In this exclusive interview with Al Saralis, we delve into the inner workings of his studio, explore his sources of inspiration, and uncover the evolution of his style and subject matter.
Tell us about your studio
My studio is a large, brick building at the bottom of my garden. It has two floors and looks quite pretty from the outside. I live in a rural setting and have woods behind the studio. It’s quiet apart from the music I play which is often and loud. I work everyday in my studio and usually spend between six to eight hours in there. I stand throughout the time I’m working as most works are fairly large and I need to be standing back to view. Inside the studio is very messy. I am a messy worker and have tried to discipline myself more. In the past I have painted upstairs and taken life drawing lessons downstairs. Now I paint downstairs which is a bigger space and I have no space for lessons any more. My studio is the place that allows me to be my creative self. There is no place like it and as soon as I enter my studio I am in a different mental space. I also do photographic shoots of my models in the studio. This happens approximately every two to three months. This is also an excuse for a major tidy up. I have photography lights but am not a photographer so a shoot day usually makes me a bit anxious as I need to make sure I have all technical stuff in place. It’s a good studio with a decent amount of space.
What is your background?
I was born and brought up in the industrial valleys of South Wales. I did a Fine Art degree in Cardiff and a post graduate course in teaching Art and Design to fall back on. My name comes from my Greek grandfather who left the island of Evia at a young age to find work. He finally ended up years later in South Wales and married and built a family. I still visit Wales to see family or to watch Wales play rugby in Cardiff. I have taught Art & Design to ‘A’ level and have also run life drawing classes. Life drawing is a wonderful experience and I have loved it since my first experience as a student. I also love teaching it to other artists as well as non artists. it’s rewarding. It’s also vital for me as a visual artist as it keeps my visual perception skills ‘honed’, particularly as I work from photographs a lot of the time. For me drawing from life for an artist is similar to what speed training is to a sprinter.
How do you find motivation?
My life as an artist defines me. It’s hard to know where my motivation comes from. It’s really the love of making something that means something to me. Other people wanting to view or buy my work is a bonus and motivates me to continue to create.
What drives your work?
I have painted as long as I can remember. As a child at school of course, then studying Fine Art at Uni followed by painting all my working life. So what drives my work is the need for me to do it. It defines who I am.
If you could choose one song from one album to reflect your work what would it be and why?
Listening to music is a huge part of my life so choosing one song or one album is impossible. For the reels I make for social media I tend to use instrumental bits from one of my favourite bands, Radiohead. I like Radiohead because they experiment with harmony and disharmony creating layers of sound. Maybe I equate this to the process I use in painting ; trying to produce beauty from layers of abstraction and figuration. Beauty from chaos. So I will plump for the album ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ and the track ‘Daydreaming’ because it’s a less complicated piece of their music but is beautiful. Ask me again tomorrow and it could be a different song or even a different band!
Where do you draw inspiration from?
I draw inspiration from the human form and our relationship with nature. I strive to create in a painting something that resonates as a one off beautiful object- something that exists in its own creative space. Inspiration can be practical as well as conceptual. Sometimes it comes from a previous painting which could be a simple twist in my process which will spark something to explore. Others things that inspire may be a bigger concept. For the past few years it has been our relationship with nature and more recently the heightening awareness of the threats from climate change. A series of works I did was called ‘Nothing Gold Can Stay’ and the inspiration for these came from a poem by Robert Frost. It is a simple,short poem and explores the idea that nothing precious can last forever and where natures changes are a metaphor for the cycles of life. I think artists can help people to look differently and add another dimension to their visual experience.
Which three colours could you not do without?
Burnt sienna, white and primary colours (bit of a cheat there!)
How has your style or subject matter changed or developed?
My style has developed gradually I would say. Subject matter has always been connected to the human form. Some of my pieces have areas of abstraction and a few years ago I set out to explore this and to do purely abstract pieces. A figure would often start to appear however so I came to the realisation that abstraction was not enough for me, although many artists I like are abstract painters. There is a unresolved dilemma there I guess. It’s fun to pursue this though and keeps me striving to achieve my ‘perfect’ painting.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Pursue your own path as an artist and don’t be swayed to produce work for others. Don’t search for an audience - let the audience find you.
Who inspires you?
Top of my artists list is Anselm Kiefer. Although my work is figurative and I would describe his as abstracted, he is the artist I admire most. It’s the conviction and integrity of his monumental pieces and concepts that is so inspiring. They work on so many levels.
If you could own one piece of Artwork, what would it be?
A Kiefer. A bloody big one. Don’t know where I would hang it but I would find somewhere.
Alongside yourself, who would be in your ideal group exhibition (from any period of time)… and what’s the title?
Well... Kiefer, Van Gogh and Rembrandt would be the main gallery, with mine hanging in the loo.
What are you currently working on and what’s next?
I am currently working on a large canvas of whole figure seated and draped in deep pink robe. Background is currently deep pink too and I am experimenting with cooler colours to work against it. Not sure where this colour has come from but it seems to have exploded onto my palette. Must be the greyness of a UK January that I need to escape from. It’s in progress and going fairly well.
Explore Al Saralis' full collection of original artwork in gallery or online.
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