Artist and musician Kev Hopper talked to The Sunday Tribune about his craft, living in the SE London urban suburbs, how to paint and being a painter in today’s shape-shifting scene of contemporary art.
My paintings usually start from the photos I take on my phone. I have a job working with disabled people so a few have come from that in social settings like college canteens. Others are from mundane scenes of people shopping, domestic objects, shadows on the ground…the more mundane (or the less information they have in them) the better, it seems. Eventually I wish to move away from this approach and treat content in my photos like visual components that can be superimposed into other structures…I just haven’t had the time figure out how to do that yet.
As we know, a lot of contemporary art is derived from photos anyway and the paintings are often strategically, fashionably (perhaps?) monochromatic or the narrative is a sort of post-impressionistic symbolic palette of colours. So in one respect I do feel I’m running with the crowd on this one in that any aspect of the surface can be saturated or desaturated at will and for no purpose or reason whatsoever. In ‘Catford Shopper’ the main subject is rendered in a low-contrast dull grey-green and the counter behind her is a simplified, highly saturated red. The decision to do that felt trivial and random: ‘Lets see what it looks like” was my only thought. “Oh, that’s quite nice” was my reaction.
I sometimes photograph my paintings in their early stages and run them through Photoshop and play with the image just to see if it yields anything interesting. Sometimes it can prompt a colour idea or suggest another way to paint the image. Most of the time it yields nothing. I don’t use colour to cast an emotional complexion on the subject matter. Colour choices are largely irrelevant and non-pertinent to subject matter. Pink elephants are perfectly acceptable.
Painting is very different from my relaxed and easy-going experience of making music where two sounds (for instance) can be absolutely beautiful from the start and the creative process is generally a joyful affair. In contrast, painting feels like a set of layered, agonizing problems that need solving in stages – like the stages of a Saturn V rocket each one needs to be accomplished to ‘launch’ the painting. I have huge confidence in my ability as a composer. The opposite is true as a painter.
I’ve always felt an affinity with certain British painters over the years, people like Stanley Spencer and Carel Weight…that kind of ‘event in suburbia’ thing is still something I really like and occasionally creeps into my work, sometimes subconsciously. These days I’m more influenced by painters that use and reflect digital influences or disrupt the surface of their paintings in a material fashion: people like Peter Doig, Marina Rheingantz, Ruprecht von Kaufmann, Fiona Rae, Daniel Richter, Mamma Anderson, Kate Gottgens, Robert Bubel, Marlene Dumas. There is an alarmingly, huge amount of talented painters out there at the moment! Munch and Vuillard remain a strung influence and look very extraordinarily ‘modern’ to me. I also enjoy a lot of amateur painting. If a painting is interesting it’s interesting…it doesn’t matter who’s made it…and with the wonders of the internet and an App like Pinterest all artists have equal status as far as I’m concerned. As for modern photography, I don’t really follow the trends. I just don’t have that relationship with the medium.
I had a terrific tutor at college in Coventry, John Yeadon, who has remained a personal friend. He claimed there were essentially only two decisions for figurative painters: what to paint and how to paint it. This may seem ridiculously simple but therein lies all the agony and ecstasy of the process. I think nowadays in the digital age and it’s associated libraries of images one can collect on something as commonplace as a phone there is no excuse for not knowing what you’re gonna paint. But HOW you’re going to paint a subject is a ‘Fierce Pancake’ for most artists and a source of great, often crippling anxiety…certainly in my case, anyway.
He also told me another simple thing. there’s only one way to settle an artistic question or an idea: put some paint down and find out. You might be ten steps back at the end of the experiment…but so be it. It’s quite simple advice: don’t be lazy, get of your arse and start painting.