Hi Jay! You’re an oil painter, and the focus of your work tends to be people. Could you tell me a bit about why you are so drawn to painting people, and what keeps you engaged with them as a subject?
I think my interest in painting people started when I studied fashion design at Falmouth University. This is where I began to appreciate the human form in a more abstract way. Figures obviously play a big part in fashion. I found myself creating visual sketchbooks and fashion illustrations that were just as focused on the figures as they were the clothes. I definitely enjoyed creating visual work more than I did the practical side of making clothes.
A couple of years out of university I started to paint faceless figures that I placed within a setting. These paintings had abstract qualities to them and the faceless figures could provoke a sense of stillness and calm in the imagery. My work has progressed over the last few years and I am now provoking more emotion in my paintings by painting peoples faces. I now don’t include so much in the background of my paintings. The figures have therefore become the main focus of my work and stand more powerful within a painting.
Since before lockdown began, you’ve been working on a new portrait project. How does this project differ from past paintings you have made, and what do you hope to achieve with it? When you complete it, how will we be able to see the finished pieces?
The portrait project was something I started with the intent to really explore emotion in a painting. The idea of taking everything else away so I am just left with the figure, their facial expressions and a palette to enhance a particular emotion in the viewer. Before this point, I was including more scenery in my work surrounding the figure/figures. There was more to look at and maybe less intensity coming from the people I painted in these pieces. These figures were also more focused on the whole body as a shape and less on the emotion coming from their faces. With the main focus on the face in the Portrait Project, it has allowed me to explore ways of creating a strong emotion/overall feeling within a painting. This is then left up to the viewer to interpret what emotions are being provoked for them when looking at a Portrait piece.
I think I will keep going with the Portrait Project, even if it becomes a side project to something else. I want to go on to explore more abstract ways of creating people within a portrait setting.
When I look at the faces in your paintings, I see a lot of subtle lines which manage to convey a lot of emotion. Do you like to leave the viewer to decide what your pictures mean, or do you set out trying to make them interpret them in a particular way? Can you give an example of a reaction someone has had to a painting you’ve made that has meant a lot to you?
I always like to leave the viewer to decide what a painting means. I think that’s the interesting part – how the same painting can provoke different emotions in different people.
‘Rust’ from the portrait series is one that springs to mind of someone’s reaction to a painting. This person said it made them feel powerful when looking at it.
What would you like to offer up as your Who’s Flying the Plane hidden Gem?
I would like to offer up Fi Underhill. Fi is a ceramicist living and working in Frome, Somerset. Her ceramics are beautifully simple and Fi herself is such a cool, lovely human. She has just opened her new shop ‘Ground’ in Frome where she is selling her ceramics. Fi’s pottery has always caught my eye; her craftsmanship is amazing. Fi is one to watch for sure. You can find Fi on instagram @fiunderhill
What will you be working on next? How can we keep up to date with what you do? Thanks a lot for taking the time to talk to me!
I will be focusing on more abstract paintings next. Exploring shape, colour and texture. Whether that be landscape, still life or with more figures. I love the idea of making tiles to paint onto or form more abstract pieces of work out of collective tiles put together. I am very interested in interior and space and would like to steer my work in this direction for sure.
You can keep up to date with my work on instagram @jayharperart I have also recently started another account @jayhcam which is just my photos on film and digital. This new account is to inspire new artworks acting as an online mood board. Check it out!
Alex Wilson 25/09/20