all start?
My journey as an artist began from an early age with a love of creating something from nothing. I have always had a strong desire to be creative. I can’t say that it was something that I decided to do as a child, rather that the desire was always there. Initially my arts practice was exclusively pencil drawing. It wasn’t until my late teens that I began experimenting with paint and never looked back. I still love to draw but the lure of painting continues to prevail. I worked with acrylics for around a decade before switching to oils and once again, never looked back. The vibrancy of oil paint and their behaviour on the canvas suits my style and process. Creating art gives me immense joy and satisfaction. For that reason, I would paint even if I never sold works, however it gives me great pleasure and honour to know that somebody loves my work enough to own it themselves.
4. Oils… What materials and techniques do you use?
Most definitely Oils!
The advantages of oil paints are their flexibility and depth of colour. To begin with they can be applied in many different ways, from thin glazes to thick impasto, although I am not a texture painter myself. I prefer the subject to tell the story rather than the brush strokes. Because oil paints dry more slowly, they can be easily blended with each other, providing a softer merging of one tone into the next. I work in a ‘wet on wet’ fashion which creates the subtle changes of tone and hue that I desire. Also, the vitality of oil paint is hard to reproduce with other mediums. There is a vibrancy to the colour that creates a much deeper appearance to an artwork. This is particularly advantageous when painting in a realistic style. I always begin a work with the background using large strokes then picking out fine detail. I paint in stages, working up an element of the painting to a finished piece before moving on. I prefer to work on canvas as a surface simply because of its timeless nature. I have produced works on board in my early painting career but prefer the more fluid nature of canvas over a rigid board. In the past I have experimented with multiple canvases joined in various configurations, in order to diversify the composition away from the standard ‘rectangle’.
5. Apparently you are always on the lookout for new messages to include in your artwork. What makes something special enough to be used in a painting?
I believe that art is subjective to each individual and that viewers will bring their own interpretations to the artwork therefore the message will differ from one viewers experience to the next. What my paintings mean to me may differ from the interpretation of others but I prefer people to extract meanings on an individual basis. So to ask what makes something special enough to be used in a painting would be to ask “will someone be moved in some way by my composition?”.
From my perspective, the choice of composition can be as simple as a fleeting thought or image in my mind that excites me enough to create a painting from it. I am heavily influenced by urban decay and the cycle of life therefore something as simple as an abandoned building can become a special idea. My recent work features streetscapes that were photographed from actual places in and around Melbourne… a special place for me and a city that I love.
6. Your approach to portrait painting is often described as the unmasking of the subject’s personality to go beyond what people see at the first glimpse. How does that process work?
First and foremost I am a figurative artist with a desire to experience the human condition through my artwork. If there is an unmasking of personality in my work it would be to expose the richness of human emotion. My subjects may convey strength or fragility depending on the viewers subjective opinion. With my urban graffiti series I wanted to create a physical and emotional evolution of the subject through their juxtaposition with the background. Each figure is somehow melded with the background as though they have been there for an eternity and are slowly escaping their confines. This narrative is symbolic of their emotional and physical evolution. With many of my works I have chosen to conceal the face, creating anonymity for the subject. It is my hope that the viewer will not focus on the figure being a specific person, rather they will focus on the evolution of the subject.
7. You’ve worked a lot with contemplation in your art. When is the element of control most challenging for you to let go of?
I prefer to leave the process of contemplation to those experiencing the artwork, encouraging the viewer analyse and figure out their own interpretation. Certainly there is an element of contemplation throughout the planning process. I ask myself “Does this piece tell a story? Does it have artistic merit?”.
Letting go of control isn’t something that I particularly do. All of my works are meticulously planned and executed. Before I begin applying paint to canvas every step has been resolved, from the subject matter to colour scheme and lighting. However ideas will evolve during the planning stage. Knowing when to stop working on a piece comes down to a simple mantra. “If I have say ‘That will do’, it’s not good enough”.
8. Tell us about your highest achievement in your career so far. What are you most proud of?
My highest career achievement as an artist would be my acceptance into the semi-finals of the The Doug Moran National Portrait Prize in 2015. The Doug Moran National Portrait Prize is an annual Australian portrait prize and is the second most prestigious art award ion Australia. Unfortunately I didn’t make it through to the finals but was honoured to be as included as I was.
What I am most proud of would be my association with Beinart Gallery in Brunswick, Melbourne. That are an amazing gallery that showcase highly skilled figurative artists with surreal themes. Beinart Gallery have shown many high profile international artist and I am proud to have exhibited with them.
9. Make a reflection for our readers.
Creating art isn’t something that I chose to do, more that the desire was always there. If I were to define myself as a person that definition would be ‘Artist’. The process of painting gives me immense joy and satisfaction. I am never as happy as I am while painting. I am also very self-critical and push myself to do better with each new work. You have to push yourself to improve. I sometimes look back on paintings that I have completed a few of years ago and think they are of average quality, but in the knowledge that I produced them to the best of my abilities at the time. In saying that, I still view all of my previous works with pride and satisfaction.
10. As a professional and highly successful artist, what advice would you give to other beginner artists?
Be sincere to your artwork and love what you do. Don’t paint what you think people will want to see or buy. I feel that it’s okay to have saleability in your mind when creating a work but don’t let it dominate your arts practice. An attentive viewer will feel your integrity or its lack in the finished work. Sincerity will give your artwork considerable added attraction and power. Push yourself to do better no matter what your style. Never feel that you are as good as you will ever get. Finding your audience can be difficult but never give up.