We've had the fortunate opportunity to interview abstract artist Ian Mowforth, delving into insights about his studio, sources of inspiration, and the music that accompanies his painting process. If you're new to Ian's artwork, this blog is sure to kindle your admiration for both Ian and his creative expressions. After gaining deeper insights, we're confident that you'll become as fond of Ian and his artwork as we are.
Tell us about your studio
My studio is the centre of my universe. It’s where I go nearly every day. I do teach 2 days a week but I’m always in my studio when I’m not at school. I’ve pretty much forsaken the rest of the world to create my own world. The studio itself is in a block of studios in South London. There are artists of all types in the same building. I’ve expanded into the studio next to my original studio so technically my studio has 2 numbers, 254 and 256.
I visited the studios many years ago with a friend who was thinking of starting to paint again. I had absolutely no intention of leaving my comfortable kitchen studio and becoming part of an artistic community. It was a few years later when a nearby teaching job made it more feasible to paint more, that I realised that a studio outside of my home, might be a move forward.
I waited for a year on the waiting list and eventually took my original studio, 256 in 2015. The studio is now fully equipped to meet my needs with all the paraphernalia required to paint and draw. It’s a comfortable space with good light and a comfortable chair from which I can survey my work. There’s also the therapy chair for visitors, occupied on most days by one or two friends.
I paint with oils and have a plan chest full of paints. The top of the chest is covered with a huge sheet of glass which is my palette. As my paintings can vary in scale from 20cm to 300cm, I work by putting the canvasses or panels on to batons on the wall. I find it the best way to move them about and to view them. The painting wall gets painted white, twice a year before open studio.
I rarely paint before 2pm. I get to the studio early but I drink coffee and make phone calls and write my journal. By 2pm my brain is positioned correctly to begin the main episode of the day. I generally stop when my stomach tells me to. It’s not tiredness, it’s usually just hunger.
What is your background?
I trained as a painter in the 80s at Wimbledon School of Art. I always knew that I’d be a painter from an early age. I have an MA in Printmaking. I’ve made ceramics, jewellery and textile pieces too. In the 90s I worked exclusively with handmade paper and collage. I returned to painting about 15 years ago. The smell of the oil paint reminded me of what I’d needed to be doing. I’m glad that I did all of the other stuff too because it feeds into what you do next. Nothing is ever wasted.
How do you find motivation?
I don’t. It finds me. I am awake early, I think about the paintings that I’m making, I have a bath and get dressed and walk to the studio. It takes me just over half an hour. I look at the world. I’m constantly scanning for new images to paint. I’m a chronicler of the smallest and subtle differences in nature. The world offers me constant joy in the smallest of moments. Painting to me is like breathing; necessary.
What drives your work?
The desire to be better than the day before. A move towards a greater understanding of what makes a good painting. Finding my place in the world. Many considerations. I love the natural world. The battle between nature and man. The shifting of the beech leaves in December. My work is about colour but more specifically how light affects colour. I realised this year that you can’t really create the colour of light coming through day old beech leaves. It can’t be made in paint as chlorophyll and oil paint are not the same substance. I did paint those leaves though and I think I got about as close to the colour as I could. I admire artists who battle but make the painting look easy. The most common question I’m asked is, how long do they take? I’ve no idea, they can take minutes or several years. Paintings are a culmination of those thousands of hours of looking and mixing and applying and layering and scratching.
If you could choose one song from one album to reflect your work what would it be and why?
This is so hard to answer. I love all kinds of music. Anything from Madonna, Cleo Laine and Whitney to the beauty and wonder of modern classical composers like Philip Glass. I’d like my paintings to be like Rachmaninov’s Piano concerto number 3 in D Minor. It’s like a painting. Made up from a million notes and harmonies with areas of quiet and calm and also an electric energy full of drama and beauty. It totally makes sense to me.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
The visual world. I often visit the same places to observe the changes in colours and forms. I’m interested in those subtle moments of change. The birds see it and sing about it. I see it and paint it. The landscape smells and sounds different according to the seasons and the weather as well as the time of day. I allow myself the opportunity to sit in the spaces I paint, I need to know the spaces in the images I’m going to translate into a painting. I don’t paint outside; I photograph the scene to work from in the studio. I can paint outside, and I do sometimes draw in the landscape, but I don’t paint outside. You’re at the mercy of the general public who are usually lovely, but they invariably want to show you a photo of an owl that their grandma painted in 1974. I appreciate that an artist painting en plain air is a thing of novelty, but I paint alone and in private. Even my closest artist friends have rarely seen me physically painting. In terms of motifs, I love Great Dixter, Wimbledon common, my landscape on the edge of Doncaster and more recently parts of Little Torrington in Devon.
