We are pleased to welcome Brighton based artist Martin Varennes-Cooke to the gallery. Martin has become well known for his playful art style and his signature feathered friends. In this interview we get to know Martin a little better....
1. How would you describe your art?
Colourful, playful, illustrative.
2. So you have a new series 'Lava Girls' which we have at the gallery. Why did you choose lava lamps as a theme for these pieces?
I really liked the idea of playing with transparency and the option to use different colours in the lamps and how these would affect whichever part of the face or hand of the subject behind them. Plus I'm a 70's kid and over time had a couple which I would stare at for hours.
3. How has your art evolved? How do you see it evolving in the future?
My art has evolved a lot. Only the other day I was looking at something I posted about 5 years ago on social media through one of those memory reminders and could see a massive difference and direction in my work now. I believe an artist is always evolving, just by the act of doing we are learning and improving all the time. I'm not so sure if the 10,000 hour rule is true (some say that this is the tipping point of working at a skill, where you become an expert at it) but I do believe that as an artist you do need to put in the work if you wish to evolve. It's taken me nearly 10 years to find my own style and I think in some ways I've still not properly found it.
4. Birds feature a lot in your work - why are birds so important to you?
I was given an illustrated bird book one birthday with the most beautiful drawings in it and I would try to copy these drawings over and over. I've never been a 'Bill Oddie' about them but I do think they are beautiful and they come in all shapes, colours and sizes so are never boring to paint. My earlier works were mostly figurative, using charcoal and conte crayon. One day I just decided to include a bird in one of them, perched on the subjects hand and immediately gave the overall image an otherworldly fee. It also added a bit of depth to the subject and started to raise questions like 'What is the relationship between the subject and the bird? Why that particular type of bird? What does the bird represent?' I never had or have an answer to these questions myself and am happy for the viewer to have their own thoughts on them, but it just stuck and I've included them ever since. I guess it's becoming a sort of signature of my work and a hint of a certain illustrative style.
5. What is your favourite piece of artwork you have done and why?
I don't really have an absolute favourite - but if I had to choose one at the moment it would be 'Morning Commute' a recent painting of Brighton Station. It was a departure from the birds and I really enjoyed the process. It was one of those paintings which luckily just seemed to flow, from the drawing stage right through to getting the right colours and application, everything seemed to click, which is rare. The end result pleasantly surprised me and it gave me the confidence to try some more Landscapes, in particular of the Lake District (birthplace) and Brighton (hometown).
6. What are your tips for aspiring artists?
Have patience - bucket loads of it. If possible, draw every day. Never give up - keep pushing your art, it will resonate with someone, somewhere. Ultimately draw/paint/create what you want, not what you feel others might want.
7. What artists have inspired you?
I always loved to draw as a child and my first inspiration was the late great Tony Hart - I did send a piece off to 'The Gallery' but alas was unsuccessful (my first rejection). I also remember clearly my first visit to an art gallery on a school trip to the Tate in Liverpool. I remember seeing Francis Bacon's work (although his influence doesn't creep into my style of painting). Other influences include a lot of street art and graffiti. I love the playful quality of some of it and how it can cleverly use and blend with it's environment.
8. How do you know when a piece of work is completed?
That's a tricky one - it tends to be when I know I am fiddling with it and starting to make silly mistakes. I generally work quite fast, and used to feel that I'd finished too early and perhaps not given the painting a chance to develop. But I've come to realise that you can produce something just as worthy in one hour as you can in one month. At the risk of sounding really arty farty, you just kind of know.
9. What do you hope viewers will take away from your artwork?
This may seem like a cop out, but I'm happy for the viewer to take what they want from my work. I'm not trying to convey a particular message. I think my work is aesthetically pleasing (well, to me anyway) and focuses more perhaps on style over substance. That's not to say that I don't like art with a message, it's just I've never felt the urge to approach my work in this way.
Shop Martin's limited edition prints here: https://goo.gl/xc3y8g
Shop Martin's original artwork here: https://goo.gl/eK5JtV