Why do I paint?

When I was 14, one of my art teachers asked me fairly sharply why I wanted to paint in oils; was it because that was what I thought art had to be?

Actually, I thought that art had to be interesting.

After giving up two-dimensional work soon after starting university for a future career as a ceramic artist, I can honestly say that I didn’t hold any of the preconceptions that my teacher supposed I had. I just wanted to explore as many different kinds of media as I could fit in. I wanted to learn everything.

I still feel that way, and sometimes I think I could be happy with any branch of the creative arts, as long as there was a challenge involved, a skill to be learned, and a goal to be reached.


Technique and challenge

The technical aspect of the arts, whether navigating a four or six string fretboard, creating stoneware glazes, or getting perfecting registration for prints, is to me extremely addictive. Finding the links between these apparently disparate branches is in itself potentially compulsive, and I have to restrict myself for my own sake – although at times my projects do choose me, not the other way around.

Just knowing that there is so much more to be learned is terrifying and terrific at the same time.


Since I started seriously exploring painting as a teenager, my internal question was, just how do I want to paint? It’s taken quite a bit of time and experimenting to acknowledge my style.

It came down to what felt natural, and what felt like a departure. Not that the departures are any less important – they may be more important due to their very nature, and they have all embedded themselves in my working vocabulary.


The memory in the medium.

I knock about with all sorts of media but I’ve found a great relief in admitting what a love I have for oil paint. Just the smell of it alone conjures up decades of memories and a different mindset.

I went through an early phase of exclusively using a palette knife, then returning to smooth brushwork, experimenting with bold colour, all the while questioning what it was I really wanted to do with paint. I didn’t have a clue, really.

Analysis paralysis

The blank canvas – used metaphorically – can become a terribly frustrating thing in very little time.

Stopping for several years, working in clay and fabric was, perhaps, the best thing I could have done after all. When I came back to painting, the excitement of revisiting an old friend far outweighed any worry about the results. Somehow my memory took over and I found there was very little anxiety, as if I’d never put the brush down.

Despite this, I still prefer to think of myself as an artist makes paintings, prints, drawings and other works, rather than a painter.


Why paint at all?

This is the perennial question to the painter in the age of conceptualism and the dominance of photography and video. Its answer is simple, though – painting is its own purpose.

Filtering the image through the medium is the goal in itself: the physicality of paint and painting, with its smell, movement, texture, colour and its history takes it beyond pure imagery. In the end, what we paint now lives in the realm of the relic.