Which three colours could you not do without?
I have hundreds of tubes of paint. I’d find it hard to choose just three. So as a colourist at heart I’ll say, Cobalt blue, Naples yellow and Alizarin crimson. I think I could cope pretty well as long as I could add a few more colours to the range. I rarely use reds but I’m a big fan of orange and violets as well as greys and blues. I don’t use black.
How has your style or subject matter changed or developed?
I started to paint landscapes when I was a teenager, I taught myself to paint by painting an avenue of trees for a year. I was taught to draw at school, and I did get some basic lessons in oil painting from my art teacher, Mr Douglas. I realised that I didn’t know enough about painting when I applied to do my degree. I was rejected as I had a folder full of drawings but I didn’t have enough paintings. So, I walked in to a local landscape near to where I was brought up and I started to paint. I’ve returned to this place more recently and have made some very successful, large-scale pieces based on my childhood observations. If I make a connection to a space, it’s for life.
In the last 40 years I’ve made work of every kind. Very minimal large-scale lithographs for my MA show in Brighton. Wall hangings made from paper, based around 18th century quilts. 50 feet long chokers for Brides, artists books and paintings and Lino cuts of dogs. I painted only dogs for years. Clients will cry more over a painting of their dog than their partner, mother or child. My style has developed over the years as has the scale and sense of ambition but I think if you saw a painting of mine from 1986 and one from yesterday, you’d recognise my fingerprints.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
The most important piece of advice I ever received was in 1986. I went back to Wimbledon School of Art to meet with Bernard Cohen. He was then Head of painting; I was desperate to reapply to do my degree there. I’d been rejected the year before, but I’d worked hard, and I had friends at the college. I decided to be a grown up and go and speak to him directly, I took no work as directed. He said to me:
"Never regret doing something that you want to do."
Was he telling me to reapply, I’ve no idea. All I know is that I went home, I reapplied, and I did get offered a place.
Who inspires you?
I’m a big fan of many artists. My tastes have shifted over the years, but I still have my firm favourites. I love Bonnard. The joy and wonderment in the work is so important to me. They’re the world made magical. I love Agnes Martin. The application, dedication and determination in such works of beauty and contemplation make me want to laugh out loud and weep at the same time. Philip Guston for painting out his insides for the whole world to see. The bravery and nerve and bloody mindedness makes my head spin. I love poetry and music and love a pod cast like, 'Help I sexted my boss'. I love a beautifully made scarf and an expensive perfume as well as a Church’s loafer. There’s inspiration at every turn.
If you could own one piece of Artwork, what would it be?
Stack by Prunella Clough. I probably could have just about afforded it at the time, but some multi-millionaires beat me to it. The Tate now owns it. I’ve never seen better.
Alongside yourself, who would be in your ideal group exhibition (from any period of time)… and what’s the title?
Picasso from the 1930s, weeping woman era
Bonnard from the 1940s
Prunella Clough from the 1990s
Singer Sargent Watercolours from the 1910s
Title: It’s what we do
What are you currently working on and what’s next?
I’m currently making some very small pieces based on the area around where I live in Wandsworth. They’re paintings of buildings and reflections and trees. There’s also a couple of small studies of Ronda in Spain. I was there recently and loved the light and air. Many of the houses had small courtyards with gardens enclosed by walls. I was intrigued by the inside/outside juxtaposition.
This year I’m going to paint some yellow paintings. Inspired by Arthur Streeton’s, Golden Summer, Eaglemont, which is predominantly yellow. I’ve tried making yellow paintings before but I feel the need to push the boundaries further. I’m also going to make a couple of watercolours of my favourite Siberian crab apple trees. They’re going to be 2 metres by 3 metres. That should keep me busy for a few weeks!
Explore Ian Mowforth's collection today, available now either in gallery or online.
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