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Lancashire Times
A Voice of the North
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Caroline Spalding
Features Correspondent
9:35 AM 19th October 2020

Artistry Of Lancashire: Zak Last

Zak Last is a contemporary artist who draws on his love of the landscape and nature, his passion for the environment, and inspiration lifted from worldwide travel experiences to create works of art rendered in oil paint.

Two Silver Birch
Two Silver Birch
His work is a response to what he observes in the natural world. His attention is drawn, for example, to particular cloud formations, or how trees add nuance to a scene: he is interested predominantly in natural structure, the lines of an object, it's movement, it's colour palette and how the light changes in response to the landscape and an object placed within it.

He works en plein air, that is, based on direct observation, working outdoors to observe and record his subject matter in situ.

The concept of painting en plein air is accredited to the French painter Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes (1750-1819) who advocated this style of painting as it allowed the artist to capture changes in a landscape caused by fluctuations in the light or the weather.

It was later embraced by artists such as Monet, Sisley and Renoir and the Impressionist movement. Painting en plein air seems to have developed almost contemporaneously across France and Italy, with advocates and exponents also emerging in America, Russia and England in the latter half of the nineteenth century.

Zak creates his paintings al fresco on paper, canvas or hardboard, which he later finishes in his studio. The three painting platforms allow him to exercise different techniques and styles. Using oil on canvas means he can build up the paint in layers, creating an expressive surface texture and a physical depth to the painting, giving it an almost 3D effect. Using canvas paper, he can work quickly with washes of oil and when working outdoors, using board is the most practical option.

For drawing and sketching, Zak chooses graphite, colour pencil and charcoal, with a focus on creating expressive lines and blocks of colour.

Autumn, Cuerden Valley Park
Autumn, Cuerden Valley Park
Zak has drawn since a young age and began to use watercolours when completing his GCSEs – his exam piece was a still life painting and that is where, he says, his ‘artist journey’ really began. He received support and influence from his grandmother, who had been a fashion illustrator for Liberty’s of London when she was younger.

He continued to study art in college, completing a HND in Natural History Illustration through which he acquired the skills of observational drawing and painting en plein air, as well as getting a better sense of colour, and applying this knowledge to his work. As a young man he decided to travel and spent six months in Kenya and Tanzania, during which time he filled four sketchbooks with drawings of the indigenous people and the landscapes and birds of East Africa. He completed several paintings, two which were commissioned by a private client.

Pendle Hill
Pendle Hill
On arrival back in England Zak became a studio holder at ESA Leeds and began to use acrylic and oil paints. He would construct his own canvasses using traditional stretching techniques and at the time he started to really question his work, to uncover why he chose the subject matter he did. In 1999 he held his first solo exhibition at the Hester Gallery in Leeds, entitled Line, Colour, Shape and Form. From this period Zak cites the artist Simon Gilpin as a major influence – at the time he was a fellow artist at ESA with over 30 practicing Ceramists, Photographers and Painters. Zak recalls they would frequently challenge and push one another when painting.

Zak moved with his wife to Lancashire in 2006 as they were starting a family and whilst Lancashire has hugely influenced his art, he at first felt quite isolated, being removed from the vibrant art scene of Leeds of the 1990s-2000s. He became a studio holder at Ascot Studios before leaving in 2009 having built his own workshop and studio, but he recalls a long period in which he approached numerous galleries in Manchester and Lancashire to receive little or no response.

Finally, in 2019, he secured a solo exhibition at the Coach House Gallery, Astley Hall which is run by Chorley Council. The exhibition comprised 40 paintings completed over two years and was his first solo exhibition in Lancashire.

Looking Towards the West Pennines
Looking Towards the West Pennines
The exhibition, and a Plein Air event held at Longridge the same year, also allowed him to make the acquaintance of other Lancashire artists and he views the present ‘art scene’ as one in flux, subject to external influences, most notably this year the pandemic. He feels that the pandemic has expedited the shift towards using digital platforms to communicate and share art, particularly the use of Instagram, for example.

He also feels that galleries are less inclined to take on new and emerging talent but he is so grateful for everything he has achieved to date – he says it has been a long and difficult journey to reach this stage of his artistic career – however, he continues to challenge himself to further experiment and create new pieces of work.

Zak works from his studio in Clayton Le Woods but continues to draw influence from Europe’s southern climes. His parents live in the south of France and he has spent a lot of time in the Catalan region which has inspired his own work. He relishes the opportunity to stand where many famous artists will themselves have once stood, to observe and record the landscape.

Prominent painters such as Matisse, Picasso and Soutine were also drawn to these environs and Zak has followed in their footsteps in search of the same atmosphere that proved such an evocative muse to these great painters.

Van Gogh, an artist whose work embodies both a ‘lust for life’ and the angst and tragedies that accompanied his life, also visited the south of France, particularly Arles, and although Zak would feel ‘humbled’ by Van Gogh’s ‘creative genius’ he would wholeheartedly embrace the opportunity to work alongside him, deeply engaged in a meaningful dialogue, before enjoying the local delicacies and social interaction to be found in the relaxed street cafes and bars in the South of France .

Zak is currently engaged in a two-year project which focuses on his response to rubbish discarded in the environment. This year he was chosen to launch the St Laurence’s online Art Gallery, hosting an exhibition entitled Landscapes of Lancashire (https://www.stlaurencechorley.co.uk/art-gallery/) and you can also view his work and make contact via his website https://www.zaklastartist.com/ or find him on Facebook @zaklastartist, Twitter @zakjamelast and on Instagram @zaklastartist.