Name: Reece Whitehead
Born: Bolton, UK
Location: Brixham, UK
Brief artist statement:
My paintings are a reaction or idea I have to my surroundings. I am constantly looking to change my environment so I avoid becoming comfortable and repetitive with my ideas. I absorb all imagery then paint from my experiences.
How important was art and creativity when you were growing up?
It was very important, but I never realized it at the time. I would always be drawing as a child and making new things. I would draw cartoons and liked to see people smile over whatever crazy world I had invented. I was often a world away which helped me to live in a sleepy fishing town in the English Riviera.
Art was difficult to come by in Torbay. Minus the watercolours of little boats in the harbour that bored me senseless, there was nothing. There was no interest in art from any of my family and friends. It was only when I was introduced to art at College when I was 16 that I realized there was this world of creativity I could be a part of. Then those early signs of being creative really exploded to a whole new level.
You began your career by painting abstract compositions, but have since moved on to incorporate a new graphical visual language whilst at the same time keeping a very painterly aesthetic. How has your personal experiences shaped your approach as a painter?
Early on in my career I was fascinated by the complexities of paint. The meaning to all those early paintings comes from the processes used to making them. As I became more comfortable with paint, I found myself editing less and becoming more confident with colour and form. As my ideas and opinions matured as a person, I wanted to express them in my art. I’m not saying I could not have done this by being abstract, but I wanted something more definite. I developed this idea of taking imagery and making it my own and this is what happened with the work in ‘Armenia 1.’ The early playfulness with paint really gave me knowledge of different painting techniques. Now when I have an idea I know which technique is best to express it.
How do you start the process of making work?
And idea can come from anywhere from a very serious subject or something playful. I’m still unclear as to what it is that makes me want to paint it.
With an idea I then assess what it is I will achieve from painting it. Do I want or need to travel in order to complete the works? How will I do the appropriate research? Do I want to create a body of works or just one? Who is it that will be interested if I was to paint a particular subject? How beneficial to me will it be if I painted it? If after all these questions I still want to go ahead, I will then look to see what artists are doing now to understand where my work fits in. Then I decide the sizes the canvases need to be. Then its green for go.
What role does a constantly changing environment and surroundings play in your work?
I had this realization after university that my paintings were becoming somewhat repetitive. Also they were very grey in colour. I’m sure this was because of my feelings at the time. I’m not an artist who can choose things from the news and re-invent myself. I need to be stimulated and be in an environment I feel I need to express. I found this best when travelling and going to new places. Travelling to me is like being in a book. Everything excites me. This gives me lots of new ideas, colours and forms which I want to paint.
Describe your time in Armenia and how it influenced your work?
I had such a wonderful time in Armenia and learnt a lot. When everyone I knew kept asking ‘where is Armenia?’ I knew it was the perfect place for me to go. I never research a country before I go there. I like to be thrown in the deep end and adapt as quick as possible. I think you can learn more what it is like to live in a country by doing this. What I found is a country with many issues but wonderfully kind and fun people. ‘Armenia 1’ was my first solo exhibition so I will always have affection and strong memories for the country.
How has your education helped your career?
I left school at the age of 10 and didn’t go back to education until I was 16. Basically I only have an education in the arts which was from 16 to when I left university aged 22. I regret a lot of things from university. Mainly things I didn’t do like make contacts and organize shows. I’ve learnt considerable more post education.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently researching into last years riots. I was working in Switzerland at the time and could only find out things by biased news reports online. I think being away at the time meant I never formed a fixed opinion. I think this is important especially when you want to produce work/paintings about the events. So far I have many drawings but the subject is proving to be very complex. It’s a challenge but I decided that’s exactly what I wanted in this period of my career. Also I wanted to address the problem of why I return to abstraction whenever I am back in the U.K. A complicated brief was needed. I’m excited about what the final works will look like. I think this will be an extremely important body of work in my career.
Do you consider the viewer when making your work?
I think it is vital to consider the viewer when making work. I want my work to be seen and my ideas questioned. I think if it isn’t then art is just a hobby. I want art to be much more than just a hobby.
Name 3 artists who have inspired your work
I think I was 17 when I first went to Tate Modern. It was the first time I had visited a gallery in London and the first works to really make me step back and think were Mark Rothko’s Seagram murals. With the grey walls and moody lighting, it really made me think about what a painting could do. Also in the same visit, Olafur Eliasson’s ‘The Weather Project’ was in the turbine hall. Being new to art this piece shocked me how big and powerful art could be. To see so many people interact with an art work really made me think. Those were big inspirations to my early thinking towards art.
One of my favourite paintings is ‘Surprise’ by Henri Rousseau. I think I want to be the tiger in it.
What is your favourite “ism” ?
I think my answer to that would change every week. It depends what is happening with my work at the time. There are a lot of ism’s.
Interview by Karen Shidlo