Artistry Of Lancashire: Kevan Thompson - Maple Grove Studio
Kevan Thompson is an artist, based near Preston, whose work can be found in collections across the UK and Canada. He works from a studio, which is a converted room in his home offering plenty of light, as well as a place to hide!
Parlick - oil on canvas
His approach to the sales process is refreshing, if not unusual. He does take pleasure in seeing others enjoy his work, and client responses to his commissioned pieces can be “very moving and sometimes overwhelming”. However, he is candid and states that he would much rather spend his time painting, than spend time marketing his work with no guarantee of success. In the same vein, he dislikes the ‘commercial element’ of being an artist. In response to being asked why he doesn’t have cards, prints or other merchandise, his dry retort is to wonder whether “the likes of Francis Bacon, Picasso or Turner would be pleased if they saw their work end up on a tea towel.” He firmly believes that art should be bought because an original piece appeals to you, or speaks to you somehow, and not simply because it matches your other home furnishings.
Kevan spent 37 years teaching before he returned to university to complete an MA in Fine Art. He says that as the son of a miner, “becoming an artist was not an option”. He has always used art to escape from the pressures of his day job but did not prioritise the activity until he retired. He remembers his high school art teacher as the “first and perhaps most important inspiration” on his journey to becoming an artist because the teacher first recognised he had talent.
Tired - oil on canvas
Returning to the craft many years later, Kevan found that he was introduced to working in a completely new manner: studying and considering art he had never before seen, and enjoying the introduction to other artists who remain a source of encouragement to him now.
When he works, he describes it as is being caught in a loop, he is restless in his endeavours and when he does not paint at all, he feels at a loss, craving the activity in a way someone else might crave a piece of chocolate!
He does not like to be pigeon-holed into a certain genre of artist and in fact his approach to art, the subject matter and the media he uses have changed significantly over a period of time. Five years ago, he painted landscapes in watercolours – pictures described by family members as “lovely paintings.” His work has moved on to incorporate more people and figures; he is drawn to the emotional elements associated with his subject matter. He develops images linked with personal histories, experiences and events and whilst he still paints landscapes, he dryly remarks that he doubts they will ever be referred to again as “lovely”.
The Edge - oil on board
For a long time, Kevan says, he would let the image control his work, resulting in his feeling trapped, even disappointed with what he produced. However, he has gradually come to pay less heed to how his work is received, it matters less to him if a piece is not perfect, or if it lacks “neat draughtsmanship”. He chose to focus more on how he could include his own emotional response to an experience in his art and his recent work is developed more around personal histories and trying to evoke an emotion or a feeling linked to a past event. He also experiments with what he terms “coded work” i.e. a style of working where he places hidden, often quite personal, codes within an image.
He often uses pastels and charcoal as these media suit his style of treating a surface harshly. He likes to work quickly and charcoal is particularly accommodating of this technique. It also evokes for him a feeling of nostalgia, similar to that which might be experienced looking at an old black and white photo.
When outdoors he says he “indulges in people watching” and will rapidly sketch figures that pass him by. Similarly, he will rarely copy or use photographs, preferring instead to use preliminary sketches he has made, recalling the moment it was made, the feelings it inspired, and trying to convey a sense of freshness and immediacy. As a frequent walker, Kevan will use this time to capture numerous sketches: he says that the countryside close to his home “provides an ever-changing palette of shape and colour” and that “Lancashire has provided for me a daily challenge to capture a moment that can never be repeated.”
Landing. A Personal History - charcoal
To explore the connection with and response to time and his art, Kevan has developed short, animated films to tell a story. He might create over 2000 drawings using charcoal, for example, continually erasing and re-drawing to create an animation. In July this year he presented a short movie at the Working Class Academics International Conference, held online, which was made using about 4000 drawings, but ultimately resulting in four original drawings at the end of the creative process.
Kevan will often work with whatever medium he has available, but his preference is to use charcoal. He describes it as forgiving and energetic, both permanent and fragile – for him it can create strong lines and shapes and display both strength and sensitivity. He likes to keep his images simple – stripping away the detail to allow the observer to fill in the blanks.
Artists such as William Kentridge have inspired Kevan. Kentridge worked with charcoal and moving images and Kevan followed a similar approach when making his own animations. Whilst he finds this method of working “very emotional (and) exhausting” it does for him allow a resolution to some “very intense experiences” enabling a solution to be found and for life to move on.
Another painting which has had a profound effect on Kevan is We Are Making A New World
by Paul Nash, created in 1918 based on his experience as a war artist. Kevan finds the picture “emotionally charged” – despite its somewhat aspirational title, the image itself is one of a charred and battle-scarred landscape, a product of the First World War. Kevan wonders what Nash would think of the ‘new world’ that we have created, and what would the artist paint now if presented with the same opportunity.
Kevan feels that there is a growing recognition of artists who reside in Lancashire, reflected in the growing number of practising artists, arts groups and events – and he is glad to now have more time to give them his focus and attention. He cites The Platform Gallery in Clitheroe as one that has helped to initiate events as well as the collaborative work The Harris has done with places such as Oxhey Studios and the “In Certain Places” initiative with UCLan. He feels that contemporary art is sometimes considered with scepticism, with more traditional styles appearing to some to have “more technical artistic skill” and he feels that smaller galleries in the northwest are often overshadowed by larger, better-known establishments, which he believes is reflected in funding streams.
Pendle from Old Langho - oil on canvas
Art, however, plays a vital role in the busy lives people lead in modern society. He says art “allows us to relax, to escape to another place (and) it can enhance out experiences.” Without art, Kevan says, “our world would be quite dull and unexciting”.
During lockdown Kevan completed a few commissions he secured before the crisis and has provided a number of illustrations for an autobiography by a young mother called Kerry Coe, who has Cerebral Palsy, entitled Spasm
due to go to print late 2020-early 2021. The Working Class Academics International Conference held online in July provided him the chance to share his skills using charcoal animation but his plans for the next 12-18 months are simply to “keep painting”.
You can find Kevan on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/Maple-Grove-Studio-106107934440685/
and you can follow him on Twitter @KevanThompson2